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!

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Defying expectations: When going the other way works.

Season Two is out today! To learn more about This Plague of Days, please head over to ThisPlagueOfDays.com. 

To order the book from Amazon, please click the affiliate links in the right sidebar at AllThatChazz.com. Thanks.

Now, on to some wicked confessions of incompetence, poor judgment and a sad lifetime of reflexive defiance.

Defying expectations has not, in general, worked well for me.

At an old job, I was joking with office staff one day. I’m a funny guy. I thought I was killing. Then I looked up and a waiting room full of clients gave me that look. You know that mean look? I smiled and said, “I’m sorry. I was showing too much personality again, wasn’t I?” I wandered away wondering why boring people get to control everything. Yeah. Bad attitude, I’m sure, but don’t boring people run the world? And look what they did with it!

And so it is with books. I have a defiant streak I’d probably do much better without.

Self-help for Stoners is a funny little book of short stories with a few preachy moments. I might have sold more books if I’d ditched that title. But I might have sold less, too. My thinking was, at least I’ll hit an identifiable niche. Try it, for stoners and non-stoners alike.

I was so flummoxed that Self-help didn’t sell more, I compiled my big book of short stories. I put together my award winning stories and, desperate to be taken seriously, made some “serious” fiction. Pathetic lack of confidence on my part. Murders Among Dead Trees has a lot of gems in it. I’m especially proud of the three-star review that acknowledged the great writing but said it’s full of violence and “bizarre themes.” Sounds like a winner to me! It sells worse than “the stoner book.”

With crime fiction, I called the books Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus.

In crime fiction, titles that have to be explained! (It’s pronounced Hay-soose.) Worse? Funny crime fiction! Worse than that? The hero is a Cuban hit man, not a detective. Readers tend to have certain expectations and I defied them with quirky titles that may offend some people at first glance. We usually don’t get a second glance.

I still think those books are fun, fast-paced thrill rides and the people who like them, like them a lot. A pity there aren’t more of those readers, but I’m sure the charm of Jesus Diaz will be discovered over time. In fact, I have several more books planned in the Hit Man Series because apparently I don’t know when to cut my losses. (Try them. They’re damn funny.)

But it turns out having trouble with Authority isn’t bad all the time.

I lost/resigned from another job because I would not bow my head. It’s okay. It was a lousy job and that incident became fodder for Season One of This Plague of Days.

I switched to suspenseful horror with an unconventional zombie serial and lost some rebel cred.

Zombie fans might have hated it because it wasn’t what they expected. Instead, it became a bestseller on Amazon. I made it a serial to further handicap myself, but serialization seems to have worked for me.

A comedian I love by the name of Mike Schmidt named one of his enterprises “The Success is Not An Option Tour”. I love a guy who’s the underdog and Mike’s turned “underdog” into a profession with The 40-year-old Boy Podcast, a CD and flying across the continent to perform his one-man show to a loyal fan base.

I’m not as brave as Mike. I’m make stuff up in a bunker, afraid to go outside. I didn’t set out to proclaim that success is not an option, spit Life in the eye and try to make a living out of attracting chaos and making fine comedy out of it. When I wrote my books, my reasoning was, “That’s weird and different enough to grab eyeballs.”

How weird and different? In Season One, it’s a slow build. I didn’t start in the middle of the action. I showed how the plague began and developed and it didn’t even start with a zombie virus. It started with a world flu pandemic. All the zombie action remains in Europe until Season Two! (Out now. Did I mention that? Right. Good.)

You want weirder? I’ll give you weirder.

The protagonist is a boy on the autism spectrum. Most heroes in zombie books are gun-totin’ ex-military types. Instead, Jaimie Spencer is a selective mute who’s fascinated with words and dictionaries, especially Latin dictionaries! Also, all the chapter titles? They make up one long, dark poem with twisted clues to the future of the story. Poetry! In a zombie book! The survivors argue about God and struggle with finding compassion and worry about losing their humanity. Not much gun totin’ in Season One.

