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

Filed under: Books, Writers, writing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Way of the Hack: Writers, you might be a hack if… (plus death threats from space)

Long before computers, a hack was a worn-out horse used for pulling tourists around parks. You know, because before you propose marriage to your sweetie in Central Park, you need to build up your courage by bathing in elderly equestrian flatulence. Then unimaginative comedians were dubbed hacks in the fifties, after a decade of tired jokes (mostly about hateful mothers-in-law.) I wish it stopped there. Writers get called hacks, too. Let’s dodge that fate (and, as you’ll see, you’ll also get one last chance to avoid dying by giant rock). Those two things seem equally important, so read on.

For writers, “hack” is a pretty bad insult.

Recently, on a podcast I’ll never listen to again, the host asked, “So, do you write about zombies or are you a serious writer?” Dude! Dangers, betrayal, and ordinary people facing grim existences and horrific mortality? That (and rampant, grisly cannibalism in line at the post office) is what we’re all facing every day! A book’s subject matter doesn’t make the author a hack. Failure of execution makes the hack.

To avoid becoming a hack, do not follow The Way of the Hack:

1. Tired subjects with no fresh takes. Ever read a book and somehow you’re reminded of a disappointing salad, measly on the croutons with brown lettuce? You might have been reading a hacky book.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

On the other hand, ever read a zombie story with an autistic hero, whales, evolutions of numerous cannibalistic species and Shakespearian trees, all in three books called This Plague of Days? I think you see where I’m going here: this is a blatant plug so you’ll buy This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. Season Three, and the conclusion of the serial, hits this spring. Very well, on with the helpful, preachy bits…

2. Don’t write stories that look, feel and sound like a ton of other stories. Sometimes you can spot a hack book by its cover. You want your cover to convey what genre it’s in, but you don’t want potential readers to think they must have already read it. That’s why you should consider the services of my buddy Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Your book needs a distinctive cover. Okay, no more sweet little commercials for my friends and me (today).

My point is, there are no new stories, but there are still plenty of ways to surprise readers, even the jaded ones. Hit your readers in the brainpan and adrenals. Read any novel by William Goldman if you aren’t sure how. (Okay, that was sort of a plug, but he’s not a friend. I just wish the most underrated, living American novelist was a drinking buddy, that’s all.)

3. Clichés. Hacks love them. Don’t. And why would you? It’s so easy to take a familiar cliché and give it a new twist. Don’t avoid clichés “like the plague.” Avoid them “like a stampede of zombie office workers, oddly indistinguishable from non-zombie office workers.”

4. Hacks lack complexity in plotting. If the story is too easy, the subtle message to the reader is the author is too stupid to create something more interesting. Or possibly the subtext you convey is, the author is a smart, lazy hack who thinks readers are stupid. Either way, readers won’t like the book and they’ll really hate you. So be like Batman — always be Batman — and be complex.

5. Villains who are just bad because they’re bad are hacky. Everybody, even psychos, have reasons and rationalizations and justifications. Don’t be lazy about their motivations. Writers who aren’t hacks take the time to construct origins and context so we understand why they broke bad.

6. Heroes who lack any flaw are hackneyed, boring cartoons. Or Superman. (But I repeat myself.) Protagonists without flaws and weaknesses have it too easy.

For a better example, watch the movie The Rainmaker. It’s about a young lawyer taking on what should be impossible odds and…things go incredibly smoothly for him. You’ll think, that’s it? He just had to show up and obstacle after obstacle falls down and his path is cleared? Really? It may be a good book. I haven’t read it. The movie appeared to be written by a hack who had one eye on the clock and the other on a ham on rye. 

For contrast, a great courtroom drama is 12 Angry Men. You’ve no doubt seen it. Watch it again. Henry Fonda slowly convinces eleven other jurors there is room for doubt. It seems such an unlikely outcome, but every minute of that film is riveting as you watch the dominoes fall.

7. The free online dictionary defines a hack as “One who undertakes unpleasant or distasteful tasks for money or reward; a hireling.” (Whoa! That’s most anybody with a regular job, isn’t it? But I digress.)

If you aren’t finding any joy in the writing, you might be a hack. No fun for you? None for the reader.

8. Some snobs conflate “hack” with “commercial.” Wrong. Those are two separate issues. A book can be commercial and not be the work of a hack. JK RowlingThis Plague of Days Season 2 is one of the most successful writers ever. Who but the most dedicated troll would dare to call her a hack?

Also, just because a book fails commercially doesn’t mean it was hacky writing. Moby Dick was never a commercial success in Herman Melville’s lifetime. Lots of good books fail. Don’t let The Way of the Hack be the reason for your book’s commercial failure.

