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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

An Apocalypse in the Middle of an Apocalypse

When I started publishing books in 2010, my pace got faster as I refined my processes. Take a couple of books through the editorial process and you identify quirks, mistakes, and inefficiencies you can avoid with future projects. At one point, I wrote five books in one year (and that was while I still had a day job). I took three days to format my first book. Back when I serialized This Plague of Days, I refined that formatting process down to a few minutes. Some things get easier with experience, feedback, and repetition. Then along came a killer pandemic and all my routines and expectations got torpedoed.

Trouble writing? This bud’s for you, bud.

Not Coping with COVID-19

The last book I put out was a thriller called The Night Man. That was Christmas, 2019. Almost two years later, I’m finally about to publish again. For several reasons, I took my time with my new book. This apocalyptic tale is a compelling experience that, in part, explores how we respond to disaster (or don’t). Endemic asks, “What happens when a pandemic never ends?” It’s not a short read, but the pacing will make it feel that way. I put so much of myself into this book that, despite its grand setting and sweeping scenes, the story is a relatable cautionary tale about what happens when variant storms strike. I wish the story wasn’t so relatable. The immediacy of viral dangers affected my writing routines negatively. What follows are my suggestions if you have been similarly afflicted.

How to Write (or not) in the Middle of an Ongoing Disaster

  • Put yourself on a social media diet. If the TikTok warning comes up suggesting you go outside to smell the roses, you know you’ve been on the app too long. It’s easy to get sucked into doom scrolling. I sure did. Though the news might give you ideas, it can just as easily suck away writing energy. So much of the news is repetitive that listening to a third epidemiologist in one day is counterproductive.
  • Self-care. Maybe that means remembering to take a shower. Perhaps exercise is missing from your day. Look at what’s missing and fill that need.
  • Writing sprints with a willing writing buddy work.
  • Setting a timer and writing your first draft as fast as you can in short bursts works, too.
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
  • Think of each chapter as a short story instead of setting your sights on a huge word count. “I am going to write 500 words before the top of the hour,” sounds reasonable and doable. “I’m going to knock out a massive epic of 150,000 words by the end of the month,” is intimidating.
  • Tell stories you feel a great need to tell. Passion alone may not take you all the way to the end of the project, but it should give you some inertia. Hacks don’t have passion. Business considerations are for before and after the writing session, not during. Write the story.
  • Abandon unreasonable expectations. If you’re writing 200 words a day, don’t torture yourself with promises to craft 10,000 words tomorrow morning.
  • There is no rule that says you have to produce x number of books a year. Things change. Your response can change. Do what you can do and want to do. What you think you need to do can’t be bigger than what you can do.
  • Avoid martyrdom. I’ve pulled my share of all-nighters as a writer. I don’t do that anymore because I know if I push myself too hard for too long, I’ll get burned out. I want to write useful pages. Longer hours might just give you more mistakes to fix.
  • You are a writer, not a robot. Accept that now isn’t necessarily your time to accomplish x, y, or z. The rise and grind ethos is fine if you can stay healthy working at a blistering pace. Some people get energy from that approach. It’s not for everyone, though. Is anything?
  • Many go-getters and gurus will encourage you to “get back to normal.” The pandemic is not over and, to me, such admonitions feel like celebrating a touchdown at the 30-yard line. I understand the inclination to pretend this disaster isn’t ongoing, but it is. These are not normal times and not everyone is okay. Not everyone’s losses or ability to respond to challenges are equal. Be kind to yourself.
  • Some writers have found the lockdown experience energizing to their work. I know of no stats that suggest what and where that split is. On the other hand, many people have quit their jobs. Writing is a job you can turn your back on. You can quit and focus your energies elsewhere. If it’s not good for you right now, be honest with yourself when you need to walk away.
  • Professionalism? Sure, I’m all for it. Set a schedule. Have a dedicated work space and show up. Establish flowcharts of your action plans for writing and marketing. Measure and record your quantitative output. Keep an eye on the quality of your input. Do the thing … as long as it’s helping you, not hurting. Writing is supposed to be fun, remember?
  • Hydration, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are all important. However, these are not panaceas. When people need help with physical and mental issues, some well-meaning cheerleaders will appear to tell you to go for a walk in the sunshine. That’s fine as far as it goes, but if your pancreas is merely serving a decorative function, you’re going to need more intervention than nice thoughts and meditation. If you need professional help, get it.
  • Another’s writer’s success can be motivating. That’s not true for me, though. When Amazon tells me an author I follow has come out with their fourth book in four weeks, I don’t feel good about myself. Besides, there are too many variables to replicate another’s path precisely. Do not compare your output to anyone else’s production schedule.
  • Procrastinate productively, whatever that means for you. If you need a nap and can do so, enjoy that nap. If you want to clean up your workspace, go head. However, don’t tell yourself you’re going to write “sometime” today and end up torturing yourself with I-should-haves. If you’re going to take the day off from writing, choose to do so consciously and choose early in the day. The worst writing days are the ones you tell yourself you were supposed to have had and didn’t execute.
  • A caution about procrastination: Are you one of those travelers who pack your entire wardrobe for a weekend getaway? When traveling, take half the clothes and twice the money. When writing, no, you don’t need to do so much research. Research to achieve verisimilitude is encouraged. Research that pushes your deadline back a month is procrastination.
  • Rely on social support. We have all grown more isolated in the last year and a half. Break loneliness. Talk to friends on the phone. Enjoy a Zoom call. Reach out and text someone. Share another cute dog video. Think of it as physical distancing, not social distancing.
  • Prioritize. That sounds like I’m scolding, so let me rephrase: Be lazy about the right things. Say no to the right things and yes to the write things. For instance, me to She Who Must Be Obeyed: “I got a lot of words down today, but I didn’t mow the lawn. It’ll keep another day.” Or, “I’m sick of the Sunday Bean Soup I made. It’s the fourth day in a row. Wanna order pizza?”
  • Writing, but you’re not feeling that last scene? Maybe it’s time to reward yourself with a short story to submit to an anthology. The right change can boost your creative energy. Taking a break can mean going for a swim. It might mean putting your energy into that mystery you’ve always dreamed of. You know, the one where the orangutan escapes from the zoo and solves heinous crimes with his sidekick, a Mormon sign language interpreter with a penchant for exotic cheeses. Do you, boo!
  • Blocked? Start writing about that. What does that frustration feel like? What childhood affront does that pain remind you of? Thinking about writing and not doing so is pain. Starting to write about anything, primes the pump and gets the juices flowing. Write fast, write now, and edit later. Silence your inner critic and dive in. Soon you’ll look up from the page and discover you’ve been at it a while and now you have something to work with. Blank pages are notoriously difficult to edit.
  • Read something that inspires you. You can read as a writer and analyze the narrative. I’d suggest you read like a reader instead. Remember the joy of reading? Let that feeling percolate so you’ll come back to your love of the written word.
  • Find what motivated you before you lost your mojo. There aren’t any wrong answers. Love, spite, competition, proving your ex wrong? Whatever gets you back to the writing mindset.
  • Aim for excellence, not perfection. Perfectionism is self-hatred. Some writers speak of putting out “minimum viable product.” I’m nervous about that wording and how it can be twisted. However, if it helps to get you writing, consider that there are plenty of successful writers entertaining legions of happy readers. Not all of them are solely focused on writing The Best Thing Ever Written. They are writing to entertain without the burden of a subjective and snobby literary standard.

