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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

They’re going to kill us

AFTER Life INFERNO

is free today and tomorrow

AFTER was a medical miracle. Researchers weaponized it.

Deep in an underground vault, the weapon is waiting.

It wants out.

The Two Ways Series Fiction Can Go

Back when I was co-hosting the Self-publishing Roundtable (RIP), one of our guests was the amazing Wayne Stinnett. Wayne writes compelling page turners set in Florida. He had some interesting advice: In an episodic series, don’t raise the stakes. The adventure happens. The hero saves the day. Next book: new adventure.

Think of it like James Bond movies. Bond goes out, saves the world and comes back to save the world in the next movie. He’s eternal and unchanging. To my mind, the failing of the more recent movies with Daniel Craig is the focus on his age. In the first movie, he’s a terminator bursting through walls and new to the 007 license to kill. In the next, his superiors are ready to put him out to pasture.

In the movies, directors did the same to the original crew of the Enterprise. “Spock, am I too old for this shit?” As a fan I say this sincerely, we didn’t want to hear all that. In a perfect galaxy, Spock and Kirk are still out there saving us again and again. Kirk’s space karate is still strong and no one worries about arthritis. 

Wayne’s not wrong about the benefits of an unchanging protag whose focus is gunshoeing rather than saving the world once and then moving to Arizona to raise Alpacas. Sam Spade and Nero Wolfe never retired, either.

(For more of his excellent advice, check out Wayne’s non-fiction book, Blue Collar to No Collar: From Trucker to Bestselling Novelist in Two Years.)

That said, there is another way to go. Just know that some reviewers will kill you for it. 

In most of my series, I failed to take Wayne’s excellent advice. I raise the stakes. Stuff that happens in the first book has a big impact later on. Story arcs are long. Not everybody is going to like that. Not every casual reader has the patience to get a big pay off in Book 3 whose seeds were planted in Book 1. Alas, that’s usually what I’ve got for readers. I certainly provide thrills and jokes along the way, but the world-saving stakes are often built across multiple books.

I ran across a book blogger who didn’t like Tamara Smythe in Haunting Lessons. In the foundation book of the Dimension War series, Tam was an ordinary and innocent girl in her senior year in high school when she lost her high school sweetheart to the Grim Reaper. That’s how she found out she wasn’t ordinary. She can see ghosts and gets institutionalized for it. As her story develops over three books, she learns that our world has been invaded by interdimensional beings bent on our destruction. Tamara becomes a warrior on our side with blessed weapons and holy bullets. The blogger in question didn’t like it. She wanted Tam to be a badass warrior woman from the first page.

Okay, cool. There are lots of books like that and good for them. That wasn’t our story so my co-author and I didn’t write it that way. Across three books, we were able to tell a story with a bigger scope. And we got to enjoy training montages! People love training montages. From Rocky to the Karate Kid, that’s what makes up the bulk of those movies: learning, growing, changing, building up to kicking ass on a grand scale.

Another example, This Plague of Days definitely raises the stakes. The clues are there, but it’s a slow burn. First, we watch civilization fall. Through the lens of a mute boy on the spectrum, it starts out as a zombie apocalypse without a ton of zombies. As the action rises across the trilogy, the world-building is ambitious and many elements grow and change. New species develop. The Big Bad in Book 1 may seem over the top, but in Book 3, it is revealed why she does what she does and it’s a real kick in the brain pan. I could not deliver those twists within the confines of one book (unless that one book is the big honkin’ omnibus).

In AFTER Life, we follow a Toronto cop, Dan Harmon, into the depths of a weapons research lab. In the rest of the trilogy, he shares the spotlight with Dr. Chloe Robinson as they battle nanotech-powered brain parasites and sentient zombies bent on world domination. Surprising twists emerge that no one reading the first book could have foreseen.

My crime thrillers are a tad more episodic in nature. Jesus Diaz is the funny anti-hero who isn’t quite as good at being a hitman as he thinks he is. He doesn’t change much as a person. Kind of a slow learner. Even so, he messed with the FBI in Bigger Than Jesus. That doesn’t get forgotten just because he’s in a new city in Higher Than Jesus or Hollywood Jesus

Caveat: 

Writing more episodically, some readers may accuse you of “taking the easy way out” and writing the same book over and over. In most cases, they’re dead wrong. I have heard of an author who keeps the same plot and just changes the names and places. That’s not the norm. Conscientious writers publishing episodic series put a lot of effort into their books and aren’t out to provide any less of a thrill to their readers. I don’t think many authors go to the trouble of writing entire series with the goal of short-changing anyone. Sure, there are grifters, but most of us think we’re artistes, dadgummit!