I’m hoping the reason for my books’ commercial failure is everybody dies when a rogue asteroid hits Earth…but don’t worry, there’s still time. Just click here and buy my books so I can succeed and we avoid the grisly alternative near-future where the world’s population chokes to death in fire as the planet’s oxygen burns away in the ugly celestial calamity to come. Hey, it’s all on you now. Please don’t think of this as an ultimatum. It is, but please don’t think of it that way. And thanks for contributing to the Arts. Congratulations on having children and grandchildren and having another February.

9. Lack of research. If you’re banging out your manuscript to make a word count without care for details, you might be a hack.

10. Lack of humor. When a book has one unrelenting, dour tone, I begin to suspect the author just put his or her head down and said to themselves through gritted teeth, “By all that is unholy, I will get through this and grind it out.” You miss opportunities for non-linear thinking when you’re rushing to a deadline like that. Slow down, Speed Racer! Enjoy the ride more. Give it another read and look for new angles, holes and opportunities to deepen and lighten the tone and give that prose roller coaster more hills and valleys. Take the time to threaten your readers with certain death once in a while. Carpe noctem!

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: just $4.99.

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: only $4.99. Shake out the couch change.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. Today I have plugged my books, garishly, but I tried so very hard to be polite about it. Later on I threatened genocide by giant burning rock from space. Clearly, you need to buy Murders Among Dead Trees, The Little Book of Braingasms, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and, of course, This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. They are each on sale at a special low price for January 2014. Now is the time. Or an asteroid kills us all. Those are the only two possible outcomes. But, like I said, It’s up to you, killer. Yeah, let’s just click here, ‘kay? Again, thanks so much.

If more than 70 happy reviews don’t convince you, learn more about This Plague of Days and how a boy on the autism spectrum could possibly fit into the plot, at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

For podcasts and more about the books and the author, check out AllThatChazz.com. I’m starting to feel needy now, so I’ll stop.

Filed under: Amazon, What about Chazz?, What about you?, 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?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Books: Ventures, Misadventures, Adventures and Brutal Honesty

Crack the Indie Author CodeWhen George Lucas screened  Star Wars, most of his fellow filmmakers in the room looked at each other and said, “American Graffiti was awesome, George, but this space opera thing…yuck!” It was Stephen Spielberg who played the contrarian. “You guys don’t get it!” he said. “This is going to be huge!” And of course, Spielberg was right.

My personal Lord and Saviour of The Written Word, William Goldman, famously said of the Hollywood film business, “Nobody knows anything.” It’s true, no one can know what will hit and which will miss. Someone comes up with the somewhat moronic expression YOLO (the idiot’s “Carpe diem”) and it’s suddenly on t-shirts everywhere. True for us, too. You may write a heavy, ambitious tome, but it’s a tiny book like The Little Prince that captures the hearts and imaginations of generations of readers.

So it is with marketing books.

Agents say they can “guide your career”, but if that were true, anyone with a sentient agent would have a fabulous career. No one knows anything in publishing, either. That’s not meant as an insult, but as a reflection of reality. Publishing is famous (or infamous) for placing bets on many horses, hoping the big bets will pay off and cover the losers’ ubiquitous failures. Few industries have a miss rate as high as book publishing (though Hollywood’s screwing up even more than usual lately.)

So it is with my books, too!Self Help for Stoners JPEG

The summer is winding down and I find I must split my mania among many ventures. I’m in a philosophical mood and looking back at what took off, what has not, and why. We at Ex Parte Press are not lounging in the money, chocolate and champagne pool at the moment. (But we still have high hopes.)

  • Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus are critical successes among the few critics who are aware of my funny Cuban hit man and his tragic past. Alas, hardboiled and funny suspense isn’t trending at the moment. Nonetheless, I have more Hit Man books planned. Jesus Diaz will just have to wait a bit longer as I concentrate my efforts where readers have demonstrated more enthusiasm. I love Jesus, and can’t wait to get him back on the warpath in Hollywood. An assassin who can make movie references and quick quips while getting beaten up deserves more books. He’ll get them.
  • My first funny short story collection, Self-help for Stoners, sells just a little but steadily. It’s a tribute to Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com that the cover is repinned on Pinterest several times a week, every week. Later this fall I will stop using an intermediary so I can take back control of marketing that book. I have no doubt I can take it much higher once that happens. I’d have done it by now but I’ve been perpetually swamped for months with This Plague of Days.
  • Six Seconds, my book about using the Vine app to market your business was an instant book with lots of great advice. I’ve moved books and marketed my podcasts having fun with mini videos. Though Vine remains the superior product, Instagram changed their app to ape Vine so Instagram has many more users. I bet on the wrong horse, not every at bat is a home-run, insert your metaphor for failure here.
  • This Plague of Days, Season One is getting traction. It might even be on the cusp of taking off. I’ll find out when Season Two hits at the end of September. (Here’s my latest post with hints and expectations for Season Two.) Early feedback is very encouraging. As in this, from the beta team: “Suspense and plot and action – all of them are on steroids in this book…overall impression is you have brought this thing to the next level.”