What helped me most?

I faced challenges to my mental and physical health over the past couple of years. Chronic insomnia robbed me of many productive days, for instance. What I needed was time. I wrote a little, poking at my WIP. I didn’t manage to write every day. The best I could do was four days out of seven. When I allowed a limit and told myself it was okay not to write on a certain day (or series of days), the stress headaches went away. Taking my time with the story fueled my creativity. Patience made for a richer, more layered novel.

Writing a little at a time, I got where I needed to be. This month, I’ll release my first book in a long time. I’m healthier these days. My mojo and ambitions are rising again. There will be a hardcover, paperback, and a podcast of Endemic. Next year, expect an audiobook. Endemic holds echoes of my most successful series, This Plague of Days. I took my time. Endemic was worth the wait.

~ For all my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics, please do check out my links at AllThatChazz.com.

http://www.AllThatChazz.com

Look for Endemic on Amazon later this month. To get your heads-up about when it’s available, sign up for updates at AllThatChazz.com.

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War Stories from Trad Publishing

When I moved to Toronto to enter the heady field of publishing, I had romanticized the profession. Profession, see? I didn’t know yet that it is mostly an industry. I dreamed that, surrounded by the glittering literati, it would be all wonderful words, sharp wit, and too many cocktails at book launches. Here are a few things I learned in short order:

1. If you’re looking for opportunities to trade bon mots, people in publishing don’t have a monopoly on that skill. They might have cornered the market on a false sense of superiority and condescension, but funny? Nope! Most of us were poor. Trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world does tend to dampen one’s spirits.

2. If you’re new to the industry, anyone who’s been at it for two years longer will step back to see if you’re wearing shoes. At my first cocktail party, someone held forth on the strife of the former Yugoslavia and denigrated my opinion. She may have thought me a young hick, but I was the only one in the room who had actually traveled there and witnessed the damage bullets can do.

Snobs tend to gravitate to the profession. Stephen King left a publisher who profited well off his books because, despite his early success, they couldn’t seem to remember his name when they passed in the hallway. “Only a genre author, you know.”

3. After working in traditional publishing for five years, I can assure you that they don’t have a disproportionate number of smarter people than any other industry. I was chronically underwhelmed by many of my colleagues. There were a few gems, of course, but plenty of folks whose job was to make judgments had lousy judgment. One publisher I worked for ran himself out of business because he only wanted to put out “important” books. He may have briefly impressed his friends on the Rosedale circuit, but his list did not sell enough to sustain. I remember telling my sales manager, “Another sodbuster? Fine, but would it kill him to put out a cookbook people will actually buy this Christmas?”

4. People on the editorial side, mostly women, are infamously underpaid. They do not share the wealth. The moolah all funnels up. (And don’t get me started on the unpaid intern scam.)

5. Some editors and not a few salespeople denigrate authors’ efforts. Publishing companies buy manuscripts to sell books, but their respect for those who produce those manuscripts varies widely.

Hey! Want to break free of the blank page and work inside trad publishing? If you were impressed by the dismissive speech Meryl Streep gives Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, this might be the job for you! If, on the other hand, you have self-respect and intolerance for workplace abuse, at least work at a firm big enough for an HR department.
(I put a bad boss in a hammerlock once. That fucker still owes me $5,000.)

6. Perhaps driven by desperation, some authors are pills, too. For instance, Bookstore X refused to sell books by a particular author who had a bad reputation. Bookstore X stood just down the street from the publishing house, so naturally, when the author got taken to a liquid lunch, they stopped in. The author discovered Bookstore X did not carry any of his books. “But I’m a literary icon!” the author wheedled.

