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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writers: Who influences you?

NEW THL COVER JAN 2015 COMPLETE

FYI: Grab your free dark fantasy and a free crime novel here. The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow only!


Everything that has ever happened to us goes into our books. Every slight and terrible vengeance, real or imagined, gets poured in. Here are some of my influences:

1. During a podcast, the guest talked about the Hagakure, the book of the Samurai. It had been a long time since I’d read it, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew I had an empty place for that puzzle piece in the next book in the Ghosts & Demons Series.

2. When John Cleese was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jon mentioned the Choir Invisible. Besides being a funny sketch and a great poem, the reference set off fireworks in my mind. The Choir Invisible became a complex secret society that fights evil in The Haunting Lessons. (We don’t read enough poetry anymore, by the way. Lyricism seeps into our writing when we drink enough of it.)

3. William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride (among many other wonderful novels and screenplays) always catches the reader by surprise. When you are sure what is going to happen next? That’s when he’s got you. I love that. I do that. It makes plot development a joy and dares you to stop turning pages, even when it’s late and you have to be at work early in the morning.

4. I studied The Divine Comedy in school. When you’re writing about demons and the fight between good and evil (or bad and evil), a quote from the classics slipped into the narrative makes for a big moment that adds to the depth of the atmosphere I want to achieve in a key scene.

5. I loved the action in Mickey Spillane novels. Film is definitely in the mix, as well. When I’m writing the Hit Man Series, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Guy Ritchie are never far away.

6. Stephen King’s structural devices from The Stand and It went into This Plague of Days. Chuck Palahniuk’s appreciation for the macabre is in all the horror. Contextualizing the bizarre with the weird and real is a lesson learned from The X Files.

7. As a disappointed humanist, I want to be Kurt Vonnegut. Not the writer per se, but the man. If I ever release my time travel novel, he’s in the mix in a big way. I miss him.

8. When I’m writing action and suspense, Skrillex, Eminem and Everlast are playing in the background. Visceral goes with viscera. A steady diet of standup comedy balances out the blood. The path between horror and humor can be a knife edge. 

9. Fight scenes and sex scenes: draw on experience and each variety of conquering and surrender is all the more delicious.

10. Director Kevin Smith and comic Joe Rogan inspired me to write my first book, Self-help for Stoners. Chasing that dream long into the night continues to keep me going in the face of adversity.

I write original books (if it can be said there is such a thing.) However, we all have our artistic ancestry. What’s yours? What do you recommend?

~ FYI, one more time: The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow and my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, is also free everywhere. Hit AllThatChazz.com now for the links.

Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle

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#NaNoWriMo: How to make writing a novel easier than it looks

I write drafts for my novels at a rate of 1,000 words per hour. I can string more of those hours together if I plan ahead with a general outline, but I usually pants it rather than plot it. 

I think of my writing time in terms of word count and hours. Here’s why:

When I wrote This Plague of Days, I didn’t think in terms of hours then. I didn’t budget my time or work to a word count like it was a job. I just put my head down and wrote and revised many times, stealing time here and there without a real schedule. I can’t tell you how long it took to write that epic saga because I went through so many revisions. Also, because my approach was haphazard, I wrote slower then. Though I worked from an outline, the project took longer than it could have.

I was buying into the meme that slow cooker writing was the only way, despite Stephen King’s suggestion that three months ought to do it (and look at the size of his books!) If I wrote that series now, the first draft would take about 300 hours of actual writing time. That’s less impressive than saying it took me years to write TPOD, but it’s more accurate.

(By the way, I just found out the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition has advanced to the second round in the Writer’s Digest Self-published Ebook Awards! Yay!)

When someone says it took them two years to write their first novel, that’s not true.

Two years equals 17,531.62 hours, including time spent sleeping, showering, goofing off, playing with children and pets and holding down a job, and procrastinating etc. Authors can write as fast or as slow as they’d like and each process is unique. However, there is no direct correlation between speed of production and quality. In fact, for the first draft, quality is nigh irrelevant.

Quality comes with subsequent drafts.

I find most of the jokes in the second revision and the plot problems to be fixed become clearer by the third revision.

Take NaNoWriMo, for example…

I’m planning 55,000 words for my current WIP. That means 55 hours for the first draft this month. As my current schedule allows, I’ll be done well before the NaNoWriMo deadline as long as I continue to protect my writing time.