Mind the towering caveat in the following paragraph:

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

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

So you see, I’m no better (or worse) at stabbing at the imagination of readers than anyone else. I don’t know what will sell buckets of books. No one does. It’s something that happens to you, as long as you pretend your destiny is under your control and do everything you can to get discovered. You can hit the target. We’re all shooting blindfolded in the dark, sure, but if you take enough wild shots, aiming matters less. You write the best book you can and engage more readers and attend some sad, ill-attended bookstore signings and do whatever else you can think of to fire off signal flares without becoming a Twitter pariah.

This is not to say that good advice isn’t out there. It’s just that so much good advice conflicts!

The great Chuck Wendig talks about voice (or the force of personality) being more important than “brand”. Others can’t talk about anything else but brand, stats and system gaming. Hugh Howey is the outlier that didn’t really market anything when he started Wool (though he says Facebook helps him most these days.) Some insist on lots of links to your other work in the back of each book. Others say that’s overkill and intelligent readers will find you easily if they love you enough to bother with a google search. Some book marketers are passive as a policy (or lazy.) Others are so active, it’s pretty close to obnoxious.

And still, nobody knows anything. Not for sure. There are too many variables to success and the situation is fluid. We, writers and publishers all, dance on tightropes while juggling feathers in wind storms and hope readers will cast a glance our way and enjoy the silly monkey dance.

Still, you’ll find advice about tactics everywhere.

Just this week, I pushed the Author Marketing Club and Bookbub. Solid advice I stand behind. But keep in mind, these are tactics. The potency of tactics can wax and wane according to many variables. That’s what’s hot now and into the near future. After that? New tools will emerge because good ideas get copied. Sometimes imitators are new and improved and often the copier doesn’t have enough toner.

Strategy is long-term thinking. Strategy says: Write more. Get more feedback. Write more books. Get better. Higher+than+Jesus+Front+1029

This is the only advice I know that lasts. (You’ll find that and much more about the writing and publishing life in Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Crack sells a bit while the second book hardly moves at all. Why? Who knows? Nobody. Nobody knows anything! My Lord and Saviour told me so.

However, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have a third book about writing and publishing in the chamber ready to fire. When This Plague of Days hits big, readers will pick up all my books about writing and publishing. After the fact, they’ll say, “Well, no wonder.” 

The Johnny-come-latelies won’t know what you know. My overnight success wasn’t overnight. Success always seems inevitable, but only in retrospect. Until you make it, no one cares about you and your book. Those who do give you any thought probably think you a fool. (Insert an image of your disapproving in-laws here.)

Ah. But, afterwards? You’re a genius.*

~ *Afterwards, You’re a Genius is a wonderful book I recommend for anyone interested in scientists with lyrical sensibilities.

For more on the rising action and scary high stakes in the spiralling weirdness of an autistic boy fighting zombies, read this post at ThisPlagueOfDays.com. 

For more on my adventures in self-pubishing, swallowing bitter pills and my peculiar brain mania, there’s this post on the writing life at my author site. 

 

Filed under: author platform, getting it done, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Video book reviews, secrets and policies

 

LMB stars

LMB stars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recently I posted a video review on Amazon. If you can do it to help a book, I recommend it. Novelty gets attention (even with my ugly mug.) Since posting the video review, more authors have contacted me to read and review their books. My TBR pile is taller than I am and my kindle is just about full, so it’s not easy to get to it all (nor even physically possible.) That’s not a complaint. I’m excited at the possibility of discovering a book that pulls me in and makes me think or laugh. I prefer both. I love books. Of course I want to read everything. Since I can’t and now that I’m getting more of these requests, herein lie the secrets that make me want to review your book favorably:

 

1. I have writing deadlines for my own books and I have a lot to read, so please be patient. I don’t guarantee when I’ll get to it. As you’ll see, I might never get to it, but you’ll prefer my reasoning for not reviewing your book.

 

2. I don’t give one, two or even three-star reviews. Somebody reading this just threw up their hands or their lunch, but bear with me. This goes beyond the fact that I find most one-star reviews mean-spirited, often nonsensical, sometimes borderline illiterate and they usually treat writers of bad books like their crime is genocide. Even though they probably got it free or for less change than sits under their couch cushions, you won’t find much forgiveness, wit or transcendence in most one-stars.

 

But it’s not just that I couldn’t bring myself to do that to another writer unless the title actually is Mein Kampf. It’s simpler than all that. If a book is not to my taste, I don’t finish it and I don’t review what I haven’t read. Life is too short and reading something that’s not for me takes too much time. Pointing out good books is more of a service to readers, and a better use of our time, than warning people away from books we don’t care for.