Embarrassed, the publisher blamed the sales rep (i.e. me) and sent a memo to my boss. “What’s going on?” she wailed. It wasn’t a conspiracy. What was going on was the bookstore owner didn’t like the author personally. Nobody liked either of them, in fact. In hurting himself, the author tried to hurt me. (That writer is dead now. I claim to have had nothing to do with it.)

7. Speaking of bookstore owners, I liked most of them, but they had romantic ideas getting into their business, too. They thought they’d be reading books constantly, maybe even hobnobbing with famous authors. Instead, they were often saddled with businesses pushed out and pushed down by big box retail and online stores. Calculating GST payments all day and worrying about impending doom does make one surly.

One guy made a big deal out of the fact a sales rep didn’t want to get up at 4 in the morning and travel up from Toronto to pay a visit at 5:30 a.m. to a little bookstore in the back of the beyond. (Wasn’t me, but I felt bad for the sales rep from another house.) Another bookstore owner got very pissy that I dared to use the word comedy instead of humor. That person is now out of business, but I assume she’s yelling at some retail worker somewhere on Instagram.

I was tasked with presenting an extensive list for 16 publishers to a board of librarians. There were more than a
dozen people around the table as I went into my spiel. One guy thought the enthusiasm I had for my list made me stupid. I made a joke and he rolled his eyes. “Ba-dum-bump!”

I was young and full of blue piss, so I stopped my show and pushed back. “You don’t want me to be funny and energetic in my sales pitch? Fine. I. Can. Deliver. The. Entire. List. In. Robotic.
Fashion. If. You. Want. You wanna stop busting my balls now?” Everyone laughed but the guy I called out, but how can badly behaving customers learn if we don’t teach them?

8. Not everyone has romanticized ideas about what they do. My first two publishing jobs were at Harlequin. An exec struck up a conversation with me in the company cafeteria. “Why did you come here?” he asked. I told him my background was in journalism, but I loved books so I got into publishing.


“We’re not really publishers, though,” he said. “We’re book packagers.”

Meeting him, I vowed to escape before my innocence and light of aspiration in my eyes went dead.
You do want to keep some of your beginner’s mind as you move through your career. Otherwise, the days are long and sad.

9. A wannabe novelist and poet who worked as a copy editor told me, “Many people who want to write gravitate to this industry.” Then he cackled on at length about an author whose typo mixed up desert and dessert.
Maybe he wouldn’t have been so mean to actual writers if he didn’t still have a novel of his own trapped in his head. Frustrated writers make the most truculent editors.

You used to see this kind of behavior on social media, and the worst offenders were snotty agents. I don’t know if there are still high-profile agents making sport of the authors and unsolicited manuscripts in their slush piles. There are fewer agents now, perhaps for good reason.

10. This may be the worst one: Plenty of authors betting big on their first book have a romanticized idea of what New York or Toronto can do for them. They think if they get a traditional pub contract, they’re set for life. They won’t have to do a thing but write. Most authors don’t make much, and there are quite a few independent authors who do better financially. Either way, most of the marketing is on you. Some marketing requirements will feel onerous and still come to naught.

Unless you’re a controversial political figure or a hot celebrity, your advance will be lower than it was thirty years ago (and it wasn’t great then.) You may never earn out your advance and get royalties. Promotional opportunities that independent authors routinely use are denied you by traditional publishers. You don’t have the flexibility. If your first book fails to clear the bar, a trad publisher is unlikely to bet on you twice. Organize your own company, editorial team, and marketing, and you’ll get as many kicks on goal as you want.


Trying to negotiate a trad contract? Your publisher will inform you all contracts are boilerplate. Ignore them and have an IP lawyer negotiate for you before you sign your rights away. Nobody’s looking out for you but you. The acquiring editor is not your enemy, but this is the business part, not the art part.

About trad pub transparency: Your advance will come slowly, in stages, and you’ll have to rely on accounting reports from the publisher that obfuscate reality. At best, you’ll find out how your book is doing a couple of times a year, too late to respond in a timely manner.


FULL DISCLOSURE:

I’ve been independent since 2010, but I’m not saying you shouldn’t try your luck, talent, and skill in the traditional publishing arena. I am saying you should go in with your eyes open. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

Last year, a NY publisher approached me about submissions. I admit, I was excited. I sent an outline for a thriller. I haven’t heard anything from them since. I would still consider going hybrid, for sure. Any chance to expand my readership is an alluring thing. On the other hand, knowing what I know about all the variables, I’m not into chasing after anyone, either. (Cue Cheap Trick singing, “I Want You to Want Me!”)


BONUS MYTHS:

Some writers believe they are bound to get treated better by a boutique publishing house. At small operations, whoever answers the phone is more likely to know your name. However, a business on the brink is not more likely to treat you better. They don’t have the budget for that. They are more likely to go out of business.

Big versus little isn’t the issue. It’s about the people. It’s nice to work with nice, competent people who love what they do and share a sense of urgency about your work and concerns. But there’s another fly in the ointment. Editorial staffs have been downsized for years in favor of cheaper outsourcing. That editor at Big Publishing House who loved you and your work last year may not be there this year. She’s selling alpacas in Arizona now, and she’s much happier.



~ My next novel launches this September. In the meantime, please do check out links to my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics at AllThatChazz.com.

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The I of the Eye

When I’m not working on my latest apocalyptic WIP, I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s guide to writing. Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything was Different is a humdinger. Each short chapter mines his success and ends with simple, direct advice: “If you were my student,” I’d tell you X. From craft to how to run a writer’s group and how to make author readings extra interesting, he shares wonderful experiences and solid tips for writers at all levels. I admire his writing and bold story choices. His cynical worldview delivers on dark, perverse fun and a rich subtext of social commentary.