Fifty-five hours sounds much less intimidating and more realistic, doesn’t it? What’s one work week to you? Forty-four hours? I approach my writing like a job. It’s a job I love, but there’s no waiting around for inspiration to come to me. I hunt inspiration down. Inspiration and efficiencies are habits learned by writing more and doing so consistently.

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

For my crime novel, Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes, I’d planned on looking for the exit to the book around 50,000 words and topping out at 55,000 words. It took me an extra 17,000 words to wrap it up neatly at 67,000 words. Still, 67 hours to a first draft sounds like much less drama than saying it took me a month. That’s just 16.7 hours per week to come up with a first draft. (For a while in the ’90s, that’s about as much time as I committed to watching television.)

I’d give you a measurement of editing and revision times if I had them, but that varies too widely depending on the book. For instance, I’m putting my time travel novel on hold because I’m not happy enough with it yet to release it. I’ll come back to it in 2015. However, I expect to have my current WIP out in time for Christmas (assuming I still love it when I’m done.) 

Write as slow as you want to or as fast as you can. It doesn’t have to be a job. Hobbies are good, too, so write at the pace you choose.

My point is, we don’t have to be drama kings and queens about the writing process. When you hear of writers putting out a lot of books fast, that’s not really quite as hard as many would lead you to believe. Writing is a time management issue first. The other skills required come into play after we commit to investing the hours.

But it can’t be good because it was written too fast!

Writers who cherish writing slowly have my utmost respect until they insist others write at their pace (and many people write much faster than I do.)

On the Road, Casino Royale, The Gambler, A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and As I Lay Dying were written in less than six weeks. I wonder if any of those famous books were actually written in less time than that if the authors had tracked their hours.

Fast writers manage fear because they think about each book project in terms of a formula:

Word count goals + hours x perspiration (divided by distraction)

Prolific writers manage their time, that’s all. No drama. Inspiration usually arrives at the keyboard at about the same time we do.

Write. Revise. Edit. Enjoy throughout. (Now don’t tell anyone how easy it is to get to big word counts or they might start to think that writers aren’t special snowflakes!)

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I just published my 15th book. Imagine how many more I could have written if I hadn’t been sucked into the vortex of “Must See TV” back in the day. 

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We are not gambling writers. We are working writers.

I saw it again, today. Too often, people take the extreme end of an argument and generalize back to the middle to suit their worldview. It’s not logical. It’s bubble poppin’ time!

Example 1: Amazon’s trying to tell Hachette that it should sell the next Stephen King ebook for $9.99 or less. 

There are a couple of problems with this statement.

First, Amazon has categorically stated that some ebooks should be priced higher. Though Amazon’s statement on contract negotiations was short, lots of people missed that crucial detail:

“Is it Amazon’s position that all e-books should be $9.99 or less? No, we accept that there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles to be above $9.99.”

If an author has lots of fans who won’t wait for a price drop, the exemption for authors at that level of success makes sense. The math will reveal which way to go. For most of us, lower prices are the way to go. Amazon speaks unusually clearly on this point:

“The author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. And that 74% increase in copies sold makes it much more likely that the title will make it onto the national bestseller lists. (Any author who’s trying to get on one of the national bestseller lists should insist to their publisher that their e-book be priced at $9.99 or lower.)”

Amazon beat Hachette’s argument to death with math. Everybody makes more money by charging less than the inflated ebook prices Hachette wants to set. By “everybody”, it’s obvious we mean everybody but Stephen King and a handful of the 1% authors who are doing really well because that’s where the analysis of sales points us.

The default author we should be concerned with is not anyone at the extreme end of success. It’s you and me. There’s hope for us, but probably not the fictional Mansions in Tahiti Level of Hope. Which brings me to the other argument I see far too often…

Example 2: People say, “Hugh Howey is an outlier and most self-published authors will not equal his success.”

Hugh says himself that he’s a lucky outlier. (Talented, smart, likeable and writing solid books helps immensely, too.) Most self-published authors know they won’t become millionaires. That’s an aspiration that non-self-publishers often put on us as they sneer. We’re not stupid. We know the odds. We’re look at our sales stats seven times a day. We know! 

