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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Books as Milestones of Life

I just started reading Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, one of my top three favorite Canadian writers of science fiction. In the Acknowledgments, he mentions that he hadn’t published anything for three years due to the loss of his younger brother to cancer. That sad note got me thinking about my life’s milestones for reading and writing. Reading is an escape and a reward for me. Sometimes it’s a job. Through it all, I associate certain books with my development as a person. I wonder if you feel the same.

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, made me grateful not to be born earlier in history. I didn’t think I could do better than the Hardy Boys Series as a kid. Later, Ian Fleming fed macho dreams of becoming a killer spy. Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I couldn’t wait to escape to big cities. Books and movies fueled my teenage dreams of doing something different, of being someone different. I wanted a life that offered more choices and I was sure that, somehow, the life of a writer would make that dream come true.

A boy trained by Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land taught me more about theme than any dry book report at school. That book also taught me that fiction can reach beyond being merely entertaining. Stranger in a Strange Land is about how to view the world through clear, innocent eyes. 

Hanging out in Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon taught me science fiction doesn’t have to take itself too seriously. I met Spider a few times when we both lived in Halifax. Nice guy. He is his fiction. He tells fun, optimistic and humane tales. (Callahan’s Law: “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.”) Optimism isn’t quite my thing but I do try to hit hopeful notes or else, what’s the point? Even my apocalyptic stories have a lot of jokes.

In my first year of university, I enrolled in a survey course about the philosophies of history. It was like a year devoted to Wikipedia, speeding from the Bible and Gilgamesh to Dante to interpreting the art of the Renaissance and well beyond. I learned a lot. The experience also gave me a humbling inkling of how much I didn’t know.

I read a lot of American authors in university. Holed up in my dorm, I had so much time to read. I wish I had that kind of time now. Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood made me think I could write killer thrillers one day. (I did and do.)

At 20, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior felt like a revelation. Seven years later, it would feel trite. I couldn’t sense the magic anymore. I’d like to go back to enjoy Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus. However, it’s a rare book that I read twice with the same level of enjoyment. You can only read Fight Club once for the first time.

At 22, I moved to Toronto. I stayed with a friend for my first month in the city. I should have devoted all my time to the job and apartment hunt. All I wanted to do was read The Stand and It. And then everything else by Stephen King.

Reading Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom and Story of My Life, I wanted Jay McInerney’s career. American Psycho made me think Bret Easton Ellis’s fame would be fun, or at least interesting. Working for a publisher, I sold American Psycho to bookstores when it came out. (Oh, the arguments we had about freedom of expression. Some of those dainty cocktail parties came close to devolving into a melee.)

Though I’d trained in journalism, my education about writing novels began with William Goldman. I was on the 28th floor of my apartment building on a summer night. I thought I was safely in the dénouement. Goldman ambushed me with a killer last line. I threw that book across the room as I shouted, “He got me again!” You know Goldman wrote The Princess Bride and many famous movies. Please read his novels. He’s the most underrated American novelist still living.

Working at Harlequin, I read a lot of manuscripts, both vetting and proofreading them. One romance about three lottery winners stands out in my mind as a really great story. Honestly, I’ve pretty much forgotten the rest of that year and a half of romances and men’s adventure novels except for this one awful line: “She bounced ideas like balls off the walls of her mind.”

Unhappy and angry at a rude co-worker, I began writing a short story. It was pretty much a silly revenge fantasy. A quarter of the way through I tore it up and threw it away. I didn’t want to be that guy. I gave up on all writing for years. Depressed and frustrated, I didn’t dream of becoming Jay McInerney anymore. At 28, it was too late to be a Boy Wonder. I told myself it was all too late. Find something else to obsess over, Rob. I still had no idea I would write thirty books by the age of 53.

I went back to school. My reading diet was non-fiction, entirely medical. Anatomy suggested to me there might be a god. Pathology told me there had to be a devil, too. I learned a lot but read nothing for pleasure. Coming out the other end of that training felt like coming off a starvation diet. I got back to reading voraciously. I started writing again, too. I did some freelance work writing magazine articles, columns, and speeches. I also submitted short stories to contests and won a few. (Several of those stories wound up in one of my first self-publishing efforts, Murders Among Dead Trees.)

A long trip across Canada made me appreciate fiction in audiobook form. I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing once but I’ve listened to it twice. I wouldn’t have enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire if I hadn’t stuck it in my head via audio. (Too much heraldry for me to slog through on the page. However, the audio performance is truly a master class in voice acting. Audio was my way in when the printed word felt like work.)

I got something out of the books I didn’t like, too. The pace of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was too slow for me but I loved Oryx & Crake. I don’t write off authors simply because they wrote one book that wasn’t for me. I love Kurt Vonnegut’s work and the man so much I made him a character in Wallflower, my time travel novel.

