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

Write and publish with love and fury.

#NaNoWriMo: Take a chance. Deliver.

I’ve finally begun reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel.

Feeling a bit burnt out, I reached for an old reliable author to get me into relaxed creativity mode. The fire in the wood

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store.

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

stove is burning bright and hot as a cold blizzard’s squalls pull at the house. Under my wool blanket, I’m cozy and this book feels comfortable, too. Different story, same old friend in King. I’m one of his Constant Readers. To my delight, King has an Easter egg for writers right off the top. 

His hero, a teacher grading essays, complains about his students “writing like little old ladies and little old men.” Heh. Yeah, I know exactly what he means: Grammar and spelling correct, but boring. Tried and true narrative, but too safe. I want surprises. The development of the story has to be logical, sure, but please, take a chance! Dare to take the reader by the hand and shove them on the roller coaster they didn’t plan to get on. Give them the adventure they didn’t know they wanted.

For instance, in Season One of This Plague of Days, I did a lot of plausible things with strange characters (and I put the implausible in a context that makes it believable.) In Season One, you see a kid on the autistic spectrum operating in our world (i.e. at the end of it.) That was cool, but to heat up the narrative and quicken the pace, I had to go deeper into the implausible and still attempt to make it as believable as it was fanciful. 

In Season Two, the story takes some new turns and we’re in Jaimie Spencer’s world more than he is in ours. Though many people loved Jaimie in Season One, I wasn’t interested in making Two a copy of One. If One is a siege and Two is basically The Road, I had to take the crazy train to places people hadn’t seen before in an apocalypse. The virus that came to kill humanity keeps evolving and that takes us down unfamiliar roads. The Plaguers and I are happy with it.

People love Same Thing Only Different. Too different is a gamble, but some gambles pay off.

Changing a character people love is uncomfortable at times, but certainly do it if the story demands it. (By the way, nobody loves Jaimie more than I do, but he ends up doing a lot of questionable things for a Christlike figure.) I demanded development and change, so I got dreams, a touch of magic and some big questions for the surviving humans caught in the teeth of the gears of existence. If Sartre could read my apocalypse over a lunch of cold milk, ham sandwiches and angst, I think it would spark an interesting discussion about the existential subtext of ambition versus chaos theory. You know…sliding in the thin spaces amongst the bloody zombie attacks, scary new species and terrorized, grieving humans.

Dare to be wrong and, surprise! You’re right.

Sometimes it’s just simple mechanics where writers wimp out and opt for their grammar book over Art with a capital A. In Higher Than Jesus, for instance, a character uses the non-word “father-in-laws”. The correct plural is “fathers-in-law,” of course. Trust your readers to figure out that you know when you’re wrong. Better to stick with what’s true rather than what’s correct. The speaker of “father-in-laws” is an old, homeless guy whose education isn’t terrific. Talking like a Harvard law professor does not fit, so wrong is right.

Most readers will go along and the very few who will think you’re an idiot were never going to like your work, anyway. Grammar fascists don’t read for the enjoyment of reading, so relax and focus on the readers who are with you for the right reason. That reason is Story (and to forget we’re all going to die, and maybe soon, in Death’s razor claws and unforgiving, crushing jaws.)

I like prose that is edgy. Lots of book lovers love it when we’re gutsy.

I like Chuck Palahniuk a lot, perhaps especially when he cruises the experimental. I like much of Norman Mailer’s work for its simplicity. However, I love Stephen King. The narrative is straight A to B. Snobby readers might call it “muscular” or “workmanlike.” That’s old code for not “literary” enough or too pulpy by half. But who do you want telling you a story? An arid auteur who tells it correctly or a writer who get it across right? The writing I’m talking about is visceral. It affects you. It makes you think but it doesn’t have to call attention to itself too much. Have something to say and mean it. Lofty’s fine if your feet stay on the ground. 

Don’t give me fancy writing tricks. Tell me the story, please.