But! And this is a big ole hairy day-glo orange monkey butt:

Many successful series are based on the episodic model and their fans love it. A lot of readers won’t give you a chance after the first book. Tons of readers want “the same thing, only different.” Just like Bond and the original Star Trek crew, the familiar is comforting. Many readers read for comfort. Books in series, particularly long series, tend to make more money.
If writing and eating is your goal, this is the way to bet.

One more time for the doubters in the back: If you want to make more money and catch more readers, refusing to raise the stakes and build castles in the sky might be a safer, more lucrative choice. 

If I had to do it all again, I tell myself I’d write under more pen names and make sure the branding of all my covers was entirely consistent. If I had to do it all again, I tell myself I’d write solely in long series instead of standalones and shorter series that continually raise the stakes until my protagonists are out to save the world instead of themselves. I should have been more strategic and planned series that power on for 27 iterations and go deep on one genre.

I tell myself these things, but I know I’m lying to myself. I don’t write that way, but I probably should have. Shrug. I’d take a lot of really good advice, if only I were an entirely different person.

~ Pick up your complimentary ebook of AFTER Life Inferno today or tomorrow. It’s a quick, breezy read that will get your blood pumping. (Lock the door, too. You’ll feel safer.)

For a look at all my thrill rides, check out my author site, AllThatChazz.com and, while you browse, hit the subscribe button.

AFTER Life is a fast-paced trilogy featuring flawed people, sentient zombies, and brain parasites with aspirations to take over the world. From a task force officer filled with regrets to a nanotech researcher charged with saving the world, the story arc is full of action and twists. The ending will surprise you.

The ebook for Inferno is free today and tomorrow to download at your Amazon store.

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

How I lost a job over the end of the world (and how I tried to fix it)

Episode 2 of This Plague of Days launches today!

Contagious diseases that threaten to end civilization as we know it have already affected me personally. (You know, besides the Not Wanting to Die Part. We all share that.)

I wrote the bulk of my horror serial, This Plague of Days, two years ago. I was definitely inspired by The Stand. However, the scariest book I’ve ever read is The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (and it’s non-fiction, by the way). That plays a large part in my story’s inception. The Hot Zone became much more personal when its warnings  became real to a family member. My sister-in-law has a very important job in a Toronto hospital. SARS hit Toronto hard and she was in the middle of the crisis in 2003.  

A coronavirus that may cause SARS. (transwikie...

A coronavirus that may cause SARS. (transwikied from en.wikipedia.org) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SARS made a huge impression on me. Helplessness came first.

Vancouver could have been hit as badly as Toronto. However, one astute nurse averted a worse disaster. She identified the symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome immediately. She spotted a patient in an ER waiting room and isolated the infected person to avoid an outbreak. You’d hope that best case scenario would happen every time. Toronto wasn’t so lucky.

My sister-in-law and many healthcare workers were in danger. However, they did the job they signed up for and did so bravely. As a result, several of those killed by SARS were health care workers.

Though I’d never worked in a hospital, I was in danger, too.  

Through my research, I knew the agency I worked for planned to facilitate the government’s plan to make me and my colleagues in hospitals in the event of an outbreak. The bureaucrats, without consulting the membership they said they served, were ready to give me up, volunteer me and put me and my family in harm’s way. With two young children at home, they weren’t merely ready to put me in danger. Their emergency plans put my kids in danger. (I’d have to go home sometime after being exposed to contagious diseases against my will.)

Those same bureaucrats plan to hide in their homes during an outbreak while sending me and my colleagues into the thick of it. This is especially egregious when you grok this: Where I live, doctors and nurses refused to pledge that they would report for work during a pandemic. The medical experts understand that when the world flu pandemic arrives, isolation from contagion is the surest way to save the most lives. Staying home is the best chance to avoid an ugly death in an overcrowded hospital. 

You could say I was annoyed by these policies. One bureaucrat in charge of emergency planning told me “This is the government. They can do what they want.” (I thought the point of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was…oh. Never mind. We live there now.)

And yet the doctors’ and nurses’ unions found a spine, maintained their dignity and refused to sign the government’s proposed pledge because (1) their membership at least got consulted, and (2) many felt the government’s plan was stupid at best. 