What some of self-publishing’s critics don’t seem to get, though, is that there are many author/publishers who are making a living by selling at lower prices for a 70% return. They aren’t millionaires, but they are meeting their financial obligations, paying mortgages and getting by. Some are doing even better than simply getting by. They are not rich. Few writers of any ilk ever make it to rich. However, writing is their job. They’re frequently doing better financially than traditionally published authors. (I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad. I am saying I’m tired of all or nothing thinking among the mathphobic and terminally cranky fact-allergic.)

Still, there are those who refuse to acknowledge that, since the creation of the ebook market, the authorpreneur is a growing possibility for those with middle class aspirations. Not a probability, but a possibility. If you doubt that’s possible, I have evidence from The Passive Voice.

The role of writer has rarely paid well, but it’s a better deal for more of us now than it has ever been. We are not hoping to be lottery winners. We’re hoping to sell the next book at reasonable prices for a growing audience of enthusiastic fans. (There’s also never been a better time to be a reader, by the way.)

If I make it to middle class, that’s awesome. But it’s not about the money, Lebowski. It’s about the writing. It’s always been about the writing. I wrote books for years and never submitted them anywhere. I just wrote for me. Writing is an obsession. Obsessions don’t change whether I make seven figures or a single, dirty dime.

I write. So do you. Let’s keep it real out there. We don’t do it for the money. We do it for love.

Filed under: Amazon, author platform, Books, self-publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

How to write more, faster, now

After I publish a book, I tend to fall into a mild bout of postpartum depression. To head that off, I’m writing a new crime novel as I prepare to launch the finale to This Plague of Days. This new one has a very fast pace and I’m also writing it fast. This isn’t going to fall into a plotting versus pantsing discussion because, Thor knows, we’ve all hit that gong plenty hard already. Today, let’s talk about how to discover your story.

Here’s four writers to pay attention to, in case you don’t care what I think:

1. Anthony Burgess had a cool trick I’ve used. Pick three words at random. Those words will appear in your next chapter.

Go! You’ll find gooey, fudge brownie richness with that one tool alone.

2. E.L. Doctorow said writing a book is, “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

When I wrote my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I knew the last line of the book, but I had no idea from one night to the next what tomorrow’s chapter might bring. It worked out in a really peachy way.

3. Stephen King talks about excavating the story, discovering and unearthing dinosaur bones.

Some people start with character. I often find my brush and trowel to dig the dirt away is conflict. Everybody wants something. It’s more interesting if everyone’s competing for the same thing but use different methods to get what they want. (Game of Thrones, anyone?) Through conflict, character and snappy dialogue often emerge. Direction and velocity will reveal themselves as you discover how the story evolves. It may divert from your outline. That’s okay. Follow the drama. It might lead you off the map to a beautiful place.

4. Chuck Palahniuk suggests writing each chapter as a short story.

As each story connects to the next until the end, this process cuts down on a lot of intimidation. It also lessens the danger of a saggy middle because you’re demanding more of each story element instead of relying on the reader’s patience. Each chapter is a pillar. Don’t build a weak one and depend on it to hold up the structure.

I’m going to suggest the writing process as an exercise in free association.

Free association emerged as a counselling approach in Freudian analysis. The core of the therapy was to let the mind wander and for the patient to tell his or her own story rather than take on the worldview of the therapist. This was resolution by exploration.

The key is to let ideas bubble up and connect unhampered by the choke valve of self-criticism. Criticism is for later. In the creative process, let it go and flow. You’ll go faster and arrive in places that aren’t mundane and expected. Using these methods, you’re going to cut down on procrastination, too. You’ll write more because you’re having more fun. Stop agonizing. This is entertaining fiction you’re writing, not a eulogy.

In This Plague of Days, the autistic hero of my zompoc epic (Season 3 coming June 15!) is Jaimie Spencer. He’s obsessed with the dictionary. That’s me. I collect odd factoids. I let one Wikipedia entry lead me to another and to another until I free associate my way to new plot developments. The world is made of details and small components build bigger things. That’s also true if your world is fictional. The dictionary and Wikipedia are full of the atoms of your next story.

For instance, take a swig of Doctorow.

In my current WIP, I know the destination and I have a hastily drawn outline of how to get there. It’s not deep in details. I came up with most of it while watching my son’s soccer game. The first atom was a small conceit. The idea exploded when I had my hook. More on this later this summer.

Enjoy a tall, cold glass of Burgess.