Hm. Maybe I was setting out to fail and screwed it up. That premise sounds ridiculous!

And yet…writing something unconventional worked this time.

Which takes us back to novelist and screenwriter William Goldman who said of Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”

I sure don’t. I was just being me. I was just writing the story that pleased me. I followed the Art.

What readers want?

That’s too nebulous, has too many variables and it’s a moving target. I write for me first. I could try to play it safe, but I really don’t know how. Until they perfect personality transplants, I gotta be me. I’m not bragging. I think it would be easier being somebody else.

Filed under: This Plague of Days, What about Chazz?, What about you?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Publishing: New strategies, plots & plans

I have four books up for sale so far. In less than three months, I plan to release four more. This is the critical, make or break, time for me that requires a little experimentation as we swing into the high season of book sales. Here are my goals and rationales:

1. A friend asked if I planned to put my two short story collections, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories and Sex, Death & Mind Control into print. I began to say they are a little short for paper. Then an inspiration came. Here’s the experiment: I’ll combine the two, add seven stories that I’ve banked plus a chapter that’s a sneak peek from a coming novel. I’ll also add a little introductory commentary at the top of each story. I will make this collection available only in print.

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

2. Within a week or two, Higher Than Jesus will be released. This is the follow-up to Bigger Than Jesus and the second in The Hit Man Series. I listened carefully to the reception Bigger Than Jesus got. Higher Than Jesus will be lighter on the swearing and mix in a little more sex. Add in skip tracer techniques, an assassination conspiracy, an arms deal and a lot more jokes and it’s a winner. Lots of pre-publication buzz on this one from the First Readers Club.

3. Crack the Indie Author Code: Aspire to Inspire is next. I just got the manuscript back from the editor and I’m working through revisions. Anyone who reads this blog will enjoy this, the first non-fiction book that has my name on it. (Ghost writing doesn’t count.) It’s inspiration for writers, but it’s got a lot of useful information and jokes, too.

Paranormal persuasion and scary stories (including two award winners.)

4. This Plague of Days is the story of a boy who is a selective mute on the autistic spectrum. He travels with his family through North America as society collapses. A killer flu has killed more than a third of the population and chaos descends. We see the world through his odd perspective. I wrote this book over the course of a year and I just have to plunge into revisions. It’s a huge book, my longest and most ambitious. 

Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.

These are high goals over a short time, but I have worked toward these books for a long time. Everything is written. It’s all revisions and editorial pipe now. It’s time to go big. I’m powered by kale shakes and naïve optimism. I can do this.

Intern! Brew me another kale espresso, less pulp this time! It’s go time!

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

Ultimate Blog Challenge: Considering free ebooks

July 16, 17, 18

The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories is FREE 

FREE FOR 3 DAYS.
Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.

Last week I read a couple of debates about whether free is good or bad. JA Konrath is all for it. Blake Crouch isn’t so sure. There are good points on both sides of the debate. You’ll notice I’m offering one of my short story collections for free for three days this week in the hope that I will gain some readers who wouldn’t otherwise find me. I do so wholeheartedly and hope you’ll go grab it. It helps to get on lists like “Customers Also Viewed…” and so on. This post is about book promotion. I think Free is still a useful tool, though its edge has dulled considerably.

The root of the back and forth on the issue of using free as a promotional tool seems to break down along two main lines:

1. Argument against free from principle (i.e. Art shouldn’t be devalued and lowering readers’ expectations of price is a stupid strategy in the long term.) Argument 1 might be right in the long-term, but if I don’t get into your consciousness now, there may be no long-term for me as a writer. Also, the exclusivity that KDP Select requires — three months at a time — rubs many authors raw. Amazon has certainly lost some of its shine and if you lose too many sales because you aren’t up on Kobo etc.,… as well, free days on Amazon probably don’t make sense past your first three months of offering the book. It’s also argued, often effectively, that free feeds the trolls of the one-star review brigade who review harshly because they didn’t pay attention to what they were “buying.” Or they’re just it in to be mean trolls, I guess. So you can argue that free hurts not only the cause of enlightened literacy generally, but it hurts author’s feelings and review ratings individually.