As a fan of Fight Club, Survivor, Choke, and Lullaby, I was curious about his writing process and what he considers good writing. I once thought I was a minimalist writer. As a former journalist who read Hemingway, I even identified as such. I was wrong, but Chuck Palahniuk is a real minimalist. Stuff happens, but he goes to great lengths to avoid judgments. At all costs, Palahniuk eschews telling readers how they should feel about plot events, no matter how disturbing. His fiction style is influenced by what straight journalistic reportage is supposed to be.
For instance, X and Y happened. Draw your own conclusions. Even better if readers draw different conclusions so they can argue with each other over their literary takeaways.

Where We Differ

Recently, I followed a guided meditation in which each meditator was asked to adopt a mantra that reflected some facet of their base state. For instance, hands over heart, you could say to yourself, “I am a compassionate person dedicated to helping others.” My mantra that night was, “I explore consciousness.” In the writing context, that would send up red flags for Mr. Palahniuk.

To contrast his approach with my own, plenty of events happen in Endemic, my next novel. However, the neurotic protagonist indulges in internal commentary. Off medication and arguing with the voices in her head, Ovid Fairweather needs therapy and it shows. If you’re unfamiliar with my work, I admit I dare to do this sort of thing often. In The Night Man and AFTER Life, the main characters are conflicted souls. Ernest Jack has PTSD, a physical disability, and a fraught relationship with his criminal father. Officer Dan Harmon battles a killer artificial intelligence and brain parasites while doubting his career choices. (You ever notice that, in fiction, cops are always full of certainty they shouldn’t be off somewhere else painting watercolors? That’s not Dan in AFTER Life.)

I acknowledge writing about feelings is dangerous territory. It can drag the words too far from the plot. Every writing guide advises writers to delete “I remember…” or “I felt…” Delete the I of the eye. Be imaginative and descriptive, but don’t tell us, show us. Evoke feelings in readers instead telling them how to feel. Good advice, but there are exceptions and I do gravitate toward guidelines rather than rules. Mama Chute certainly didn’t mean to, but she raised a rebel.

What Dreams May Fail

Palahniuk advises writers to avoid dream sequences. His argument is that reality has plenty of drama and weirdness without resorting to fanciful sleep adventures that lower the stakes. I see what he’s saying and, in general, I agree. I often draw on a context of real life happenings to cushion the fiction in verisimilitude.

I can also say I’ve broken that no-dream rule on numerous occasions. To good effect, I think. (Consider This Plague of Days, Wallflower, and especially Dream’s Dark Flight). The trick to making those scenes work is to have dream life collide with reality. In real life, dreams mean nothing at all, or at least nothing to anyone other than the dreamer. If you use them in fiction, probably do so sparingly and definitely make them relevant. Inception made the use of dreams work, sure, but that’s the end of the shortlist.

How people react in stressful situations fascinates me, but if a novel is crammed with reactions alone, the story is weakened and skids to a dead stop. People can have feelings and dwell on them, but avoid pounding the reader into the ground. For example, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you know the television show devolves into annoying self-parody each time Rick returns to the same drawling speech, “Things have chaaaaaaaanged!” Yeah, things have changed in the Don’t-Call-Them-Zombies Apocalypse. We get it. Move along, please.

The Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence


Endemic will be my most personal novel yet. After a furious writing session, I had to sit back and recover when I realized several true stories from my childhood fit perfectly in an adventure about desperate people trying to survive a viral apocalypse. I’m confident I’ve sifted, intertwining action and reaction sufficiently that the story is propelled forward with each new twisty revelation. My hope is that, as screwed up as my protagonist is, Ovid remains relatable. She’s an ordinary person trapped in extraordinary events, much like all of us have been trapped through the pandemic.


Warning: If your book reads like therapy for the writer alone, you’re five knuckles-deep in the Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence. This September, when Endemic is unleashed upon the world, you’ll decide if I’ve found the balance. Until then, I heartily recommend reading Chuck Palahniuk’s book on writing. You’ll undoubtedly find engaging advice that will enhance your writing and your writing life. It’s so good, I might even cowboy up and try to take all his advice with my next novel.

Until then, I’m conflicted and arguing with myself about it.

~ For links to all my books, head over to AllThatChazz.com for killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics. Thanks!

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Beware the Guru and Groupie Gap

The whole Amazon store went down. It was just for an hour or so, but no one knew what was going on. Probably a little glitch while they performed an update. Some authors checked their profiles and, naturally, assumed it was only their sales page that had transformed into an error page. After all, what seems more likely? The whole store crashing or just a few lowly authors getting it in the shorts? Worried, sweaty, and stressed, a few dared to ask on social media, “What’s going on?” Veteran authors mostly ignored the problem, confident that an army of Amazon techs were on it and would soon set things right. Those at the top of the heap didn’t sweat a drop.

Neither reaction was wrong, or at least, not exactly.

Successful authors sell a lot of books and good on ’em. We all want to be read and appreciated for the sweet gumdrops we are, claiming literary turf, inspiring awe, and whatnot. Those who have “made it” in the monetary sense have a cushion of comfort. They didn’t always enjoy such a margin for error, but they’re secure in their word empires now. Sometimes, safe in their bastions, they forget the stress of being an up-and-comer, a slogger, or a might-be. Masters of their domain often have vast newsletter lists, staggering backlists, connections, and more projects in the editorial pipeline. And Money with a capital M, of course. Sincerely, good for them! Anybody who can gain legions of fans in this environment (Earth) is impressive. A few may need an extra dose of compassion, though, especially when they get overly self-congratulatory about not sweating the small stuff.

