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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

The I of the Eye

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


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

Where We Differ

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

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

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

What Dreams May Fail

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

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

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

The Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence


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


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

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

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

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

Reading and Writing Distractions


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

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

Which brings me to publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to talk about with readers

Sometimes you get to talk about a new cover, but there’s plenty more to talk about when we engage with readers.

It’s a common question: What do I say to readers?

If you’re meeting readers in person at a book signing, your engagement is generally as follows: a friendly hello, an inquiry about what they like to read and your elevator pitch tailored to their preferences. Ask their name and autograph it. Collect email addresses for your newsletter. Sell your paperbacks and/or have a QR code so they can buy ebooks on the spot.

If you have multiple books and a following who specifically came to see you (congrats!), they’ll talk to you about the last book of yours they read as they buy the next.

If you’re signing at a bookstore and the turnout is disappointing, don’t worry about it. Your mission isn’t to sell a few paperbacks and grub pocket change. Your job is to make sure the bookstore employees love and remember you. They’re the ones recommending books to their customers every working day, after all. You’re planting seeds in that case, not necessarily harvesting.

I’m not a great fan of in-person book signings. A few of my friends do marathons of signings and schlep to every festival, comics convention, bookstore and cafe. A buddy of mine is so prolific and peripatetic, he’d show up the opening of an envelope. More power to them. I live in Canada. Everything is far away from everything else. I’d rather stay home and talk to readers from the comfort of my writing bunker.

Before and after: Fresh, on-point covers may translate to increased sales. Consult with fans. They can help you choose covers and titles, too.

Which brings us to how most of us engage with readers: electronically.

We all know we should engage readers through newsletters, preferably not through a gmail account (so your news doesn’t go to spam), preferably keeping the list warm by sending out the mass email at some reasonable frequency so you are not forgotten. There are newsletter builders for most genres and autoresponders help convert casual readers into fans. I’m no newsletter ninja and my attitude about newsletter engagement is poor. I worry too much about bothering anyone too often. Unsubscribes from a small list are a bit depressing. However, I know a newsletter ninja who does it right so why listen to me about newsletters? I recommend Newsletter Ninja 1 & 2 by Tammi L. Labrecque.

Here’s how I love to engage with readers: my FB fan group

I list my books and links in the back of my books, of course. I also invite the die-hard fans to join us in my private fan group, Fans of Robert Chazz Chute. You can spend a month or years working on books, creating worlds in isolation. This group is one of the joys of the writing life and makes it less lonely. If not for them, I’d talk to three people on an average day. Four, if I order coffee.

Be honest, be real

These readers are fans who are mostly like-minded. They tend to share my worldview. I’m left of center, as is some of my fiction, I suppose. I know, I know! We’re told that, as authors, we lose readers if we’re political. Ha! That advice is common but it surely is not as universal as you’ve been told. Ever check out Stephen King’s Twitter feed or Chuck Wendig’s?

This topic is a longer discussion and another post. However, everything is political, especially now. Choosing not to speak up is a political choice, too. The market is fractionated. Everybody picks a side and everyone has their outlet. I was a citizen before I was a writer. I act like it and I’m real about my worries for the future. The climate crisis is real. The pandemic threat is real. Fascism, economic and governmental failures are real. Useful positions when you’re writing dramas about the end of the world, right?

Might I lose some readers? Possibly. I’d likely gain more readers than I’d lose. I don’t think I’d lose many readers who would dig my work so, frankly, I can’t worry about that much. To appeal to everyone, I’d have to say nothing. That’s not me and the writing would suffer. My fiction is richer because it’s informed by dark and stark realities of non-fiction. (Plus jokes. I make a lot of jokes.)

The Fan Group Offer

Members are entered into a raffle and, with their consent, lend their names to characters in my fiction. Nobody turns down the offer. It’s kind of a blast to find a character named after you in a book. I write apocalyptic epics and crime thrillers so even though safety is not guaranteed, people take it as a fun bonus of membership.