2. Argument for free because it works (i.e. If you can write, you can sell books, but not if no one knows who you are. Give away to get new readers.) Argument 2 is weakened because, since Amazon changed its algorithms, free doesn’t work nearly as well as it did a few months ago. People are loading up their kindles, but are they ever getting around to reading all that hoarded goodness so they could, theoretically, become a fan and buy the rest of my books? (If you don’t have multiple books for sale, free surely won’t help you now. Have multiple books going before you dive into KDP Select’s free days.)

So here’s my strategy:

A. I try not to confuse an Ought with an Is. The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories is a collection of fun suspense and small-town mayhem in Poeticule Bay, Maine. In the future, I plan a series of suspenseful novels set in Poeticule Bay. Many of my stories have characters who cross-pollinate other stories. (For instance, Jesus Diaz, my luckless Cuban hit man, shows up first in a story in Self-help for Stoners.) There is worthy cross-promotion in this.

B. I added value to this collection. The novella, The Dangerous Kind and several of the stories were previously published individually and sold for 99 cents each. I added two more stories to the collection, including the award winner The Sum of Me (which brought down the house when I gave a reading at a writers conference a few years ago.) The Sum of Me appeals to writers or anyone who has struggled with credit card debt. The usual price of the collection is only $2.99 and for three days, it’s free. Good deal.

C. What I put up on Amazon for free will only be available for a limited time. After my three-month exclusivity contract with KDP Select is over, I’ll put the books up on the other platforms. (As mentioned last week on this blog, Kobo, as one instance, is changing things up and coming on stronger. Keep an eye on them.)

Questions remain: When I read a guru with a big name say we should do this or that to sell our books, I wonder, does the same strategy work for a big name as a small one? Is every bit of advice fungible? Things change. If we were still on Amazon’s old Free List to Paid List formula (and maybe if we weren’t in the middle of a glut of free) I’d already be sitting pretty.

Good strategies are realistic, doable, measurable, timely (and are always declared “good” after the fact and without factoring in luck.) I’ll let you know if this strategy moves the needle.

Free might not be as good as it once was,

but now I don’t know what else to do to get off the bench besides write another book.

I’m already doing that.

PLEASE GRAB THE DANGEROUS KIND & OTHER STORIES HERE

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

Ultimate Blog Challenge: Can you blog a book? Sure you can.

A special welcome to new readers from the Ultimate Blog Challenge! Today, since there are so many new readers pouring in, I should give a little introduction and make an announcement, just to spice things up.

Ancient History:  My first blog, way back when, was mostly about politics. My second blog was devoted to writing (back when I thought I wanted someone else to publish my fiction.) I dumped that blog because someone else was managing it poorly and I needed to get my own sites: ChazzWrites.com and AllThatChazz.com. That was two and a half years ago. Now I blog about writing and self-publishing daily here and keep the political rants confined to my podcast when the spirit (and rage) move me.

Modern History: As I researched self-publishing, I found I had a lot to think about. Since I discover what I think about something by writing about it, my blog grew. I curated a bunch of useful information and that’s still an important part of what I do here: helping fellow authors and writers. My posts grew, matured and got tall as I deepened my involvement, made allies and learned and shared more.

The Current Era: Last November I quit my day job and published a strange book of self-help and inspiration expressed through suspense fiction. I know! Crazy! I wish that I had called it Self-help for Surrealists. As it is, every day for the rest of my life I will say to someone, somewhere, “No, you don’t have to be a stoner to love Self-help for Stoners.” I published two short story collections and a bunch of short stories and marketed them like mad, but the best marketing is to put up another book for sale. Last month, after a long trip through the editorial pipe, I published two more.

The Future’s So Bright, I Had to Cut it in Two: As a result of all this blogging, I realized just this weekend (this is the announcement part) that I have not just one book for new indie authors, but two. As the word count climbed toward 100,000 words on my non-fiction book (Crack the Indie Author Code: Aspire to Inspire) I discovered that it would make more sense, and be less overwhelming, to break up the information into two books.