No Kale for Kisses

Many moons ago, Amazon paid late. This was and is unusual. Used to receiving my cash infusion on the last day of the month, I was concerned. A reasonable human response, right? I did not panic, but I did make the mistake of posting to an author group about it. I even began the post with, “Nobody panic, but …” I was about to contact Amazon to look into it because, y’know, money. It makes the world go round (or is that love? No, it must be money because my grocer eschews my kisses even if all I want is kale.)

I digress. Back to my post in the author group: Quick as a flash, I got scolded for airing my petty worldly concerns. A fabulously oblivious author, immune to the struggle or forgetful that others may have rent to pay and children to feed, popped on to order me back to work. A delay in payment wouldn’t bring her down to ruin and desperate survival mode, so why worry? She’d just returned from a month-long writing retreat in Bali, so fiddle-dee-dee and fuck me, I guess.

I mention this because you may be an up-and-comer, a slogger, or a might-be. Those who dispense great advice sometimes develop a blind spot with age and experience. What helped them in 2012 may not apply to you. There are many variables, of course. If you don’t share the same genre, for instance. That said, successful people often have fantastic advice and can provide useful models to emulate. Cast a skeptic’s eye everywhere, including here. I’ve got the best of intentions, but how are you to know? I don’t say, “Ignore me at your peril.” I say, “Here’s what I see,” and hope you find value. If not, not.


The point is, when people make it big, they often rewrite their biographies in their heads. They forget how many people helped them along the way. They emphasize their go-getter affirmations and attribute their popularity to a wealth of talent. After the fact, nobody thinks they’re lucky, just hard charging and brilliant. This is a natural occurrence visible in all fields of human endeavor. Bill Gates infamously played down the free contributions of hordes of anonymous programmers in the early era of computing. Donald Trump claimed he got a “small loan” of a million bucks from his dad. (It was much more than $1,000,000.) Studies show BMW drivers are less likely to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. Test subjects given a distinct advantage in a card game attribute their wins to intelligence and talent and mock other players even though they know they cheated! Humans are weird.

Sometimes, even the best masters fail to show compassion to the problems of those following in their wake. They may become indifferent to the struggles of their students. Those who sell tons of books have more resources than someone closer to the beginning of their writing career, or even mid-career. (Ahem. This is where I sheepishly raise my hand at the back of the class.) If someone who claims mastery has a huge mailing list and you don’t, that’s a gap in resources. Instructing you to announce your launch to your small list won’t be very helpful. Showing you how to develop said list and collaborate with others in advance of your launch would be much more on point.

Old joke: I moved here with nothing, phoned my rich uncle, and he sent me $2,500,000 to start my real estate business. Why can’t you do that?


You may be frustrated because you aren’t where you thought you’d be by now. Please have patience with yourself. Learn all you can from everyone whose strategies make sense to you. As long as being a writer makes you happy, keep going. Enjoy the trip because it’s not all about the destination. Day to day, the fun is found on the page, building stories, filling in plots, discovering characters, and expressing yourself. The static state of being an author is ultimately less important than the magic verb: write!

If you do make it to the summit, please have patience with others. We can’t all see your grand vistas from where we stand on our journey up the mountain, but we are climbing.

Bonus self-care hint: If you confess your honest troubles and someone replies with, “All you’ve got are excuses,” they’ve forgotten themselves. Remember who you are.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. You’ll find many entertainments on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. This is the call-to-action part where I ask you to buy all my books. Do click over for the links. Whew! That was awkward, putting it all out on Front Street like that.

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The Honest Get Rich Quick Scheme

Sometimes writers spend so much time writing, they read much less or not at all. Try not to fall into that trap. I was reminded how important it is to make time for both reading and writing recently. Somewhat ironically, the reminder came in the form of a movie.

There aren’t many good movies about writing. Finding Forrester is my go-to, but I found another gem. 84 Charing Cross Road is a plotless yet charming period piece starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. The 1987 film of Helene Hanff’s book is about her decades-long correspondence with an antiquarian bookseller in London. A writer in New York, she was obsessed with English books that were difficult to obtain. She goes to great lengths to get the old tomes she desires. Bless her.

The movie is less about writing and more about a quirky character and her love affair with books. As the world transforms through the late ’40s to 1971, Hanff smokes, drinks, writes Ellery Queen TV scripts, and reads obsessively. God, I love people who read. Sometimes it feels like they’re an endangered species that should be protected, doesn’t it?

The experience made me long for a time when books were so much more important to the culture and didn’t have to compete with social media and video games. Still, there are readers out there waiting for something special. Maybe your next creation is what they don’t know they’re waiting for.

Often, those movies the masses come to love spring from literature. Maybe getting a book made into a movie is our best shot at riches, but that’s debatable. The book usually has to hit big before a movie gets made years or even decades later. So, what to do? While you’re waiting for fame and fortune to find you…oh, no, I’m kidding. You don’t actually wait for those things that may never come. You gotta go hunting.

Aspiring heavy hitters wade through podcasts and courses about the tactics of segmenting mailing lists to grow their readership. The details of advertising and newsletter marketing aren’t sexy, but the gurus aren’t wrong. I’m annoyed by some of the requirements of modern publishing, especially since Facebook ads can be such a recalcitrant bitch these days. But this is the business side of the art we’re in.

I’m more obsessed with craft than marketing, a position which in today’s media consumption landscape makes me sound stupid and quaint, or at least naive. None of that is true. I’m just a bit tired. Though I’m glad to have received my second vaccine, it knocked the stuffing out of me for a few days.
Now that I’m vertical again, it’s back to the brain tickle business.

