Calm Down, Beyonce

Pricing ebooks for indie authors is always a hot topic in the Writing Community on Twitter. Some authors believe that lower prices are the way to go–especially if you’re not an established writer–and others feel that artists should be compensated appropriately for their work. The term “appropriately” is what I’m going to write about today.

When I think of my writing career, I think of Beyonce.

No, I don’t think I’m the “Beyonce of the Writing World.” No, I don’t think I’m as talented as her. My singing and dance moves leave a lot to be desired. Nor am I as stylish or cool. Not by a mile. But I think about how Beyonce was not always Beyonce.

When I’m unsure of my trajectory in my writing career, I often fantasize about the time when Beyonce was just some kid in high school telling other kids that she was going to be a superstar one day. Not that I know for a fact she told them that, I just imagine she had the foresight. I mean, she’s Beyonce. I assume she can see the future because she can do everything else.

For a long time, I’m sure she was singing for free at one place or another. Getting paid minor amounts to show off her skills. Even when her father (I think) formed Destiny’s Child, they weren’t playing arenas for a long time. No one gave a crap about Beyonce for many years of her career. She was just another girl with a dream and talent–but no one saw how plausible that dream was or how much talent she had early on.

Beyonce had to pay her dues like everyone else.

Some artists start out traveling a country in a van, playing for peanuts in bars or other small venues, barely scraping by for a really long time before they hit it big. Most never even make it past this stage in their journey. I’ve even heard stories of bands and artists paying people to come watch them perform to help boost their clout in the town they’re playing in that night. They have to struggle at first, find their niche, garner the respect and admiration of their fans, and work like a dog in order to achieve their dreams.

So, when it came to pricing my ebooks early on in my career, I went low. Most of my ebooks were sold for $2.99. I felt this was a fair rate to both myself and the readers. I also enrolled all of my books in Kindle Unlimited so that readers with a very limited budget could still access my stories. I felt that the more hands I could get my books into (or, I guess, the more devices I could get my stories in), the more I could connect with potential readers. The more I connected, the more I had a chance of establishing myself as a reliable storyteller.

Because I knew that no one had a reason yet to believe it.

I knew that I had to prove myself – pay my dues. I couldn’t charge Beyonce prices without having Beyonce clout. Is it fair that I put my heart and soul (and a lot of time and energy) into writing a book and people might not pay $10 for it? Well…that’s not for me to decide. But, if you think about all of the starving artists who have to eat Ramen until they make enough money to dine on lobster, it gives you perspective.

So, before you’re Beyonce charging $500 for front row seats at your arena concert, you’re some kid in high school trying to convince everyone that you’ll be the world’s biggest superstar one day.

Fair, not fair, feelings have to be ignored in this matter. When you’re an artist/creative, you have to prove your worth. Not every singer deserves Beyonce money because not all of them are worth Beyonce money.

To be fair, a lot of factors go into pricing a book–especially for an indie author. Traditionally published authors don’t have much say in the matter. Indie authors have to consider the time it took to write, what their expectations are, how much the publishing platform will take from the sale price, the production cost of hard copies of the books, and so forth. On Amazon for example, an author is also made aware that to participate in some royalty programs, they must sell their book at or above a certain price point. Whether an indie goes high or low on their price, it’s usually not an arbitrary or flippant decision.

Of course, I do not intend to shame any new indie author for pricing their debut book really high. I certainly don’t shame new indie authors for pricing their debut books really low. We all have the right to price our books as we see fit. My intention is to give perspective to writers who feel that this is even a discussion. You can price your books high and struggle with convincing people to buy them, or you can price your books low and struggle with not making much money while you build your reader base. The struggle you choose is up to you. Just keep perspective about what each price point means – and stop shaming each other.

Tremendous Love & Thanks

Chase

Why Should I care?

Stories are either character-driven or plot-driven. If you ask people in the writing and reading communities on Twitter which is the best, you’ll be inundated with responses. This is one of the book/story subjects that people get very passionate about. Some people hate character-driven stories because sometimes they feel like “nothing happens.” Other people hate plot-driven stories because they “didn’t care about any of the characters enough to commit.”

In my opinion, plot-driven stories can be boring if one event follows another event and another event, so on and so forth until a reader is lost in so many happenings that they can’t remember what is going on. With character-driven stories, I feel that people can become bored with learning about a character and start to wonder when something will happen that they care about. Both types of stories can become cumbersome for readers.

Neither way of thinking is wrong, though.

Whether you are writing a story that is driven by the characters or the plot, only one thing matters. You have to make it clear to the reader why they should care. You don’t have to beat the reader over the head with the reason, but it needs to be clear what the stakes are in your story and make it resonate emotionally with your readers.