Alternative Futures: Can you blog a book? Absolutely. There are programs devoted to that very thing, though I suggest caution. Go as slow as you dare. You have to go back in and revise carefully. Omit links and images, for instance. Stuff that works for a blog doesn’t necessarily read well as a book. I’m editing it now and it’s coming soon, promise. It’s a tragic time management issue since I’m also working on the follow-up to my first crime novel Bigger Than Jesus. But that’s a separate blog post and different announcement for another day. Happy blogging!

COMING SOON: 

CRACK THE INDIE AUTHOR CODE: ASPIRE TO INSPIRE (YEAR ONE)

BY ROBERT CHAZZ CHUTE

*2

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

Author Blog Challenge #26: The demons in my head

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON NOW!

The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories is up on Amazon! It’s kind of the perfect day to address the Author Blog Challenge prompt: What’s your next book about?

I wrote my novella, The Dangerous Kind, about small-town claustrophobia in Maine and the deadly contempt that familiarity can breed. Two brothers have just lost their father to an accident at the mill. They both want the insurance settlement and a hunting trip might yield an opportunity to solve problems with murder. Did I mention there are surprises? I love surprises, don’t you?

Now I’ve bundled The Dangerous Kind with the following SIX shorts,

all precursors to the coming Poeticule Bay Series of novels:

I’ve dealt out deadly consequences to collections agents in the popular award winner End of

Paranormal persuasion and scary stories.

the Line (from Sex, Death & Mind Control). This time I deal with real world problems in different ways. In The Sum of Me, an aspiring writer gets financial help that hurts. I gave a reading of this short story live at a writing convention (to thunderous applause) and it also won an honourable mention from Writer’s Digest. Everyone identified with the palpable writerly desperation.

What do you do when your psychotherapist dumps you? Read Vengeance is #1, about Georgie, a mean girl with bad timing. She’ll give you some tips on how to handle it. Please note: All her ideas are very bad. It reads like steroidal YA. Watch out for the sharp and dangerous mood swings.

You’re a serial killer. Your therapist is helping you to control your impulses. She only wants you to kill the lost causes of she chooses from her patient pool. Then someone comes along who you want to slay so badly you can almost taste the blood. What then? Then it’s mind game time! Take Corrective Measures.

In Over & Out, a wife abandons her husband and children. He tries to put up a brave front while quietly dying inside (maybe literally.) Then he discovers the power of hypochondria and how self-help is sometimes the opposite of real help. Psychological horror and revelations in a little neurotic cup!

In Asia Unbound, a starlet returns to Poeticule Bay for her uncle’s funeral. She meets up with her high school boyfriend, now Marcus in the Morning, your friendly and miserable radio DJ. Drinks are thrown back, mice are killed and awful secrets from the past are revealed. Your heart might bleed for them both, but you should really only feel sorry for one of them. Life’s a mystery you can solve and still get it all wrong.

In this strange follow-up to Asia Unbound, Marcus in the Morning is at work the next day using the power of his microphone to argue with God. In Parting Shots, Marcus is about to find out that there are some arguments you definitely do not want to win! A conundrum is drummed. Fatal deals are made. Hold on to your faith. You’re going to need it.

~ Robert Chazz Chute has won seven writing awards of vastly varying importance and was nominated for a Maggy Award for his columns. He is the author of the newly released (very funny and super twisty) crime novel Bigger Than Jesus. You might know him from Self-help for Stoners, meeting Kevin Smith and such industrial films as Hitting People in the Face with Ball Peen Hammers is Wrong (except in Texas) and Writing About Yourself in the Third Person for an Author Profile Sure Sounds Douchey, Doesn’t It? Please buy his books. Otherwise he cries and it’s hopelessly pathetic. Hopeless!

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

AB Challenge 24: More on Free Books. Moron Free Books.