In sum, you became a writer for the love of books, so don’t just write them. Reading more will improve your writing, but do it all for the love of books. We may never become wealthy or even recognized, but reading makes our lives richer in the here and now.



~ Get richer in the here and now. I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I write killer crime thrillers (try The Night Man) and apocalyptic epics (read AFTER Life right now!) You’ll find links to all my books on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. And thanks, that’s super cool of you, you sexy undistracted butterfly.

Filed under: movies, publishing, reading, , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading and Writing Distractions


Once upon a time, two of the most recognizable figures were Muhammad Ali and Ernest Hemingway. They could go anywhere in the world, and they would be recognized in the street. You know what Ali was famous for. Hemingway was famous for writing, of course, less so for boxing. Being a savvy multiple streams-of-income author, Papa advertised liquor, too. Since the media revolution, all entertainment and infotainment markets are fractured and fragmented. We went from three TV channels to…how many streaming services are there now? I don’t have enough fingers and toes for high math.

But our problem, Dear Writer, is not just about too many things to track. You’re being tracked. Within the strict parameters of our media consumption algorithms, consumers tend to stay in their lanes. If you’re into K-pop, you’ll be fed more K-pop. If not, not. Data-driven platforms are watching and if you buy one toilet seat, they’ll serve up ads for all the toilet seats, bidets, and cushy tushy accoutrements you ever imagined and never needed.

Which brings me to publishing

There are more choices now and that’s great for everyone except when it’s not. If you dare to seek out the unknown, there’s plenty of it. However, the unknown will tend to remain so to those lucrative masses we dream about reaching when we’re penning a new masterpiece. To earn money writing books instead of some more likely venture, every publishing guru recommends drilling down in your genre. Romance is too broad a category. Mercenary/kidnapping/rescue romance caters to a specific audience. Cultivate that garden and you’ll have less competition and a smaller yet defined audience to seek out, advertise to, and serve. Within those fences, write at least two or three series with on-brand sexy covers and repeat until you’re sick of it, but sick of it on a yacht.

Westerns are out. Weird western gothic love triangles featuring murder by ouija board, a hotshot lawyer/city girl obsessed with maple syrup, a hot illiterate cowboy who sees ghosts, and a tough but tender rodeo clown into bondage? That’s in!

Ahem. These are just examples of drilling down, folks. Don’t jump on these frivolous examples as if it’s the military sci-fi trend kicked off by Chris Fox when he wrote Write to Market in 2016. Many writers didn’t take his advice to research a popular-yet-not-overcrowded genre they enjoy and write for it. They took his research seriously, though, and jumped on the military sci-fi bandwagon. That’s why there are so many covers of spaceship ass on Amazon. (Shout out to the excellent Six Figure Authors Podcast for the spaceship ass reference.)

Meanwhile, if you’re still querying agents, they still don’t know what they want, but like the infamous ruling on pornography, they’ll know it when they see it. They demand to be delighted and each agent has vast swaths of queries they’ll dismiss out of hand with a sneer. Research your agent first so you don’t end up as a sad example they mock to entertain strangers on Twitter. You don’t want to see your manuscript get this hurtful and unprofessional treatment: “Some pathetic creature dared to send me his heartfelt memoir of divorce and the loss of his parents as the Sandwich Generation suffers on! Har-har-har! What an asshole!”

In short, competition is stiff, so choose your targets carefully.

In independent publishing we are no longer subject to gatekeepers and, yes, in most ways there is no better time to be a writer than this moment. Just don’t underestimate the competition for eyeballs. The same distractions that keep you from writing are keeping your potential audience from reading. Gird your loins, guard your mind, write well, and write something that will distract your target audience from their crying babies, eating, and the fact that the world is on fire.

~ Hey, in case you don’t know me, I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write killer crime thrillers (try The Night Man) and apocalyptic epics (read AFTER Life right now!) You’ll find links to all my books on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. And thanks, that’s super cool of you, you sexy undistracted butterfly.

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

Do Not Drop Those Dogs

Remember last year, early in the pandemic, when everybody jumped on the craze of making sourdough bread? Yeah, I did it, too. I’m not even sure why. My results were mixed, but it just became the thing to do. I got “Mother” going, feeding her and tending to her. I made a lot of bread and there’s nothing wrong with that…but….

Okay, here’s the deal:

We can only live our lives in a forward motion, or possibly static. Since the pandemic began, admittedly, I’ve been in a holding pattern quite a bit. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have been writing a new apocalyptic novel, but I’ve been going at it very slowly. What else did I do? I listened to far too many virologists and immunologists as I fretted over the pandemic. It’s good to be informed, but my doom scrolling took hours out of the day and night. I obsessed over US politics because, wow, welcome to the circus, right? Love it or hate it, it was quite an exciting show with lots of twists and turns. I lost a lot of sleep, too. Netflix seemed to dominate my daily agenda. I hid in my blanket fort and stared into the existential abyss. The abyss stared back, but didn’t have anything to say. It wasn’t a meet-cute situation.


Here’s what I wish I’d done:

As a person with a few compounding co-morbidities to be paranoid about, I wish I’d used the time to take better care of my health. The sedentary nature of the writing life is bad enough without retreating into the couch and eating all the comfort food.

Her: What do you want to eat?
Me: Everything. All of it.


I am hypervigilant due to health anxiety, so I took precautions, of course. Trapped in a hotspot in perpetual lockdown (still!), I hardly went outside. When I did venture out for necessities, I double-masked. I wiped down groceries in the freezing cold, used hand sanitizer, and washed my hands obsessively as many others did. However, working out wasn’t really on my agenda. I told myself I didn’t have the energy for it. The gym was closed. At most, I tried to get 10,000 steps a day. If that’s all you can do, that’s fine. I could have and should have done more besides feel sorry for myself.