You know all those New Yorker short stories with the super-opaque endings where it’s so very arty you can’t figure out what the hell the last paragraph is supposed to mean? Where they try to trick you into thinking vague ends equal powerful conclusions? You’ve surely read those stories so bathed in antiseptic that they have no honest feeling or real humor. The words are all in the right order but they can’t make you care. It’s hard to define, but when a book has no heart, you know it. 

I suggest you do the opposite of all that empty scribbling and I’ll try to do the same.

A good short story, or a solid book, should deliver a punch and satisfaction (or at least anticipation of the next book in the series) with its last line. It should not generate a confused look on the face of an intelligent reader. 

A great story can be read aloud in the flicker of a dying campfire. If the story’s solid, your rapt audience will worry about the characters in the book. They will be blissfully unaware of the starving bear watching from the woods behind them, sniffing the air, drooling, and measuring the distance to the fading circle of light.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute: author, podcaster, perpetually worried. If you want to learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com. Or just zip over to AllThatChazz.com and buy some books. That would be good. Also, Season One of This Plague of Days is in paperback and Christmas is coming. I’ll let you connect the dots from there. Thanks!

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AB Challenge 25: The 10 Worst Book Acknowledgements. Ever.

Available soon on Amazon!

I’ve thanked the usual suspects for their contributions privately in emails and publicly on my acknowledgements and dedication pages for all my books. With that attitude of gratitude well established, I’m going to take some liberty with the Author Blog Challenge writing prompt to acknowledge (not thank) a few of the elements that have contributed to my books:

1. Thanks to the elite secret military organization in which I attained the rank of Commander at the age of six. I kept talking to myself in the mirror, and addressing myself as Commander, until my late 20s. Hey, I grew up in a small town. Whatever gets you through the tough times. More despair = more talking to myself.

2. Thanks to the bullies who fuelled my revenge fantasies. My work is full of a lot of revenge fantasy and you started me on the path. Sorry about those groin injuries, boys.

3. Thanks to my Hapkido instructor for showing me the ways of skilled violence. I know what chipped teeth, broken bones and a smashed nose feel like. My experience of combat is not theoretical.

4. Thanks to the small town in which I grew up. In my fiction, you are Poeticule Bay, Maine. You can sample my small-town claustrophobia in The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, coming out this week on Amazon. The town almost becomes a character in the Poeticule Bay stories. A bad character.

Paranormal persuasion and scary stories.

5. To my third grade teacher. I murdered you in my mind a thousand times. After the first couple of hundred delightful excursions in blood and righteousness, I explored more clever and fantastic ways to achieve a satisfactory death for you. Now in my fiction, people sometimes die in unorthodox ways. In death, you contributed to literature in a lasting way that you never equalled in your role as a teacher.

6. Thanks to Anger. (You got me through when I had nothing else left but #7.)

7. Thanks to Sadness. When I told my mother I was depressed at age thirteen, she replied, “You are not!” (Loop back to #6.)

8. Thanks to Sex, Movies, Books and TV, which broke me out of that awful #6/#7 loop.

9. Thanks to Fear, you ugly son of a bitch. Go ahead. Keep chasing me. You are my motivation.

10. Thank you to all my enemies. I will crush you in everlasting literature. If I haven’t gotten around to you yet, wait. You are on The List. Buy my books and keep an eye out for clues.

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Author Blog Challenge 11: How I became God

Click the pic for more.

I cried for an old friend today. My daughter asked me about how I proposed to She Who Must Be Obeyed and that meandered back to Johnny, the minister who married us. He died of colon cancer. The tears took me by surprise — again, they always do — and I turned my head and my voice almost broke. I covered up my sorrow as I told my daughter about Johnny. My stomach twisted to think about the loss of this fine man with a young family. Johnny’s presence brought us joy. His untimely, horrible death brought chaos. Johnny wouldn’t approve, but when cancer wrung his life from him, my faith died, too. I found my way back to writing for therapy. Then I cast God aside to become Him. I have more compassion and kindness.