Yesterday, we talked about free ebooks and me. Now let’s talk about you, too. Recently we said, “Free is the new 99 cents!” Now free is fraught with diminished opportunity and all that lousy freeness. Let’s delve into pricing ebooks for promotions and try to figure out for ourselves if this is a time to rest and recover or should we double down on ebook marketing?

History: Last year, selling at 99 cents still moved some books and gained new readers. The royalty wasn’t great but it was a loss leader. Now 99 cents just seems to be a loss. I had my novella, The Dangerous Kind, up for 99 cents. It’s a great story that slides the steel home at around 10,000 words. After analysing the sales (took two seconds) I’ve taken it down. Later this week it will be back on Amazon for $2.99, bundled in with some Poeticule Bay short stories. My short story collections sell, but offering a deal on a shorter work didn’t attract readers and my short stories on Smashwords (each priced at 99 cents) aren’t moving as is so they’ll all be in one collection: The Dangerous Kind and Other Stories.

Part of the problem was the old cover for my novella. I’ve blogged about this issue before so I won’t rehash it. I’ll only say: Be indie if you want, but make sure your covers don’t look indie. (My graphic designer, Kit Foster can help you with that at a very reasonable price for a very professional look.)

GET BIGGER THAN JESUS

The Loss Leader Pricing Paradox: You’re pricing your work inexpensively to attract new readers. You’re hoping new people will find you, take a chance on you, dig your flavour, buy all your books and spread your holy word. However, going cheap actually repels some browsers because they associate a cheap price with a bad book. So many times I’ve read in comment threads, “If the author values their work so little, why should I?” There’s someone who doesn’t appreciate the indie author’s bind. I’ll save your life for free. Does that make your life worth less? (Ooh, he’s cranky today!)

Which brings us to the Opportunity/Problem Paradox: The same browsers who think 99 cents cheapens the inherent value of the book often think no less of an author who offers their work for free. All ebooks have free samples, of course, but I don’t think very many potential buyers look at them. They go by genre, the author’s rep, the cover and the description (not necessarily in the that order.) Free is easy and no risk and I haven’t seen many people casting aspersions on authors offering free entertainment. Free is so ubiquitous, it’s considered the norm. It’s an opportunity for the reader and the writer. Free is so ubiquitous, it’s a problem because of the glut of free ebooks on e-readers. We’re drowning in free.

The Perceived Value Corollary: There are so many free books filling up e-readers that readers have no commitment to what they download. (Amazon says, “Click to buy”, but if it’s free, it really means “Click to download”, doesn’t it?) Many of those free books will go unread. When you can click and get, click and get, click and get, there’s no investment on the reader’s part in individual books. Instead, the hoarder mentality rises. What this means for writers is, the minute you’ve dared to slow down your narrative, the quicker the reader is to dump you for another free ebook. We’ve already seen evidence of this trend: there’s less of a market for literary fiction that demands more of the reader.

PV Corollary Case study: A buddy of mine was a sales rep for Margaret Atwood and loved her to bits. I told him I couldn’t get into The Handmaid’s Tale. I bailed out after too many slow pages examining the scratchings of previous handmaids in the rear of the bedroom closet. “Chazz,” he said,”What you’ve got to learn to do when a story slows down too much is grab a few pages and flip forward.” I’m a bit OCD about reading every word so I was a bit shocked. Skipping a page  had never occurred to me. “So…” I said, “You haven’t read it, either!”

The Hidden Unintended Consequence: On an e-reader, no one knows what you’re reading on the bus to work. Sales of erotica have risen because we don’t have to hide our actual taste or pay at a bookstore register manned by a silver-haired woman who looks exactly like Baptist Grammy. Only Homeland Security and the computers that record everything know all you really want is Fifty Shades of Grey. However, it’s not just about erotica. The market has ruled and so-called “downmarket” fiction is what people buy. The readers disagree with the historic arbiters of taste about what’s important. (Did you hear that pop? Somebody’s head exploded again. Clean up, aisle three!)

The Value Addition: When you buy a book — not just download it for free — you show commitment. You’re trusting the author to show you a good time and if you throw it aside, you aren’t just tossing the book. You’re throwing away the bucks you put into it, too.