 

Reviews that are dire warnings are kind of like taking the time to tell me what’s awful on the menu when I’m hungry and anxious to order. I want to hear about your few extra-delicious recommendations and get on with the dining experience, not a litany of what the cook screws up. Or have you ever tried to schedule an appointment with somebody who only tells you when they can’t make it? I want to kill those people. (Okay, I admit it. I have killed those people.)

 

On a related note: Books that aren’t to my liking will be the best book someone else has ever read. Really. Go check on reviews of books you love on any popular site. See those books that whisked you off to magic realms and changed your life? Now see all those reviews warning you off them? Corollary: Try clicking on a book you despise. See all that five-star, hyperbolic love? Nope, they can’t all be friends and family. Families aren’t that big and writers don’t have friends. We have ex-friends we betrayed and cannibalized to put into our books. All those reviews you disagree with are simply people who are different from you. Weird, isn’t it? I mean, you’re awesome. Why doesn’t everyone want to be exactly like you? Inexplicable! I’ll ponder the problem. In the interim, let’s not take reviews too seriously then, shall we? 

 

3. If you gift me the copy on kindle to review, you get credit for the sale and it’s also easier for me to wirelessly download it. Easier is better. (Yes, I have Calibre but frankly, not a big fan.)

 

4. I’m primarily a suspense writer, so mostly I read non-fiction that feeds my other obsessions, mystery, thrillers and some horror. I’ve read a good sampling of many genres, but not everything is for everybody. I don’t and can’t read everything (at least until I get the time machine fixed or become immortal) so please don’t be upset that I must refuse to read your steampunk novel. Even though it’s great, but I haven’t read enough steampunk to create an informed review.

 

I enjoy William Goldman, Chuck Palahniuk, Thomas Harris, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Lawrence Block, Cormac McCarthy and (swoon!) Elmore Leonard. I’m not into Wodehouse. I’ve probably read more romance than you (my first jobs in publishing were at Harlequin in the Canadian Gigolo Department) but that was for pay and I’ve had my fill of impossibly handsome, rich and capable heroes named Rollo seducing women who are, despite their age, curiously sexually innocent.

 

5. A four-star review is a compliment, too, and, with all the distrust of five-star reviews, a happy four-star review may be even more useful to you than a five-star. However, I also believe that all that distrust is now way overhyped. If I’m that high on your fiction, you’ll get a five-star review. Ratings should reflect the tone of the review. It’s weird and confusing when the review is full of superlatives but the rating doesn’t show that same enthusiasm, isn’t it? Also, to hold back on a five-star rating for credibility’s sake alone cheats the author and that would be gaming the system, too, wouldn’t it? No one’s talking about that. Some readers within the echo chamber are afraid they’ll get fooled by fraudulent reviews when they could be reading a sample to alleviate those unbearable terrors.

 

6. I’m nice. I’m acting as a reviewer, not an editor. The review is not about me and this is not a teaching opportunity. I do not scold or lecture authors.

Some bad review habits are egregious. I don’t do things like this: “I wish the story had gone in a different direction,”; “I would have done it differently,” (of course everyone would do it differently!); “Too much swearing!” (that’s usually the realism leaking out); “The level of sex bothered me” (unless it’s BDSM in a children’s book, someone else enjoyed it); tiny grammar niggles; minor factual quibbles; and, finally, rest assured that my world doesn’t collapse when I spot a few typos. I don’t count them in a review. I find that petty and off the mark.

 

Also fitting under this category, let’s walk through what I think is on the mark: Some readers worry that writers are too nice to other writers. Sometimes the opposite is true simply because writers read as writers. We’re not enjoying the flight and looking at the clouds. We’re thinking about the workings of the engines that bear us aloft and how that knocking we hear is going to make the plane crash into the ocean. That attitude can suck a lot of joy from the reading experience, as any enlightened first-year English Lit students will tell you. Most readers don’t read like that! They aren’t as stringent nor are they strident. Most people really just want a good story and that’s what I’m looking for when I read a book to review it.

 

7. What does bother me: Fiction that requires the characters act like idiots for the story to work (e.g. incompetent henchmen and goals too easily achieved); stories that don’t work within their worlds unless I’m an idiot; deus ex machina; not enough conflict and tension; fiction without non-fiction ideas (your grade eight teacher called them themes); and clichés that aren’t twisted. (A twisted cliché makes something new and unexpected out of something worn out and expected.) 

 

8. What I like: I enjoy snappy dialogue and a sense of humor if it suits what you’re trying to achieve. Often at least some levity is exactly what even the most sinister stuff needs to switch up the mood and avoid the drone of a monotone. Try to induce a range of emotion. Ups and downs make roller coasters.