Take a random fact from Wikipedia and see where that leads you. Your foundation is already getting poured.

In the crime story I’m working on, I needed to show the love interest’s character. She’s an underdog determined to win. That led me to a story from Wikipedia she could identify with. By showing the tragic, yet heroic story that guided her life, we understand her better and we like her immediately. (Me? I’m big on pathology. Give a character a medical problem and I can use that, for them and against them. Desmoid tumors saved the life of one character in This Plague of Days, for instance. Read the books. You’ll get that reference.)

Free association comes faster from good questions.

Quick! What are the hits playing on the radio in 1974? Which manager was first to get kicked out of a baseball game twice in the same day? What was happening to your protagonist that day in 1974 when he was thinking about baseball and listening to the radio? What song titles spoke to his state of mind? These are the connections I made to write a chapter (a pillar, if you will) that could stand on its own as a short story. Hello, Mr. Palahniuk!

As the factoids build and scenes connect into a river of stories that collect and flow into one ocean of words, new connections are made. New developments float to the surface. You’ll discover new intersections in the network of your story you didn’t suspect were there when you began to write.

That’s Stephen King’s story archeology.

Good stories aren’t written. They are discovered. It is the nuance we find in the depths of free association that contribute to verisimilitude and character interplay. It’s nuance that builds, not just a book, but a believable world.

Those details you’ll use through free association? It’s not the only key to Creativity’s lock, but it’s a good one. Try it.

~ I wrote Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book, Aspire to inspire. Check out AllThatChazz.com for affiliate links to all my fiction. That would be double plus cool. Thanks.

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“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

Filed under: All That Chazz, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Proving Dead Moms Wrong: Writing a book is among the least cynical things you can do.

The term “hack”, as discussed in this space recently, usually refers to someone, typically writing to tight deadlines, who is churning out words with no love for his or her work. I don’t think that applies any writer I’ve ever met, no matter the project. Every writer is optimistic as they begin a new book. We tell our spouses and girlfriends and boyfriends and basset hounds, “This will be the one that will really wow ’em. If you leave me now, you’ll miss out on all the glory, my accolades and a mention on the Acknowledgments page, so you better stick around.”

Here’s why “hack” is a poor term:

In This Plague of Days, I write about a zombie apocalypse. Maybe that sounds silly to you, but I fell in love with the characters and there are genuine emotional, serious and thoughtful moments. It’s complex and it’s not what you expect. Just as I attempted to do with my hardboiled hit man in Bigger Than Jesus, I played outside the expected conventions. I tried to do something different with the genre.

But here’s the thing: That doesn’t make me unique.

Every writer I know is reaching to the best of their ability to write something awesome, different and engaging, no matter what they’re writing. We try to write the best tweets we can, for Thor’s sake! Certainly we’re aiming for at least that clever when constructing a narrative beyond 140 characters. 

We’re all looking for a special turn of phrase or a new twist on an old cliché no matter what we’re writing. We’re searching for ways to entice and delight readers. We love language. We tell stories. I’ll leave it to readers to decide the degree to which we succeed, of course. However, when a reviewer dismisses any writer out of hand, based on their choice of subject, as a “hack”? I reserve the right to dismiss that review. I don’t think the term elucidates anything. A book takes too much work and time for us to aim low.

Say it with me and feel it: “Writing a book is among the least cynical things you can do.”

As a person who, more than once, has been dubbed “Mr. Cynical”, I speak with expertise. We may fall short, but we’re all shooting for the outer moons of Andromeda and to prove our dead moms wrong. Even if the reader thinks they’ve read it all before. Especially when that niggling voice of doubt in our heads tells us, “Some people are really going to underestimate what I can do with this material. I’m going to melt their eyeballs with my fair-bitchin’ prose.”

I suggest we all take each book on its own merits instead of painting with push brooms (and read the sample before you buy to avoid disappointed expectations.) Please don’t say this or that writer is a hack. That’s insulting and too easy, for starters. Besides, like plague viruses, authors evolve, too. Maybe you dismissed Stephen King’s Pet Sematery, but if from that judgment you dismiss all of his work, including The Long Walk, you haven’t read The Long Walk.

It is fair to say a particular plot device is hackneyed, but don’t generalize about all our work. Every author I know, me included, gets better with each new book. Disastrous experience beats the weakness out of us.

What other terms should we be careful about using? To the jargonator!