Pros and Cons

As discussed in last week’s post, there are problems with Facebook’s policies, post visibility and politics. You’re undoubtedly already familiar with those issues. However, talking with readers within the group is very rewarding for me. People do see my posts within the group, they want to see me succeed and the bond is tight. To me, newsletters often feel like missives to the ether. Within the group, I get replies in the comments, often instantaneously. It’s great to hang out with supportive people who get you and what you do. On some level, I think every writer needs that kind of edge. This is a fun way to make a living. It’s not an easy path.

The group is a club, the only kind I think I’d enjoy. This is not for the casual reader who can take me or leave me. Will it expand my readership? Honestly, not as well as a large newsletter list or a big investment in advertising might. The concrete benefits of the group are mostly indirect. It’s a time investment, not a monetary one and I never miss that time.

The experience is chummy. My editor is in the group. I’m more likely to find beta readers who know my catalogue there (and they can catch if I’m repeating myself). They know my genres. I have up and down days and I’m honest about both. Because of this blog and the podcasts I’ve been on, a lot of people in the group are not only readers, but authors, too. It helps to have friends in the know who you can PM occasionally to ask for a book blurb or get the answer to a question.

How often do I post to the fan group?

Pretty much daily. Sometimes I take a day off on Sundays.

Daily?! WTH do you say to them daily, Rob?!

What to say to readers:

Update them about deals, of course. These two gems are set to free today (Nov. 19/19), for instance. http://author.to/RobertChazzChute

There’s plenty to talk about that is not spammy:

  • Share compelling snippets from your WIP.
  • Consult with them about titles and covers.
  • Share your hopes, dreams and frustrations. The writing life is a dream. Sometimes it’s a nightmare. Tell them the truth.
  • Share their successes. These aren’t just fans. I think of every one of them as trusted friends. If a troll wandered in I’d bounce them immediately but no one has let me down yet.
  • Ask their advice. I’ve got mice in my attic. I vented. Suggestions were made.
  • Pictures. I shared holiday pix of my trip to Chicago and growled about the Christmas tree my son put up way too early.
  • Sometimes the post is a music video I like or a book recommendation.
  • I congratulate readers on completing another orbit around the sun. I’m glad for every birthday. Readers are precious. I want them to live.
  • I share blog posts, especially this one since it’s all about the sweet, sappy love.
  • Tell jokes and stories. More than once I’ve shared amusing anecdotes about territorial disputes with other folks at my coffee office. It’s war!
  • We talk a bit about the news but that’s more for the main news feed. I mean, sure, as noted above, I’m politically aware. However, I don’t hit anyone over the head with minute-to-minute coverage of the impeachment hearings. That’s already ubiquitous.
  • Never miss an opportunity to be kind, helpful and grateful.

If this sounds like a diary, you’re not wrong

Don’t just talk like an author, stiff and selling. Talk like a human. Despite who I am, I can provide a reasonable facsimile of human interaction. Maybe not normal human interaction, but they can get that shit anywhere, right? Entertain yourself and you’ll inevitably entertain someone else while you’re at it.

It’s okay to be random. I recently switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet (nutritarian, specifically.) I’m losing weight and feeling great. I’ve shared recipes, cooking successes and failures alike. We’ve laughed about the pumpkin pie that was supposed to be the best in the world. It sure wasn’t. Why should anyone care? They care because it’s honest and relatable. Ironic that the same is true of the lies you tell within the covers of a novel, isn’t it? Honest and relatable lies make compelling stories.

This is not a marketing chore. Have fun with it. I love the writing life and my people allow me to enjoy it every day, not just when I hit publish or read a happy review.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Subscribe to my teeny newsletter at AllThatChazz.com. Apparently, I won’t bother you with it often enough.

Filed under: book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: Story stuck and stalled? Try this.

You’ll probably get stuck from time to time. Most everyone does, so don’t panic.

If you get stuck often, outline more to save writing time and stay on track. Keep in mind that outlines are merely guidelines. You’re just dating your outline casually. It’s not serious and you don’t have to marry it. With the shadow of commitment gone, you still have your free and fun, bright and shiny creative mojo working for you.