For example, one of my WIPs is a dystopian novel about an autistic child in the middle of a plague that kills most people on earth. That doesn’t mean I don’t make some jokes. For a slightly better known example (ha!), The Dark Knight Rises, as good as it was at times, needed a little more of Joss Whedon’s lighter touch from The Avengers. DKR had elements of opera at its high points and long funeral lows. I prefer stories with more range.

 

I enjoy fiction that achieves what it set out to achieve. For instance, you won’t hear something silly from me, like a complaint that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is “not historically accurate.” Yes, even a professional reviewer did that and, oh my Thor, if I have to explain why that’s upside down, please stop reading now and go watch Honey Boo Boo. Please!

 

9. I do not include spoilers. A good review doesn’t recount the plot and suck the joy of surprise and discovery out of the work for potential readers. I say what I liked and how I reacted to the characters and setting. I say how the story affected me emotionally or intellectually. I react to the experience of reading the book and what makes it interesting to me and unique. (Unique often doesn’t work, but when it works, swoon!)

 

10. Most reviews will be pretty short. A video review longer than a minute is not watched. If I review a book, I’m sharing my enthusiasm and yes, I’m unabashedly trying to sell your book to potential readers. I made it through the reading and reviewed it, so naturally I’m sharing and spreading the joy of your work with readers who enjoy your genre.

 

For me, reviews are about finding the like-minded. There are plenty of good and even great books out there. Let’s go find the good ones and focus our energies on spreading that good news. 

 

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The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

The foundation book of the Hit Man Series is available as an ebook and in paperback.

I’m in the middle of revisions on next my crime novel, so I’m grateful that the amazing Bridgette O’Hare suggested the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. As I creep closer to publishing Higher Than Jesus, she asked me ten questions about my Work in Progress. Ta-da!

What is the working title of your book? 

Higher Than Jesus (It’s pronounced “Hay-soose”. The “Higher” is a reference to drugs and thrills.) This is the second in The Hit Man Series. The foundation book was Bigger Than Jesus (released in June.) Five books are planned in the series so far. It’s a lot of fun, because stuff we thought we knew about Jesus Diaz from the first book go deeper. He has a darker past than I revealed the first time around and there are a lot of layers to his onion. The one thing you can count on with Jesus is that not much ever goes according to plan.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The main character began with a cool idea I had for a suspense story called “The Inevitable” which appeared in my first book, Self-help for Stoners. Our first glimpse of Jesus was as a Cuban hit man who helps out women going through ugly divorces. That’s actually a glimpse of Jesus in the future, as a more experienced, mature assassin.

What genre does your book fall under?

Suspense, thriller, action/adventure. Whichever category appeals to you more.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I picture Enrique Eglesias as Jesus right now, but I’ve thought John Leguizamo, too. For the role of Willow Clemont, I’d need a very tall blonde glamazon. I’m not sure which actress fits the bill best. I’m not up on my tall, blonde actresses. As for the role of Chilli Gillie (another recurring good guy character from my Poeticule Bay Stories) who shows up in Higher Than Jesus, it’s kind of a sore subject. I pictured Michael Clarke Duncan. Sadly, he just died of a heart attack. I note Chilli’s resemblance to Mr. Duncan several times in the book and now I’m debating about rewriting that aspect and how to do so.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In Higher Than Jesus, luckless hit man Jesus Diaz is on the run in Chicago when he takes up a mission to free himself and his girlfriend from addiction to Vicodin and to thwart the evil plans of a group of gun running white supremacists.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m published by Ex Parte Press. This is the one company that cares most about my book. It’s my company.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft was a month or two. I write fast. Then the long editorial tail kicks in. That has more people involved, and so, more variables.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The pace of Blake Crouch’s Run had a big impact on me as well as an old book by William Goldman called Edged Weapons. I like a book that skips along at a fast clip with lots of chuckles and clever surprises. I should also add that fans of Bigger Than influenced Higher Than quite a bit. Everyone commented on how funny Bigger Than Jesus was in unexpected ways. From what fans said, I decided that I needed to keep the pacing and reversals of the first book, but to always look for the humor in situations that aren’t all that funny. That’s what I do on and off the clock, anyway. I think finding the cosmic joke is what we all have to do to get through every day.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I have a dopamine addiction, so I’m compelled to write. I was born this way. Why write this book in particular? I read a lot, but I’m having a hard time finding this sort of book. Humorous books don’t tend to have a lot of action. Books with a lot of action often fall short on humor. I love snappy dialogue, so I probably owe more of an inspirational debt to the Coen brothers’ movies and Quentin Tarantino movies. If you can’t find the book you want to read, you have to write it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s a lot in there that provides deep context and verisimilitude for the plot, like some controversial observations about talk therapy, PTSD and drug addiction. My wife is a psychologist and I had to warn her that Jesus comes down hard on talk therapy, but it’s mental stimulation I’m dealing out. I’m not presenting Truth with a capital T, but an opinion from a guy who has serious problems, like killing people for a living.