1. “Commercial”: Does that mean you liked it but felt you shouldn’t? (This is the worst, most disingenuous reaction, last spotted on The Slate Culture Gabfest. That’s right! I’m calling you out, Metcalfe. You’re so meta-snarky, you might be David Plotz.)

Does commercial really mean mass market paperback? With the advent of ebooks, that seems a dated reference.

By commercial fiction, do you mean it tells a ripping story that’s less based on character? Hm.  All writers want to make readers care about their characters, so that seems a tad empty.

By commercial, does the critic mean the author wants to sell a lot of books? “How base and singular! No person of character wants that! Are you not of independent means, Monsieur Writer Peasant?”

2. “Muscular” prose: The author is a minimalist, idolizes Hemingway and probably does not possess a MFA from the last thirty years. An obvious attempt to damn with faint praise.

3. “Workmanlike”: Same as #2, but with even fewer syllables in word choice. The critic thinks they’re getting away with being snooty, but we can read the code and the classism isn’t that subtle. Both #2 and #3 are really authorial choices, not burdens to grow past.

4. “Literary”: This means less plot and more exploration of inner worlds when not used as a euphemism for “pretentious.” Certainly this indicates that you’ll leave the book out on the coffee table to prove to the in-laws or tonight’s date that you’re deeper than you seem.

But all authors strive for literary flourishes at the very least. When we’re in composition mode, no premise sounds so tired that we can’t hit it at a different angle, make it great and spin it fresh. I know of no writer, no matter how tight the deadline or how little they are paid, who sets out to write crap. You might say it’s not to your taste. The author might even call it crap…later, after a few more books. But as we write? We’re all Hunter S. Thompson and Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut rolled up in Shakespearian dreams of legacy, love and respect.

We may fail, but we are artists.

Our hearts are in the right place.

Are you reading with an open mind?

Is your heart in the right place?

Have you dismissed something you haven’t read without even reading the sample?

Well, no, not you, of course, Gentle Reader of this Blog.

But, you know…them other jerks what don’t respect us none.

 

Filed under: book reviews, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Top Ten: Becoming a healthier writer

Remember when this blog was about publishing?

It still is, but I’ve got to talk about the author and publisher and our mental and physical health. Without us, there will be no books.

As I write this, I am battling a bad infection. On Tuesday, I find out about some medical test results. In short, things have been tough lately, emotionally and physically. I have a plan to deal with this mortal coil (more on that in a moment) but in the meantime, not much writing is happening. A little, yes, but at George RR Martin speed (i.e. glacial). Once this latest problem gets sorted out, I hope to be free of health scares for a good long time. Sickness and fear is draining. Life, as I have failed to organize it, is draining.

And here’s where the mental game comes in…

This last three weeks has been a series of blows. Most of that problem is mental. I’m not dealing with stress properly. I’m obsessive. I’m negative. I’m focussing on what not to do instead of focussing on what to do. If you spend your energy in the present on what you know you should do, you won’t lose time with regret and anger. I know this because I’ve lost too much time already.

The short story is, I allowed an energy vampire into my lair and he shat in my living room. Two days ago, another energy vampire attacked. I dealt with the problem faster this time, but it still ruined an entire day while I obsessed over what else I wish I’d said to cut him off. When I was younger, I wasted a lot of time being furious. The rage monster is back. I’m not punching walls or anything silly like that. Just seething. That can even be useful when I channel that energy into Misericordia, the beastly vampire in This Plague of Days. It’s less helpful when I argue everything in my head again and again. (At least the revenge fantasy with the torch, the knife and the bag of rats is fun.)

But here’s the paradox:

Writing makes me happy and yet I haven’t been writing enough. A friend asked about my strategies for dealing with negative emotions. For two years, I was free of all this nonsense. Those were the happiest two years of my life. Guess when that was. Yes, it’s when I was at home writing and only writing. Running two struggling businesses at once is a time management problem, though proper use of a calendar and a stopwatch alarm should get that sorted out.

There are many components and variables to health and everyone has to deal with these issues at some point. This is where I make my stand. Turmoil and rage is not a successful life strategy.

Living the way I have been isn’t working.