I’ve read almost everything Vonnegut wrote but I couldn’t get into Galapagos. Sometimes you’ll see pissy proclamations that promise, “I’ll never read anything by this writer again!” Okay, but that suggests that might be a reader who wants the same book over and over again. (If you want to go deeper on this, I recommend the latest Cracked podcast about fandom, both positive and toxic. It’s a great and funny episode.)

I make time for reading because I love it. As a writer, reading is part of my job, too. The joy of good fiction is that it makes a movie in my head. One Christmas when I was very young, I received Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. As a snowstorm raged, I crawled into bed with that book and a tall canister of Smarties. I ate the candy and read about an inventor, his children, and their magical car. I felt warm and safe and transported reading that book. Every time I read or write, I’m trying to get back to that same feeling, that retreat from a raging world.

Our world often feels broken and rageful now. It’s a relief to step back into fiction and get shelter from the storm. My teenage dream came true, by the way. I’m writing full-time. With a few adjustments and compromises, I’m pretty close to being the person I meant to be.

And now I offer shelter.

~ Robert Chazz Chute just released a new apocalyptic trilogy called AFTER Life. Check out all his books at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Books, My fiction, publishing, robert chazz chute, Science Fiction, Writers, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ultimate Blog Challenge: Writing Books on Writing

Can writing be taught?Sure, but what most people mean by the question is, can anyone write to a professional level? One

On Writing

On Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

newspaper colleague of mine insisted that it was something you were born with or you weren’t. I think the desire to immerse yourself in writing might spring from a quirk of genetics, but after that it’s up to you.

Certainly, anyone’s writing can be improved. Eliminate excess adverbs and don’t strain a metaphor until it breaks and you’re off to a good start. I’ve taught a couple of writing classes now and I suspect that writing skill is self-selecting anyway. If you aren’t interested in writing to begin with — as it is with anything — you probably won’t improve much. The best training in writing I got was first to read extensively early on. In my childhood home, books were a big deal and they still are now that I’m supposed to be a grown-up. Toward the end of journalism school, I think the best training I got in writing was to write copiously for a daily newspaper with feedback from editors.

There are a ton of books on writing advice and I’m sure I’ve read just about all of them. Reading about writing is often less about learning something new (there’s not really that much new to say about craft, is there?) as it is confirming my thoughts, feelings and biases. Sometimes a unique idea will rise out of that reading. Mostly I read writing advice books to enjoy the voice and the company of likeminded writers and to find inspiration. It’s motivating, yet cozy as a warm blanket, to read a book on writing advice and think, “Yes, I agree. I’m doing that. I could try that. I should go write some more now.” I end up reading writing advice for the same reasons I drink coffee. It’s a stimulant that makes you feel warm inside.

That’s ultimately why I decided I will soon add to the tonnage of writing advice books. Some books are very specific and prescriptive about writing. Others give excellent advice and strategies for marketing for the indie author (like Jeff Bennington’s intrepid Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe.)

Mine will be a softer approach for newer writers, like Bird by BirdI’ve gone back to Stephen King’s On Writing again and again. These are the books that told me I wasn’t alone and this wasn’t so hard or crazy if I just pecked away at it. It was simply craft and there isn’t a secret besides sitting down (or getting on my treadmill desk) and doing the work I knew I could do.

The aspiration for this book is more modest than some who take a step-by-step, flow chart approach. My book on writing will be inspiration for the new indie author, much of it drawn from posts on this blog. Early on I linked to others less and wrote more about craft (instead of focusing on marketing the Indie Author Revolution as I seem to do now.) I selected the best and most useful posts from over 900 articles on ChazzWrites.com, then added to them, wrote some new stuff and edited again.

My book won’t be as ambitious as some who (may Thor bless them) give strict advice on what to do and how to do it. My ideal reader will be a writer like me who wants to grab a steaming coffee, curl up in an armchair and read Crack the Indie Author Code: Aspire to Inspire (yes, that’s what I called it and yes, it’s coming soon). Readers will find an ally, inspiration and company on the journey to publication. For me, the work is about the writing first and foremost. The real fun happens in our heads as we write and nurture that spark of inspiration into a flame that throws light and heat. I’m happiest at my keyboard hooked up to the coffee in the intravenous drip.

Do I think writing can be taught? Sure. If you want it enough to bother to go looking for the education, that’s the cardinal sign and symptom that you’re already infected with the writing bug, anyway.

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

(Top 10 Things +1) Writers Love:

1. libraries and bookstores. Look at all those dead trees! Look at all those rotten books! Your book will be so much better. Look at all those shelves for your great books. Your books will one day share shelf space with your literary heroes and you will all enter the pantheon. Libraries and bookstores are harbingers of potential, omens of destiny, and, not incidentally, where you get #2.