I’m a pantser, but I do have an idea where my stories are headed. We may take a winding trip to get to our destination, but we will get there, hoping we won’t get stuck and be forced to back up thirty pages or so before we can move forward again. I’ve had to do that. It sucks, sucks away forward momentum and saps confidence. So let’s crash through that mental block and get unstuck.

Solutions to get out of the ditch

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis, among others.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis, among others.

A random, alluring word, place, fact or event can give spinning wheels traction. For instance, the word “chiroptera” gave me a new direction when I wrote Season 2 of This Plague of Days. Sometimes I choose words, events or facts at random and noodle with them to see how they might fit into the narrative. Or I’ll draw from mythology, philosophy, politics or religion to discover new dimensions in the narrative.

Here’s the surprise: I always find a way to make those intriguing things fit naturally into my story.

I bet you can, too. Don’t load up on $10 words when a nickel word will do, of course…or at least don’t do it for its own sake or to show off. However, if something seemingly random can serve your story, use it (or dump it if it fails.) Readers like learning things as much as you do. They like characters with depth and to discover hidden significance behind meaning.

Get random

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That's pretty random, but it all fits.

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That’s pretty random, but it all fits.

This exercise in the writing process is about bouncing new electrical flashes through the writer’s brain, making new connections and getting synapses firing to see nonlinear possibilities. Frequently, you can find something new that influences the story simply by opening a dictionary and pointing. An atlas and a Wikipedia search might give you a random fact that sparks something. I found Gas City, for instance. The name alone captured my imagination and got me thinking about a new track to follow in Season 2. New characters and furious battles evolved from the way that slapped my brain.

If you’ve got an area of interest (baseball, plumbing, woodwork, salmon fishing, animal husbandry, whatever) work it in to give your characters depth. I’ve got a sensitive soldier with expertise in military history who shows up in the zombie apocalypse. I’ve also got an Irish cop from a tiny Irish resort. The place informs the character. These are the sort of factors that make the people on the page real. Jack (Jacqueline) Spencer majored in Elizabethan poetry. That makes her feel pretty useless when society collapses, but her development now has an arc. Up from zero, she gains experience on the road east to a hoped for haven from the apocalypse.

For me? It’s pathology that fascinates.

I studied anatomy first and was awed by our biological complexity. Then I studied Merck’s Manual and I’ve been a hypochondriac ever since. It’s startling how fragile we are, so pathology often finds its way into my books, one way or another. I know a lot about how the body breaks, so I’m sure you can guess how that might play into a crime novel.

I know a lot about migraines (and the many variations of headaches.) His inability to act shows up in one of my WIPs and becomes crucial to the protagonist’s predicament when the cops come calling, asking for an alibi. My protagonist in This Plague of Days is autistic which, naturally, gives him a unique point of view on the end of the world. Another character has Desmoid tumours. This is a rare condition, but it turns out to be very relevant to the story. Her disease saves her from a worse fate than Desmoid tumours (in a way I can’t divulge yet, of course. That’s Season 3 stuff.)

Take a fragment and build your next chapter around it. Make the fragment an element.

These general suggestions are random sparks. If an atlas or a dictionary or a quick Google search can make your story catch fire, and if you can make these new variables seamless, you’ll find their inclusion can get you unstuck.

Therefore:

a summer camp in Columbus, Ohio with too many mosquitoes

the ruins of a castle hidden under heavy snow

a rusted can opener, forgotten in the kitchen’s junk drawer

a tippy chair with one short leg

angina

Captain Cooke’s death

her mother’s wedding ring inscription

Try one of some of those for a start. How might they fit in your narrative? Keep going and don’t worry if you get stuck. The next step will come to you and, if not, go find that next step. Finish your story.

Tips and inspiration for the writer's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the writer’s journey to publication.

~ Hi. I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote a couple of books full of inspiration to get writers to get their books done. I also write about a kid on the autistic spectrum facing the end of the world, zombies who aren’t really zombies and vampires who aren’t really vampires. There are also jokes and Latin proverbs. It’s…oddly engaging and does not suck. See all the books here.

I also host the All That Chazz podcast and the Cool People Podcast. To learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, Writing exercise, 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.

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

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