When humans are in charge, they make mistakes. Some mistakes are deadly.

A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in bot...

A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in both lungs, indicative of pneumonia, in a patient with SARS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Were you aware that with budget cuts in many hospitals, the first to be sacrificed are the people who cost the least money? Expensive upper management is rarely cut, but the cleaning staff has to go first? Those are the people who disinfect the elevator buttons and clean computer keyboards. SARS can survive (and wait for you) a long time on an elevator button.

You know those powerful toilets you’ll find in any hospital? They can aerosolize disease really well when flushed. There’s a factoid to keep you up nights.

During SARS, hospital cafeterias were closed. That sounds like a good idea until you realize medical staff have to eat, too. Nurses ate close together in cramped nursing stations.

Respiratory masks are hot and uncomfortable.

For relief, you drink more coffee. It’s not just to deal with the stress and exhaustion. It’s to get a break from the mask. Worse? A properly fitted hospital mask that’s tested and certified will protect you from many pathogens for maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. When it gets wet, and it does simply with respiration, it doesn’t protect you from possible contagion anymore. You read that right. To screw up most masks, all you have to do is breathe. We don’t all get HAZMAT suits.

I had to go to an ER at the height of the SARS crisis for a health issue.

The medical staff all wore masks and took proper preventive measures. However, when they gathered in a tight huddle to consult each other, they  pulled their masks aside.

How the truth set me free (of a job)

With all this in mind, I attended a meeting with representatives of that governmental agency I alluded to. They told us we’d be safe with any old mask at all. However, a carpenter’s mask keeps out sawdust, not viruses. A hospital-safe mask is fitted individually and tested with noxious smoke. If you cough during the test, the mask doesn’t fit and has to be refitted. (Bonus points for shortsighted and stupid: This test costs money, so it’s often skimped on or not done at all.)

At the meeting, I stood up and objected to the cavalier policy on masks. I thought I was a helpful and worried hero of the people. Nope! I’d become a problem. Problems are things to get rid of.

The next Monday morning my supervisor called to “discuss my contract.” They told me I’d challenged them in a public meeting. (I challenged them, but the meeting was in no way public.) They said I sounded angry. Um, yeah. With me and my family’s health on the line? I was angry. But there’s a difference between righteous indignation and ranting. I thought I hit the right balance. They didn’t agree. (And not for nothing, the highest ranking officer on the phone sounded more angry than I was. I have the tape.)

They said I was free to hold my opinions, but I couldn’t work for them at the same time and express the truth. They didn’t want to risk any “dual messages” getting out.

They questioned my integrity, but I’d done my job well so I guess they couldn’t fire me. They said if I wanted to continue, closer monitoring would be necessary. (I have no idea what that means, but collars make me itch.) I believe it’s simpler than that. They didn’t like me when I wasn’t nodding my head. I wasn’t happy with them anymore, either. I resigned because I thought that was what integrity looked like.

Now I wonder if they took that as some kind of admission of guilt. Then I get angry again. As far as I know, the government’s emergency preparedness plan has not changed an iota. The danger, and loss of personal choice, is no less real.

When you can’t find your opponent’s brain, stab for the heart.

So I wrote a book about the plague that’s coming to kill us. I write about how society reacts to the threat and how civilizations fail. Then 28 Days Later types of zombies show up. Interesting Latin phrases appear for the word nerds and serious lovers of literature get some existential contemplation between zombie attacks. There’s something for everybody.

In Episode 2 of This Plague of Days, released today, I include a chapter that shows exactly how bureaucrats like my former employers could kill someone like me with the same bad decisions. Will the bureaucrats read my demonstration of the worst-case scenario? I don’t know, but I’m sure they’ll keep an open mind. (I crack myself up.) However, maybe an emotional demonstration will resonate more than a defiant lecture. At least those potentially affected by these policies might get and spread the message so next time I won’t be standing up alone.

If you still think it’s a crazy, paranoid and unlikely scenario, have a look at today’s links to real-life events on MERS in “Related Articles” below. Also consider that epidemiologists are clear: we’re long overdue for another terrible disease outbreak.

Read This Plague of Days. And please, wash your hands frequently.

This Plague of Days, Episode One (99 cents)

This Plague of Days, Episode Two (99 cents)

or

just grab

This Plague of Days, Season One

for $3.99.

Filed under: author platform, Books, My fiction, What about Chazz?, What about you?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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