Last spring, we started a vegetable garden and that wasn’t all bad. The winters are harsh where I live. Since I hate Nature when it doesn’t offer a beach and palm trees, I was reduced to walking and sometimes running in circles inside the house. It was not a happy time. I contemplated ventilators a lot.

But things are changing.

The gym is still closed and we are in a situation where society will open up only if certain vaccination targets are met. I trust science, but I do not trust other people. Therefore, I’m going to be masking up for a very long time. Fortunately, the closure of the gym is no longer a barrier. In fact, I’m going to give up my gym membership. Instead, I’ve taken to working out at home using very little equipment. I got on an app called FitOn and it’s become part of my daily routine. It’s like having fitness and wellness coaches in your own home without the horror of actually having them in your home.

I had already changed my diet to be far more plant-based and that was good. A former athlete who has long since become apathetic about doing strenuous shit, I’m finally exercising again. I don’t have to go out and the workouts are very efficient. My cardio, strength, and flexibility are all improving. Using FitOn is much cheaper and more convenient than the gym I can’t currently attend. I’m a convert and, yes, I do feel a note of missionary zeal creeping into this post. I will only add that, despite some recent ongoing challenges, I think my mood is elevated, too. I carry myself differently now. I’ve been so consistent, my body composition is already changing in a good way.

If you’re a writer who is already getting regular exercise, please do continue. If not, you might look into the FitOn app. Failing that, there are plenty of other options, including programs you can enjoy on YouTube or that old Jane Fonda tape that’s still stuck in your dinosaur of a VCR. Whatever works to get you working on you.

Writers focus a lot on marketing. Frankly, I’d like to see a little more attention paid to craft. However, none of us will have long writing careers if we don’t take care of our health better. Write, but take frequent breaks to get up and move. Use a standing desk. Try a treadmill desk. Sit on a Swiss ball instead of a chair. Walk more, move more, juggle your Wire-haired Terrier, Pug, and Doberman while you enjoy interpretive dance. Whatever you can do, please take care of yourself
(and don’t drop those dogs).

I knew better and I didn’t take care of myself enough. I let the viral apocalypse get me down, but I’m working on it. Physically, things are getting better. Mental improvement is sure to follow.


~ Check out my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Note: AFTER Life, Inferno, the first book in my nanotech-zompoc trilogy is now permafree everywhere. Find AFTER Life, Inferno by Robert Chazz Chute wherever you get your ebooks and enjoy the free roller coaster ride as brain parasites plus artificial intelligence give the human race a makeover.

Filed under: the writing life, , , , , , , , , ,

Writing at Turtle Speed

I am currently writing the final act to my new apocalyptic novel, Endemic. I’m not going to kid you, this has been a long time coming. I have not been blazing through this journey through 2020 to now. I’ve poked at the manuscript, much like one might poke a bear carcass with a stick to make sure it’s dead. (Pro tip from a Canadian: Don’t do that.)

I do have a large backlist, but if you haven’t published anything in over a year, readers tend to forget the magic that is you. Without advertising or a little prodding, potential fans and algorithms tend to become oblivious to your existence. As a writer, you may feel so out of it that you must, like me, double-check the spelling of algorithm every goddamn time you use the word.

Pre-pandemic, there were times when I published five books a year. A couple of them were anthologies, but still, that was quite a respectable pace of productivity for me. 2020? Not so much. By not so much, I mean I published nothing new at all. However, I’m beginning to think that’s okay. When approaching a steep hill and a sharp curve, it’s good to slow down. If this is your writing life, too, I want to tell you that’s okay.

Here’s why I am giving myself a break

My bestseller took three years to write. This Plague of Days is a trilogy about the zombie apocalypse, but it didn’t start out that way. The first book was a story of disaster and survival. It’s a slow build with Latin phrases quoted from a mute kid on the spectrum trying to cope with the end of the world. It is an ambitious story and I rewrote it so many times, I can’t even guess how many drafts I revised before I got to the books that are still my steady sellers. (I should also note that my fastest full-length novel took 30 days with a pace as frantic as its composition. I love that novel no more nor less than others.)

Some writers may have found themselves trapped at home and amazingly productive during the pandemic. That’s not me. I hid in my blanket fort and, as someone who suffers health anxiety, became even more hypervigilant to emerging symptoms. COVID-19 has not been great for my mental or physical health, but more on that tomorrow.

Flash forward to writing Endemic

This new novel has some common ground with This Plague of Days. The main character is intelligent but, like Jaimie Spencer, she’s a very unlikely hero in an apocalypse. She’s a former book editor turned urban gardener fighting marauders. There’s great action, but hers is also a psychological story. She’s a neurotic outcast trying to survive on her own. Major handicap? Her psychotherapist is dead. That doesn’t stop her from talking to Dr. Rosa, but the deceased aren’t that much help. The main character, like me, has voices in her head. That input is not always helpful.

I slowed down to write Endemic, but the manuscript has turned into something special because I took my time. There are levels to this that explore what happens to the psyche under stress and duress. As a result, this novel will be my most personal book to date. There is a chapter called Three True Things that spring directly from my childhood experience. Let me tell you, it’s not a little disturbing to discover events from your childhood fit neatly into a story about the end of the world.