2. books. Your shelves creak as you add even more books. Your iPod is full. Your heaven is a place filled with books and time to enjoy them, to savor them, to devour them. You prefer books to people, though people do have their place (i.e. they can give you a good book.) A good book is sex that lasts longer.

3. life. It’s where you get your ideas. Life is the thing you absorb so you can process it, chew and hold your ideas up against it to make your fantasy seem all the more real. Life and the limited world it comes from—that’s what you’re going to change with your writing. (Yes, life is number 3 down the list. That isn’t an error. Why? Because when you write you are god. When you don’t write, you’re…well…you.)

4. good first readers. A good reader will proofread your manuscript and find the errors you didn’t and not make you feel like an idiot about it. Good readers are very hard to find. Not unicorn hard. Good readers are platypus hard.

5. an excellent agent who’s a bitch or a bastard when they’re bargaining for you but never that way in their dealings with you. Search for agents with multiple-personality disorder. Try mental hospitals. (Or decide that in any venture you will encounter individuals who are human. You may even come to like some of them. The rest will make great gossipy stories at your book launch.)

6. an editor who’s careful and considerate. There are many. No, really! They want to help you make your work the best it can be to earn a larger readership.

7. a motivated sales force. The crop is of uneven quality. If you can, give them more motivation by offering a trip to your Florida condo for the highest seller. Failing that, make a great impression at the sales conference, smile and shake every hand. I loved Amy Tan as a person, so I sold more of her books. It wasn’t a conspiracy. It was just natural when I was selling to bookstore owners. “Yeah, I met her at the conference and wow was she great etc.,…)

8. a great book cover. Publishers may “consult” you, but if you hate it and they love it, they’ll go with the cover as is. If someone else is publishing your work, that’s a factor that is out of your hands. It will gnaw at you. You will curse them. Eventually you will accept it so you might as well start accepting it now. (Also, when your book tanks you’ll have something to blame that wasn’t your story and someone to blame who isn’t you.)

9. fans. Duh. (Yes, some superstars grow to hate their fans. In the social media/TMZ-environment, they are soon called “Uh…that guy. The obnoxious prick…what was his name again? Oh yeah. Has Been.”)

10. time to write. There’s never enough time. If you don’t have an official publisher-set deadline now (read: you’re still a wannabe writing on spec) it’s a blessing not to have that hanging over your head. Just write. Sip the coffee. Recline and give that revision sober and careful thought. You have more time now than you’ll ever have. After you sign some contracts and people are clambering for your next book, you’ll feel like you never have enough time. Ev-er.

BONUS:

11. ourselves. Inside every writer is an insecure, wounded child who started worrying about death and how they don’t matter way too early. Over top of that is a thick layer of pomposity and that is the egotist we love. How else to explain our deep need to share our thoughts with strangers? We love ourselves as we see ourselves. We want to share so others will see, hear and understand our genius, agree with us and love the broken child one layer down. We write to reach out. We write to connect. We write so others will share our visions and forgive us our sins. We write to hear our voices talk and prove we matter. We write to make worlds because they who make worlds must be gods (not spineless schmoes worrying about paying the rent.) We love ourselves so much we betray family secrets and confided stories. We love ourselves beyond reason because the world is beyond reason and we think so highly of ourselves, we have such hubris, we think that through words we can impose order. We love ourselves so much we glorify our self-hatred. We write for love because the love we have for ourselves is large, but it will never be enough to fill our hearts. We write for your love. And most of you won’t give a damn.

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Writers, , , ,

John Irving on Novels

Filed under: Writers, writing tips, ,

Stephen King On Writing

Horror doesn’t just describe a genre, but what the reader is supposed to feel. I took in a short gasp of horror when I read a sidebar in The Writer which blithely informed us that we’d learn more from Danse Macabre than we’d glean from Stephen King On Writing.

Everybody’s entitled to their wrong opinion but the casual dismissal of On Writing took me aback for the simple reason that Danse Macabre is broad and descriptive of the genre, but On Writing is prescriptive, beating the adverbs out of you and even giving a solid example (if not a template) for approaching agents etc.,…. I’ve read and reread On Writing and it bears reading and rereading. It’s useful in its instruction and lyrical in biography (though for no reason I can understand King denies it’s a biography.)

Lots of people–okay, I’ll say it, English Majors–have discounted King in the past, and too easily. They forget that not only has he been one of the most successful writers on the planet, he used to teach writing, too. If you are a writer, you must own this book.

Filed under: book reviews, Writers, writing tips, , ,

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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