The Cost-benefit Analysis: For readers, free books are great because choice is awesome. For the writer, providing free books is a way to gain the trust of the reader at no risk (to the reader.) It’s about exposure so you get ranked on lists. Many readers don’t trust reviews (often unfairly) so free is one  avenue into their hearts and minds. We’re making a short-term sacrifice to get our work read, to get on “also viewed and also bought lists” and to get our share of that sweet lending pot of gold from Amazon. Giving our precious away for free is an advertising cost that doesn’t show up as a debit in our bank accounts, but it’s still a cost.

The Cost-benefit Caveat: Since Amazon changed their algorithm, it’s not as happy a story as it was last December. Unless you wrote Fifty Shades of Grey, sales have slumped across the board since March and we’re now into the summer doldrums of the book buying year. The market is as cyclical as the sea. The wind will come back in our sails. The readers will return as free diminishes. Some authors are opting out of KDP Select, or opting in for one three-month cycle for the promotion and then opting out to stop the exclusivity clause and give other sales outlets a chance.

The Irrational Variable Conundrum: Does free devalue literature? Will our prices be chronically depressed because of free? As an indie writer, this isn’t a question that affects me. The higher prices traditional publishers charge for ebooks doesn’t mean that their authors are getting more dough. It’s going to the publishers for their high overheads. I only have to pay me so the 70% royalty rate on my books still looks pretty sweet to me. Like they used to say in cheesy, local car commercials on cable, “How do we do it? Volume!” I’m glad traditional publishers keep their ebook prices high. It gives a guy like me a chance at being discovered.

Will these short-term sacrifices mean long-term financial pain? No, yes and maybe. Who knows? I’m suspicious of too much certainty. Your answer may vary because the fulcrum for this heavy conundrum rests of an irrational variable: How high were your expectations to begin with? Is this side money, the size, say, of the little Swiss Chalet side salad? Did you want the comfort of the double leg dinner as an income? Or did you want the richness of the full Swiss Chalet Family pack with the coconut cream pie for desert? Input your variable and solve for X.

Conclusions: Given the free ebook glut, do you market even harder now that we’re into summer’s slow days? I think I’ll just stay the course. It feels like trying to run up the down escalator and I already flog hard enough as it is. Instead, I’m focusing my energies on putting up more of the work I’ve prepared and I’m writing new stuff. I’m giving the market more time to recover so I’ll be ready with more books to sell.

Putting up more books is the only sure way I know of selling more books.

Predictions:  New strategies will emerge, but no one seems sure what The Answer is. It might not be one answer and it might not be as dramatic and sweeping as the free ebook boom that hit the market when Amazon’s KDP Select algorithms benefited us so much back in December. I suspect we’ll be actively spending more money on advertising and promotion for our books in the near future. I’m aware of a few new and clever-sounding strategies, but they are as yet untested by the market’s searing flame. I’ll revisit said strategies in a future post, but today’s post is already too long and don’t we have some serious writing to do?

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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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Author Blog Challenge (plus a sneak peek podcast*): Outlining, pantsing, spilling & sprinting

If you just popped in for the suspenseful sneak peek podcast, click here to hear The First Fiction Friday Edition of my podcast.

The Author Blog Challenge prompt asked how I stay organized as I write. My methods have changed over time. I used to come up with plots on the fly early on. Then I got scared off from that strategy when I got deep into a dreadfully long novel and found I had to backtrack fifty pages. Hitting a dead end is, well, death. It’s a waste of time and energy and I hate it.

I started outlining because I was writing big books and I didn’t want to lose whole sections of my book in which I was already invested. When you write 80 – 100,000 words or (ye gods!) more, an outline helps. I didn’t write an outline with Roman numerals and all that formal, high school nonsense. Instead, I planned the book one cogent sentence at a time. I described the actions in each chapter to plot the arcs of A and B stories. I looked for where those paths would logically cross, discover the beats and suss out the high and low points. Index cards got to be too much to keep track of, so in the end my outline was just three pages with a numbered list. I read and reread the outline and then I didn’t look at it again. That got me through the big books pretty well.