After I dropped my daughter off at school, the headaches and the trapped feeling roared back. I am a small god in a tiny realm. I climbed into my bed to retreat into unconsciousness for a little while. Maybe that’s why there’s so much suffering in the real world. God became bitter and He went back to bed, too.

As deep as the blade went with Johnny’s death, I know I will use this. Everything that happens to you as a writer gets sorted and recycled. That moment where I looked away to cover my tears and my voice cracked just a little? That will show up in one of my books, I’m sure.

Then, tonight at my son’s soccer game, I sat beside Gillian. Our kids hold the same trophies, getting taller together in each year’s team photo. Years ago, on the school playground, she mentioned a grisly moment from her history as a personal support worker. She’d forgotten the anecdote, but I used an aspect of it in a short story, Sidewalkers, that appears in one of my collections, Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit). I won’t spoil it for you, but maggots are involved. Through fiction I transformed an awful factoid into a larger narrative, the sort of secret we file under “Not Understood” in real life.

Every challenge, met and lost, every story told to me and suffered personally…everything…everything is fodder. I cannibalize my life, my family, my enemies — especially my enemies. Fiction is a mind trick that plays with our human capacity for empathy. Through stories, we experience drama, pain and mistakes without suffering the dreary, fatal consequences. But I write not just in the service of self-expression and the market for fiction. I write to correct reality. Fiction is more neat and clean. Happy endings can happen. I can pick where to stop telling my stories so the good man doesn’t have to die, the happy seeker doesn’t become an atheist and the ugly story about maggots becomes a clever anecdote that serves a purpose. In my realm, I am a conscious god. I have more compassion than the mysterious stranger whose ways no one can know. I rewrite the world so it makes more sense.

The tears can be just as real either way. Tears that rain from Art can keep you up all night, compelled to stay awake and reading. Tears from Life send you to bed with a splitting headache and a bitterness that demands escape into softer dreams.

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Writers: The short form is roaring back

Ernest Hemingway's Grave

Image by gharness via Flickr

I met The Fab Rebecca Senese (I think of her as TFRS at all times) at the Writers’ Union symposium. We went to Tims and went through that excited decompression phase. You know the one. It’s where you are packed with new information to mesh and meld with your old data and you talk fast to get it all out and solidify new, useful neuropathways.

She made an observation that really got my attention:

Amid the hubbub, TFRS said that e-books were a sure opportunity for the short form to make a strong comeback. Got a short flight or need a distraction over lunch? Read a short story or two. If you just want to gulp down a tale but don’t have time for a whole book, enjoy a novella after work.

Makes sense to me. I love short fiction. For instance, it’s a mystery to me why people say they love Ernest Hemingway‘s books, but I do like some of his short stories very much.

Short stories have been relegated to the back of the bus (read: unread literary journals.)

Until recently people have been buying books by weight, so publishers laughed at their puniness and demanded big doorstops they could sell. Length is an issue with paper, constrained as it is by the strictures of the printing press and bookstore manager’s expectations.

Novellas are ignored by many professional critics who often don’t take it seriously because they think the short punch packs less heft behind it. As if we all feel that way all the time.

A good short story takes talent to write and in some ways is a different skill set from the novel. (These critics must be those same twits who scoff at Twitter just because they can’t put together one clever coherent thought in less than 140 characters.)

Now with e-books, the answers to those objections are: Who needs publishers for that? What’s a professional critic and what is this “newspaper” thing you’re babbling about? And lit journals? What’s that? Is all this stuff available online?

Click this link to see  Rebecca Senese’s short fiction.

Please do take a look.

Filed under: authors, blogs & blogging, Books, ebooks, self-publishing, short stories, Twitter, 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

All the dark fantasy fun of the first three books in the Ghosts & Demons Series for one low price.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

You never know what's real.

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.

Write to live

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