Also, as a former military policeman, Jesus uses some clever surveillance tactics, skip tracer ruses and knowledge about IEDs that are all drawn from real life. Between research and some things I picked up from experts, the story yields some fun, interesting details and new twists that will amaze. Promise.

Who’s up next in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop? Look for more posts next Wednesday from:

The always-encouraging Jo Michaels, the lovely Jordanna East, the historically mysterious Laura Seeber, lover of all things just Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy and the ever-enthusiastic Ronald Fischman.

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Author Blog Challenge 18: The Top Ten Reasons You (yes! You!) Crave This Book

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

To whom will Bigger Than Jesus appeal? I have serious and much less than serious answers to this Author Blog Challenge writing prompt:

1. People who like a fast beach read of a crime thriller that’s hard to put down. I got the idea for my pacing from Blake Crouch’s Run. There’s a cliffhanger or an aha moment, or several, in every chapter. The tension only cranks up.

2. People who like old caper movies, like To Catch a Thief, Sneakers or The Italian Job. My fondest childhood memories are getting lost in movies to shut out everything else.

3. People who like Coen brothers‘ movies where simple solutions lead to more and more complex problems and the hero is thwarted again and again. Rock? Meet hard place. And now a badger is chewing your jugular as you try to do your taxes.

4. People who like funny, punchy dialogue, including a debate between two hoods: Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo? (Yes, that’s one of the serious answers and the question does bear on the action at the time.)

5. People who like a lot of twists and surprises. I modelled my plot after screenwriter and author William Goldman‘s penchant for sucker punches where, just when you think you know what happens next, it goes a different way.

6. People who value clever more than gory. For a book about a hit man trying to escape the mob, there’s a lot of word play and when the violence does occur, it’s realistic yet somehow funny in the same way Pulp Fiction could be. The chapters skip along with logical complexity offset by humour.

7. People who like genre fiction that reaches up. Much of the novel has a lighthearted slant, but underneath, when you discover some of the main character’s history, it’s unexpectedly disturbing and heartbreaking. Are you worried I’ve just spoiled  something? Don’t be. I like magic tricks in all of my fiction. I’m telling you up front that I’m going to deceive you and you’re going to watch to catch me at my sleight of hand. The game is, I’m still going to fool you anyway. “Consider the gauntlet thrown,” he said smiling. I know this will work because I often surprised myself while writing Bigger Than Jesus.

8. Movie buffs with an Elmore Leonard sensibility in their reading tastes. Jesus Diaz, the anti-hero of the novel, is a movie buff and, since movies were a large part of his education, he sees the world through a Hollywood lens. The action is definitely influenced by Elmore Leonard’s take on shady characters having strange dialogue.

9. Readers who like a book that plays with them. The entire book is written in present tense, second-person. I loved Bright Lights, Big City for that and I decided that, after twenty-seven years, somebody should try that again. But it’s not just my personal preference or a gimmick at work. There’s a reason. Late in the novel, you get a strong hint as to why the narrative is told as it is.

10. Readers who enjoy a story that ends up in some unexpected places, like a discussion of Salvador Dali’s life, for instance. Bigger Than Jesus is a fun game and a puzzle box of a crime thriller that packs serious emotions behind it.

Some of the less serious answers to this Author Blog Challenge writing prompt include: Everyone with a Kindle or anyone who gets the free Kindle Reading app for any device, NMD (Not my dad), people who enjoy breathing, gorgeous and empowered Latinas, New York pizza joint owners who bought it thinking it was about Jesus Christ but will get sucked in anyway, criminals plotting to go straight, intelligent people (so if you don’t get it…eh, you figure it out), Beatles fans who also love the SIG Sauer, and the authorities who put me on a watch list for my Google searches because of the research for this book.

The second part of the writing prompt asked: How do I connect with them to market to them?

Um. I’m not sure. Have I convinced you yet?

Click the book cover if yes.

GET BIGGER THAN JESUS

If not, send me your email address at expartepress@gmail.com.

Maybe I’ll come to your house.

Maybe I’ll send you something in the mail.

Maybe you’ll wake up hanging upside down.

We’ll work it out.

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Author Blog Challenge: Writers to adore

The Princess Bride writer William Goldman His ...

The Princess Bride writer William Goldman His Q&A closed the Expo and included the largest audience of the Expo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another writing prompt for the Author Blog Challenge is: Which writers do you most admire? In a week or so I’ll release Bigger Than Jesus, my first crime novel in a series. In part, the book is dedicated to William Goldman. You know the movies he has written: The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But you probably don’t know his many novels: Edged Weapons became the movie, Heat with Burt Reynolds; Brothers (a sequel to Marathon Man); and my beloved The Color of Light. What sets Goldman apart is his plotting, his humour and his enormous capacity to surprise the reader. Just when you think you know what happens next, he sucker punches you. I’m all about surprises, too, so I love that.