Recently I read Run by Blake Crouch, and as Blair Warner used to say on The Facts of Life,

“I just had another one of my brilliant ideas!”

It’s about speed. I resolved to write a crime novel with the same furious pace as Run — a book I couldn’t put down. Yeah. I know it’s a cliché, but this cliché is both apt and true in the case of Run. (Great book. Buy it.)

I resolved to do the thing I love with stories. The chapters would be relatively short. They would skip along. There would be lots of twists and turns to my racetrack. I wrote Bigger Than Jesus in about a month, one chapter a day, roughly 2,000 words each. There was no outline. Instead, I wrote with the expectation that I’d get my hero into a troubling cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. If I wrote myself into a corner in the process, too bad. I’d be clever and write my way out of it and keep moving forward. Writing like this is as fresh and as exciting as walking a tightrope naked in a high wind over a crowd of angry TSA agents with a new shipment of polar mint rubber gloves.

Many nights I went to bed thinking that I had no idea what I would write in the morning, but I trusted that I could figure it out. I believed in lightning strikes. The juice kept flowing and with it came a high level of complexity. It’s a crime novel so people lie a lot. If I’d taken longer to write it, it would have necessarily been less complex because I’d be afraid of losing track of the threads. There’s shocking emotional depth, too. Nobody, including me, foresaw the strange and sad angle on my main character’s childhood. It sneaks up.

Why did this work?

1. I knew the opening chapter and the last line so I had a target at which to aim. I’m also a more confident writer than I was with those early attempts, I suppose.

2. If I didn’t know what was going to happen next, the reader wouldn’t be able to guess, either.

3. Speed. The book is not especially long and I wrote it all in a short space of time so I could keep it all in my head at once without getting lost.

How else do I keep organized? 

In the Point File, I note things like street names I’ll use twice and aspects like eye colour so they don’t change from the beginning of the book to the end. I did mess up in having twin brothers as bad guys with names that were awfully similar. I had to go back to make sure I was talking about the right brother at the correct stage of the book.

I always have a Spill File handy so if I do write something that I end up dumping, I save it for later. I might change my mind about how useless it is or I might use it another time in another story. In Bigger Than Jesus, the writing went so quickly and breezily that I never had anything to pour much into the Spill File. I wrote fast and then went back to the stage of writing where I’m always sure I’m a deluded idiot: revisions. I cut, prune and delve. More of the jokes come clear on the second pass, too. Typically, by the third pass, I begin to feel good about the book again. Bigger Than Jesus was just about as easy as writing a blog post a day, actually. Maybe easier sometimes because what dictated the action was logic and surprise. When in doubt, surprise!

Some writers labor under a notion that I once shared: To be good, you must write slowly, perhaps even at a glacial pace, and the serifs are where your heart and soul get squeezed in and choked for blood. There are books I have tinkered with for years. One short story went through many incarnations over a year before I felt I nailed the landing and deserved 10s from all the judges. However, Self-help for Stoners came together quickly and everything worked out well with that.

Bigger Than Jesus will be released in the next week or so and all the feedback I’m getting from the editorial team tells me I’m glad I didn’t buy into the idea that it had to come slowly to be worthy. I think that’s true sometimes, but not always — not for every book and not for every writer. That’s good news because I’m using the same strategy with the next book in the series. It’s coming fast and well and I do enjoy the danger of not knowing what happens in the next chapter. Those angry TSA agents are actually spurring me to succeed.

*BONUS:

Please take a few minutes to enjoy my latest podcast on the author site. It’s The First Fiction Friday Edition! 

It’s a sneak peek at Chapter 8 from my first novel in the Poeticule Bay Series:

An old woman is lost with her tiny dog in the Maine woods and snow is on the way.

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

English: The entertitle of Buffy made on Paint.

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

My books come to me in different ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

You never know what's real.

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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.

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