Underneath the anger is fear, just like Yoda says. I’m afraid of failure and a short life and I’m even more scared of a long life in which my brain and body abandon me. Sometimes, I cry a little and wish I could cry more to let it all out. Mostly, I want to take all the bad in the world into my arms and squeeze until it’s tiny and dead and dust. I want justice and just desserts. I want us to live in a better world and I think, through fiction, we can come at solutions sideways. Even if we can’t save the world through Art, we can save people by giving them harmless vicarious thrills and joyful distractions. Stephen King calls books “escape hatches”. That’s exactly what they are. We write about heroes and heroes affirm our humanity in the face of Darkness. We need these myths as a starting point for our aspirations. There is wisdom and honesty in good writing. With our fiction engines running hot, we can make the hopeful lies true.

I know what to do for myself and these latest health problems are reminders that, yes, I really have to deal with this stuff STAT.

Here are my strategies to protect my brain, body, energy and mood:

1. A diet of plants with some protein on the side. Vegetables are the main thing.

2. Daily movement. It could be dancing or Fight Club or running from bears or chasing criminals through the night in my cape. But keep moving.

3. I built an incredibly cheap treadmill desk ($100) but I find it difficult to compose while walking. A friend gave me a pedal treadmill for Christmas (to use while sitting at my desk). I hope to do better with that.

4. No aspartame. As little processed food as possible. Stevia or xylitol in small measures, okay, but the chemicals I can’t pronounce have to be cleared out.

5. Tracking. The same friend who gave me the desk treadmill gave me a FitBit Flex because (a) he’s awesome and generous and (b) that which is not measured cannot be improved. Everything I eat and do goes into tracking. From graphs and math come course corrections and healthy habits.

6. Closer contact with my doctors. I go for regular physicals, but we’re going to do closer monitoring to make sure I’m on track as I make more lifestyle changes.

7. First drink of choice is water. Then more water. Thankfully, coffee is still in, though less than I have been drinking.

8. More sleep. Early mornings are fine, but the late nights have been too much for too long. I took workaholism as par for the course to get things done. Now I think it’s a stupid ego thing and a result of impatience and poor planning.

9. Be more social with friends and invest in those healthy, positive relationships. Cut rude people off faster and destroy any hope they have of being casually destructive to my energy reserves. Psychopaths don’t lurk behind every rock and tree, but they’re out there. I’m not going to engage these people. I’ll simply delete them or throw them out.

10. Write. For me, it’s as important as exercise, if not more so. When I am writing I am most myself. When I am writing, I disappear from the stresses of this world. In that world there are psychopaths waiting, too, but I know how to deal with them better. I’m very unkind to the bad guys in my fiction. They get to think they’re winning for a while, sure. Then? They burn.

11. Every day in this world, I am kind. I make a point of it. The day isn’t done until I can find a way to do someone a solid if it’s within my power. But I have to be kinder to me, too. That’s why I’ve got 1 – 10. Your strategies may not be identical to mine, but I hope you have some that work for you.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all my readers!

My next entry on ChazzWrites.com will be in the New Year. As you can see, I have to take some time off to organize for lifestyle changes, rest, recharge and, of course, write. Let’s all have a healthier and happier 2014. We need each other for the fight.

Be well.

~ Chazz

PS If you have links, books, or green smoothie recipes to share about how you take care of yourself, please leave them in the comment thread. We all need to know.

Filed under: Rant, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brainstorming better book titles (and what can kill a good one)

1. The tone of the title should match the genre. If your thriller’s title makes potential readers think of young adult romance, keep brainstorming.

2. Non-fiction titles tend to be linear promises to provide solutions to a problem you have identified. Deliver.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

3. Intriguing is good. Confusing is not. That’s a fine balance. I loved the titles Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus. However, it’s pronounced “Hay-soose” and it’s about a funny, hardboiled Cuban hit man. Titles you (and I) have to explain (endlessly!) are not good titles. The cover treatment by Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design saves me from readers who buy my crime novels thinking they are religious books. Also, I do have another solution to this problem. I’ll explore that next year, after a couple more books are written. In the meantime, I remain an idiot for thinking those titles would serve me better than they did.

What? You thought I write these blog posts because I get everything right the first time? Ha! No.

4. When you’re brainstorming, think in terms of keywords. A short, killer, catchy title can be helped a lot by a more explanatory subtitle. Don’t go overboard with keywords, though. If you run out of breath, forget the rest halfway through, or can’t cram the whole title on the cover, rethink. We’ve got to be able to read the title without squinting, so don’t cram it.