This is not say that if you write faster or slower, your narrative will become more or less rich. Everybody writes at their own pace. At some point, any writer in a Facebook group has been scolded, told that if you write too fast, it’s gotta be a bad book and you’re a hack. Ignore those judgments. That cliche doesn’t come from a kind place and that knee-jerk from jerks against pulp speed is simply wrong. Mileage varies. Some writers are simply faster than others. Others take it slow. Some books spring to life easily and others are hothouse flowers that need to be nurtured and coddled.

What matters is, do the readers in the target demographic dig it? Don’t listen to other writers too much. They tend to use only one measure: their own experience. On the subject of the speed of creation, I’m reminded of the old George Carlin joke about driving: Anyone slower than me is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac!

Some writers take more time and some stories require more time to germinate. For my story to reach its potential, I had to take my time. For my health and for the betterment of this story, I drove about as fast as a I would in a busy parking garage.

Fortunately, after so much contemplation and taking copious notes, I’m speeding up in the home stretch. Endemic will be published this fall. Going slow has not helped my visibility or my career as an author (yes, there are cons to the pros). However, beyond that dent in my fender, I have no regrets.

~ Check out my books on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

BONUS:

The first book in the AFTER Life Trilogy, Inferno, is now permafree and available wide on just about every publishing platform you can imagine. It’s a zombie apocalypse story with a twist brought to you by artifical intelligence, brain parasites, and nanotechnology with ambitions to give the human race a makeover. Look for AFTER Life by Robert Chazz Chute, wherever you want to dig my swing.

AFTER Life, the first book in the trilogy, is followed by AFTER Life Purgatory and AFTER Life Paradise.

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

But wait, there’s more!

You’ve all heard about the COVID “19” (as in pounds added during lockdown). In an effort to stay off a ventilator, I’ve been basically vegan since June. However, I needed to get even more serious about losing weight and improving my fitness. I have a blood test and physical coming up and I’m weirdly fixated on passing tests and impressing my physician. However, I did not expect how much my lifestyle would affect my writing life.

Margaret Atwood advises writers to exercise because many hours at the keyboard can mess with your body. From posture to pain, getting out in front of future problems is always a good idea. We all know healthy body, healthy mind. That’s not woo-woo. It’s about blood flow. I know we’re all focused on our next book launch, but there are also happy and helpful endorphins to be released in the meantime.

If you’re not up to a run around the block, that’s okay. The opposite of sedentary is not exercise, it’s activity. We need to move in whatever way we can. 10,000 steps a day is my minimum, but I also work with weights and do bodyweight exercise. I won’t go near my old gym at the moment. However, there are plenty of ways to get a sweat on quickly that don’t cost a thing.

You’ve heard it all before. No surprises here. I’d heard it all before, too. But then I felt it. It’s one thing to know something intellectually. It’s another to feel it move you deeply. I found myself moving more and liking it. I have more energy and my mood is definitely elevated.

The other night I went on a rare excursion to a grocery store. (TIP: Go late on a Saturday night and nobody’s there. The few staff outnumbered the customers.) While shopping for healthy choices, I started talking to myself, joking around in an outlandish English accent. “By Harry, those oddly shaped mushrooms are positively beastly! Percival! Unhand those biscuits at once! How dast you? My word, what cheek!”

I was happy for no apparent reason. That’s…well, let’s just say that’s uncharacteristic. Mama Chute done raised herself a dark spirit when she brought me into the great, dirty world. But there is a reason, of course: lifestyle change. There’s less shit gumming up the blood and no one (i.e. me) chucking wrenches in my biological gears.

But wait, there’s more!

My sleep disorder has improved markedly, and my hypochondria has eased. I have more energy to exercise and deal with life. A lightbulb went out last night, and I changed it immediately instead of thinking about it for a few weeks or months. All this newfound energy is translating to more keyboard time. I’m making progress on my next novel. Yes, I did peck away at it slowly in the past year, but I also spent too much time vegging out mindlessly, playing Sniper Elite, and trying not to think about the killer pandemic too much. Stressed, depressed, anxious, pissed off, worried about my low and forgotten place in the universe: I’m the whole darling package.

I am a work in progress. I’m still the before picture, but I haven’t been so optimistic about my after picture in over a year. Whether it be my health profile or my writing life, the trend is hopeful. 2020 was rough for everyone. 2021 will be better. We can make it so.

And now, back to working on Endemic.

~ Check out my apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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

WandaVision and expanding our vision

“What is grief, if not love persevering?”

Damn, WandaVision writers! Excellent job. Loved that.

Tiny WandaVision spoiler alert and a thought on the power of genre fiction:

You know that feeling when you attend a funeral and then you walk back out to the parking lot and the rest of the world spins on, oblivious? I have never seen that poignant subtlety depicted in television before, but WandaVision did it today. This episode was about grief and how it can shape us. Impressive storytelling.

Some people are snobby about certain genres of fiction. They say horror or superheroes or X, Y, Z don’t have the narrative power of A, B, C. Such broad generalizations and narrow views do not serve them. I have written two zombie trilogies (out of 30 books) and occasionally I run into someone who thinks I should write something “less commercial” or “elevated.” First, it’s not particularly commercial, and second, it is elevated lit if they’d drop their silly biases. My stories touch on love, death, human nature with all its drama, weakness, strength, good, evil, gods, complex familial relationships and obligation, society’s failings, cooperation, aspiration, fate…y’know, the whole freakin’ schmear!

Fiction can stimulate fascinating neural pathways from all sorts of angles. Rigidity is a cardinal sign of death and being a snob is a weak imitation of thought.

So there.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute. You can check out the whole freakin’ schmear at my author site, AllThatChazz.com. Cheers!

Filed under: Genre fiction, , , , , , , ,

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.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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