Who else? Stephen King gets a nod for telling a story straight and well and for sheer output. Chuck Palahniuk is another favorite because we share an interest in the weird but true. Also, Chuck does not rest on his laurels. He takes chances with his books. He’s not trying to do Fight Club over and over and he has even jumped boldly into experimental fiction here and there (like Pygmy and Rant.) What distinguishes his style is that he does not judge his characters. Things happen. Morals are for readers to come up with (or not). There are traits from Goldman, King and Palahniuk I either came by one my own or absorbed. I don’t really believe in emulation of other writers, but I recognize similarities in process.

Recently, someone on a podcast reported that fiction is dead. They said people don’t have time for novels anymore. They want it short and then? Make it shorter than that. The death of the novel has been predicted almost as many times and with as much certitude as “Vampires are so over, man.” I’d worry about the state of fiction, but then I read Run by Blake Crouch and I don’t think we have to worry. Write a great book and tell the story in such a way that the reader can’t put it down. Make them laugh. Make them cringe. Sucker punch them with surprise. The novel will survive. I hope so, anyway, because I am otherwise unemployable.

With each opening, with each beat, with every chapter that ends with a cliffhanger:

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

When Bigger Than Jesus comes out, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

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Spooky weirdness and the books on my desk

A little story about writing and intuition

Once upon a time, as a healer, I engaged in counselling someone in a spiritual quest to free them from pain. It’s a long story I will not indulge today, but I will say that before each of those appointments, I meditated. I did that then. ow writing is the only meditation I seem to need. Before each of those appointments, I went to my bookshelves. I’ve collected books for years, so I have several thousand waiting to be rediscovered. Each time, one of those books would call to me. I felt a change in energy through my palm as I ran my hand along the shelves. I would then open the book at random…or seemingly at random. Something always arose in the client’s session that related to the passage from the chosen book. The woman I worked with used to be trapped in an electric wheelchair. She walks, drives, travels and lives a full life now. She became a healer and took my place. Make of that what you will.

When I’m stuck or need a nudge or a connection to an epiphany, I still go to my bookshelves. Call it inspiration, weird, or the hypnogogic state, pattern recognition, divine intervention or neural connection through confirmation bias. Call it nonsense if you want. I’m conflicted about it myself. Nevertheless, it worked. It still works. When I need it, that intuition can propel my narratives forward.

I’m now revising one book while writing another. As I survey my extra desk (spreading out is such luxury), there are several piles I either reference or keep close by just to stay on track. I thought you might be interested to know what I pulled from my bookshelves to draw from as I go through my process:

For my crime novel:

The Pool Bible by Nick Metcalfe (as in nine ball), Mobspeak, The Dictionary of Crime Terms (Sifakis), Writing the Private Eye Novel, Cause of Death A writer’s guide to death, murder & forensic medicine (Wilson), How to Write a Mystery (Larry Beinhart), New York City Day by Day and Frommer’s New York City.

For Editing:

The Artful Edit (Susan Bell), The Subversive Copy Editor (Carol Fisher Sailor).

For Inspiration:

Brother (William Goldman), Best American Crime Writing 2003, When the Women Come out to Dance  and The Hot Kid (Elmore Leonard), Small Town (Lawrence Block), This Year You Write Your Novel, (Walter Mosley).

NEXT POST: Pantsing versus Plotting

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Write your thriller in chapters: 10 tips for greater productivity

There’s no one way to write a novel. I do, however, have ten suggestions to make it go easier and faster:

1. Outline. Have some idea where you’re going and what the destination might be. It’ll save you time doubling back from dead ends. Believe me, I’ve written myself into cul-de-sacs and it’s a time suck no one can afford. (No, you’re not married to the outline and you don’t have to go OCD with the Roman numeral outline you learned in grade eight. I’m trying to increase your productivity and enhance your creativity, not shackle it.)

2. If you outline, you don’t have to write your story in sequence. With an outline, you already have the beats, the bases you have to touch as you tell your story. If you’re not feeling very inspired one day, no big deal. Focus on the high points of your outline on the days you don’t start off “in the mood.” Bonus benefit: you’ll get all your sex scenes written first.

3. Write each chapter as if it’s a short story. Your novel has a beginning, middle and end. So should your chapters. I often see substandard chapters which finish without the pulls of intrigue, a cliffhanger or a bang. Some writers reason that if they make the larger story interesting, they can afford to have a chapter or two that isn’t compelling. It does sound reasonable. It’s also wrong. Tension has one direction: up. There are way too many great books to read (and a million other things to do) so, for many readers, you bore them, you lose them. Sure, you’ve made this sale, but they won’t be burnt again.