5. Generally try to avoid titles that are very long. After catching the title in a wisp of conversation, the potential customer has to remember it all the way back to their computer or the bookstore so they can order it.

6. What’s the central theme, promise or event that’s crucial to your story? Brainstorm titles out of that.

7. Think in terms of brand and series. Can you connect titles in some way? A is for Alibi is already taken, but think about what might fit. I have two new series planned for the end of next year that connect tangentially to existing books.

8. Come up with a bunch of titles and throw out a bunch. Don’t get too attached to a title early on. Some authors feel they need a title before they can begin to write. Your story may change, so just keep that WIP title tentative and to yourself for now.

9. You can take titles from phrases from the Bible or Shakespeare or be completely original. Go for memorable. However, don’t let the absence of a title stop you from beginning to write. It will probably emerge from the manuscript organically. Use a focus group of trusted friends or fellow writers to save you from your worst impulses.

10. Build a brand around your author name, not your title. I don’t want people more excited about my title than they are about me writing another book. That’s why the name “Robert Chazz Chute” is so big on the cover. Make them want to buy the next [insert your name here], not the title. I don’t really like the title, Doctor Sleep, for instance. But it’s Stephen King! Of course I want to read it!

I’m convinced that titles really don’t matter quite as much as we’d like to think.

I can name a lot of titles that shatter these ten well-meant suggestions. It’s like naming a band. Lots of band names sound pretty stupid or obtuse at first, but if the music is any good, people don’t even think about it much. I doubt everyone was enthused about the name The Beatles or Led Zeppelin on their first encounter (before hearing the songs.) I didn’t like the title Fight Club. The book is about so much more than that. However, I got over it quickly.

It’s true for TV shows, too. The first time I heard the name MASH as a little kid, I thought the TV series had something to do with potatoes. The Pink Panther? I didn’t know it was animated, so I pictured an actual pink panther skulking through the jungle. Without seeing it (and hearing its musical theme by Henry Mancini) I had no idea it was destined to become so iconic.

To sell more books, what’s ultimately more important than the title? Your graphic artist.

A good graphic artist can build on an awesome hook. A bad cover can sabotage even your most clever title.

A great title doesn’t matter if no one can see it. Don’t undermine that title you’ve put so much thought into. You need an excellent graphic artist to support your efforts. A great cover maximizes the power of your title and your author name. That’s why I use…wait for the shameless, enthusiastic plug for my Scottish buddy…

Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

Check out his portfolio for powerful images

that pump up all the authors he serves.

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. With my serial, This Plague of Days, I’ve written two bestsellers. However, my catalogue of my inspirational errors in the early going will tell you more about the challenges of being an indie author. Get Crack the Indie Author Code. I don’t scold you and it’s actually pretty funny. The 6 x 9 print version is about ten bucks and Christmas is coming, so get on that or Christmas is cancelled and Santa’s elves will turn into goblins. It’s up to you to save Christmas from rampaging goblins. It’s up to you and you alone. No pressure.

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Ten for Writers: What matters?

1. Don’t take a paragraph (or a whole post!) to apologize for not posting to your blog recently. They didn’t notice your absence. You have their eyeballs for a few seconds now. Don’t waste their time with throat-clearing or they’ll click away because you don’t have anything to say.

2. “Cover reveals” don’t attract anyone but the people who are already into you. They might not hurt. I’m saying they don’t help. Find a topic that matters to you and your readers instead. To spin an old quote, mere familiarity breeds contempt, but commonality makes friends.

3. Character interviews may be interesting to a few people, but only after they’ve read your book. It gets no new readers. Character is revealed through dialogue and action within the book. In promoting a book, it’s boring without narrative content and context.

A better suggestion:

Soon I’ll interview author Mark Rayner for the Cool People Podcast. When I asked him what he’d like to talk about, he didn’t say his characters, publishing or his writing process. He wants to talk about the themes of his book. I’m looking forward to a cool interview about the singularity and how technology affects all our lives, for good and bad. It’ll be less about him and and his book and more about readers. Then they’ll want to buy The Fridgularity, his funny, smart, entertaining novel.

4. Lose long dedications in ebooks. I’ve done this because I have much for which to be grateful, but it cuts into the online sample. Stick it in the back or put a link to it on your author site. Active links to your websites and other books will expand your circle. Your inner circle will understand.

5. The Table of Contents in your ebook doesn’t have to be in the front. That’s inertial thinking from paper publishing. For fiction, at least, stick it in the rear of the book. They can get to it on their e-reader, if they want it, by hitting “Go to”.

This is especially egregious when you have a long, dark poem as a TOC (as I do in This Plague of Days). It’s something else that cuts into the length of the online sample if it’s up front.

6. Do not complain about the demands of marketing your books. That’s telling readers that trying to reach them is a burden and they are unworthy of your time.

I’m still seeing this. Any potential reader who’s done manual labor, worked retail, been unemployed and/or worked for a boss? Yeah, they all hate you when you complain about being a writer. We have the best job on earth. Even if we aren’t getting paid for it yet, it’s still that awesome.

Instead, do what’s fun for you in otherwise unproductive time, after you’ve hit your word count for the day. If a Twitter account in the voice of your character is fun for you, try that. Unless your character is amazingly funny, profound, unique or wanted for spying by the NSA, it probably won’t pay dividends, but at least you’ll be having fun.

Connect on Facebook with people. My most meaningful interactions probably happen there. Since a reader helped me identify how my Facebook settings shut people out, I’m interacting with more people.

You can even go out and meet people in the real world. I understand non-virtual, human interaction is still a thing. I read about it on the Internet. It sounds dangerous, but you can sell paper books that way.

7. The demands of the work drain our energies so we talk too much about being a writer knocking back coffee. I’ve done it, too, and it’s cliche. Time to say something new. Something about wrestling elementary school teacher-dragons naked maybe. Hm. Gotta work on that metaphor so it sounds less fun.

8. Cramming too much information on your business card doesn’t work. Trying to cram the whole story on your book cover doesn’t work. Any promotional stuff that is too long doesn’t get read. Get your graphic design and white space to do more of the work for you.

The British Special Boat Service’s former motto was “Not by strength but by guile.” Good news! We’re writers! We have the resources to use guile. Writers and small publishers don’t have enough money to attack with strength.

9. Speak with. Engage with readers. Do not talk at readers so much. Talk less about you. Talk more about them. (Nice jammies you’re wearing today, by the way, and I especially like the lacy, red bustier…sir. Better turn off that laptop cam.)

10. Talk more about what you love and less about what you hate.

People enjoy reading about what people hate, but they don’t like the hater or even believe them. For readers to get to know you, they want to know what you’re for and what you read and what you think. Or that you think. Talk about what matters, both to you and to them.

Some writers steer clear of religion and politics for fear of offending.

Sounds like a quick way to be irrelevant and bland.

As a writer, your ability to communicate makes you important to any heavy discussion. You can even contribute as a human being. Your thoughts on violence, poverty and all the ills of the world are far more important than your little writing career. If someone doesn’t read your book because you’re a vegan, for instance, do you really think you’re missing out on a thoughtful and fair review from that person?

Kids are starving and you’re really worried about losing a few reactive sci-fi readers because you’re for X and they’re for Y? Really? Surely the kids are worth losing a few bucks, aren’t they?

I’d rather express my politics on Facebook from time to time. I’d rather win more readers I like. I don’t have to have readers who agree with me about everything. However, I don’t write books for dumb people. Trying to be liked by everyone is chasing a goose into an acid factory that’s on fire. We may be poor and desperate for readers. That doesn’t mean we have to be pathetic.

But yes, it does matter that reasonable readers generally like you. (So follow the Wil Wheaton edict and “Don’t be a dick.”)

I don’t want people to be excited to read the next This Plague of Days. I want them excited to read the next book by Robert Chazz Chute, no matter if I’m writing about zombies or Shakespeare or my funny assassin. Most readers tastes are very genre-specific, but if they like you, they’ll try your other stuff.

I’ve read all of Stephen King’s work except for The Dark Tower stuff. But I did try it. That’s all anyone can ask. After that, it’s down to individual tastes.

So be nice. Be authentic. Be committed to The Good.

And write good stories. Tell the truth through lies. Bypass prejudice and reach their minds by making them laugh first.

Writing good stories will get you more readers. Write great stories and that will come. Or maybe it won’t, but the writing and the stories matter. It matters much less than starving children and nuclear proliferation, but be fully in this world as you create better worlds.

To be heard, we must have something to say that matters to readers.

Filed under: author platform, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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