4. For each chapter, identify a purpose. If a chapter has no dramatic purpose, drop it. Too often I see manuscripts where the characters are up and moving around, but to no purpose. (When editing, purposeless activity is called “business” as in “busy-ness.” There’s movement, but nothing’s really happening.  A chapter without purpose signals self-indulgence, a writer who got lost for awhile, not enough editing or an author who insisted on a tangent at the expense of the book.

The other common problem? Too much world-building and not enough character. A writer once described to me in excruciating detail about the far out environment of his book. It was a very ethereal place in space with no points of reference between human readers and the gaseous clouds that were his characters. I had to shut him up. He was driving me crazy with exhaustive, pretty detail. “But what’s the story? How is your reader going to relate to that?” Science fiction is about people first. Fantasy is about people first. Stories are all, at their core, about people and the choices they make. Sift your world-building detail in amongst action and character development. Otherwise, it will be unreadable, confusing or the reader won’t care.

Chapters with purpose are compelling and propelling toward an conclusion the reader wants to discover. (But they also want to be fooled, too. So make them say, “Ah, I bet I know what happens next.” Then find a way to surprise them. Read any of William Goldman’s novels to really get this deep into the marrow.)

5. What are the scenes in your chapter and are they in the right sequence? Are you revealing too much early in the story? Are you being too coy with the reader in later chapters? Does the pace pick up as you reach the climax and solve the novel’s core problem? Is it really a surprise (and logical) when you get to that climax?

6. Are you taking shortcuts in logic or logistics? Somewhere in your book there’s a less favorite scene or something that requires more research that, frankly, you don’t want to do. If your heroine is in Paris and your hero is in New York, they can’t meet in the middle of the Atlantic on a train (unless your novel is set in the future or a past that never was, of course.)

Are you missing a bridge to get you from one event to another? This is a logistics problem. Your FBI investigators are in Virginia at Quantico. The kidnapping is in the Pacific Northwest. Do you need a scene of conflict within the team on the private or military jet to get to the crime scene? You may make that transition in just a single sentence or it might be a chapter, but without some acknowledgement of the travel issue, it will be jarring for the reader to have them materialize in Seattle. Time and space and placement of people in relation to each other is something to trip over if you don’t make the effort to handle it logically.

7. Do your chapters fit together? Suppose you have an entire book that takes place, A to B, sequentially over the course of the hottest August in a century. But there’s that one winter scene you’re slipping in with a flashback. Does this puzzle piece fit in with the tone of your other chapters? If not, is there a reason for it? For instance, if your hero needs a look back at an early Christmas morning for the one time he was happy to give him a clue or change of direction, it fits better than an odd chapter that seems plugged in.

8. Is each chapter satisfying? This is a little different from #3, and a larger, more esoteric editorial question. You’ve written each chapter as a short story. That’s fine and can help you face the challenge of writing an entire novel-length manuscript. Now I’m asking, does each chapter feel full? Is it contributing something more to the larger story arc? When all these short stories are cobbled together, will each contribute to a greater whole than the sum of the parts? Is there a richness in description, character and action that will leave the reader satisfied with the effort overall? Is the core problem big enough to bother with a full-length book? Do you force the reader through several hundred pages only to kill off the protagonist (can be done, but often iffy) or worse, find out said protagonist is a lummox they hate? Too often, authors make their obstacles too small, the villains too stupid, the stakes microscopic and the core problem not nearly big enough. You don’t have to save the world on every outing. Maybe you’re just saving one person, but make us care.

9. Does each chapter’s length make sense? When I say “make sense” here, I mean, do you achieve in the chapter what you need to accomplish at an appropriate pace? Chapters don’t have to have a uniform length. Mary Higgins Clarke’s chapters get progressively  shorter as she goes so it feels like a race to the finish. I find I like short chapters as a reader (and as an editor) because I feel like I’m making progress as I go through, marking up the milestones. Short chapters often feel like a breezy  read. As a writer, however, I find my chapters are longer so they have time and space to wind to their conclusion. However, some writers go so short they aren’t providing enough beats within each chapter. I sometimes see underwritten, choppy chapters where action isn’t happening and characters aren’t developing. When that happens, you don’t have a chapter yet. In that case, you probably have the components for scenes within one chapter.

10. Set a schedule. If you use each suggestion here as a guideline, you also have an estimation for how long it will take you to write your novel based in real time.  Since you’re writing your novel as short stories, progressing at a fairly predictable pace, set an end date for the first draft. Make a schedule to get to that date and stick to it.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll make real progress toward your goals. 

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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

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

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

You never know what's real.

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

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

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

Write to live

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