A plot-driven story about a rag-tag group of misfits saving the world makes it pretty clear to the reader why they should want the characters to achieve their goal. It’s to save all of humanity–so why shouldn’t a reader care? However, you also want to build a world that the reader feels is worth saving. If the world (Earth or somewhere imaginary) you have your characters living in feels like a place that deserves to be destroyed, your plot-driven story won’t resonate with your readers. They won’t be able to commit to the story or cheer the characters on.

A character-driven story about someone coming-of-age in high school can resonate with many readers if you give them a reason to have a strong emotional connection to your character. Make your main character someone they can relate to or someone they feel like they have known in real life. Character-driven stories demand that the writer fully fleshes out their main characters so that readers feel that they know them inside and out. Conversely, you can create a character your reader hates, but you have to make the reader love to hate them.

Many authors opt to write stories that are both plot- and character-driven. You don’t have to commit to one way of thinking. But you do have to commit to making the reader care.

Eliciting an emotional reaction from a reader can be even more difficult than plotting out a story or developing a character.

A writer can plot out dozens of events from Point A to Point Z in a story. They can write up backstories, likes and dislikes, characteristics, and more for their character(s). But without letting those events unfurl in a way that draws the reader in, and without making a character seem like a real person, the reader just can’t commit.

One of my favorite books of all time is THE STAND by Stephen King. This is a perfect example of a book that is both plot and character driven. A plague decimates the world’s population and dozens (if not hundreds) of characters band together on two sides–good and evil–to either save or destroy the world.

Besides the fact that I feel that the book was expertly written, King presented a plot and laid out events that drew the reader into his world and made them root for the survival of one side or the other. Out of all of his dozens (if not hundreds) of characters, none of them felt underdeveloped. I felt as if I knew each character he introduced and found myself loving, liking, disliking, and hating them. I was invested in the survival or death of each character. I was enthralled from the first page to the last.

So…how do you make a reader care about your character? How do you make them care about the plot?

With characters, you have to figure out what makes the character “tick.” What makes them relatable? What can you write about the character that will make a reader feel like they know them? What will make a reader love them or hate them? What about their motivation will ring true to a reader? What makes them different from other characters readers have seen in a million other books? What makes them special?

With plot, what are the stakes? What will happen if this event leads to this event, then to that event…what is there to win or lose? What are you going to deliver in the final act that the reader will be dying to find out about? How can you connect the events you have planned in the way that will have the most impact? Build, build, build, until the reader can barely breathe from the anticipation–make the climax of your novel the great exhale for your reader.

Whether you choose plot- or character-driven stories (or both), there is a lot of work to be done. Your biggest job as an author is to elicit an emotional response from your reader, to make them connect to the story in some way that they won’t forget. If there’s anything worse than a story readers hate, it’s one they just don’t care about.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Just Say "Thank You"

One thing that any creative has talked about at length with other creatives–or other sympathetic people–is critiques. Great, good, okay, bad, terrible–criticism can run the gamut. Sometimes people really love what we do and sometimes they really hate it. Most often it falls somewhere between the two extremes. Regardless of where the needle lands after someone has consumed your product and is ready to tell you what they think, a creative has to be ready to handle it.

For me, if someone is extremely positive in their critique, I have a very difficult time knowing what to say. Effusive praise always makes me very bashful suddenly and speechless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly flattered and humbled–that’s what any creative wants to hear about their work–but I’m overwhelmed, too. How does one express how elated and joyful such praise makes them?

I always fall back on: “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”

It’s not that I don’t want to say a million other things or even hug and kiss the person who gave the praise…I just lock up. So, I have a go-to response so that I do not say something stupid or awkward. Maybe there’s something inside of me that always expects bad critiques–low self-esteem buried deep down, possibly?–but that’s an issue I’ll have to work through with my therapist. I know that sometimes I seem aloof or as if I expected the praise when I say: “Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!”, but that is not my intention. I simply want to indicate that I received the praise, I’m happy, and now I need to go hide in a corner until my cheeks are a normal shade once more.

On the other end of the spectrum, I feel that I’ve always received criticisms fairly well–as long as it is about the work. I don’t handle personal attacks well and will fight you, but critiques of my actual work are always fine. I don’t love it, but getting feedback is necessary to becoming better at whatever craft one performs. As I recently told a friend who gave me very helpful feedback: “I just want to be better.” Feedback about the work, good or bad, helps me step closer towards that goal. Of course, I’ve always had trouble knowing what to say to bad critiques as well.

It’s hard to know what to say to bad critiques so that you let the person know that you hear them, understand where they are coming from, and are not upset. You want them to know that you appreciate the feedback and appreciate that they cared enough to want you to be your best. I also want them to know that I value the time and energy (and often, money) they put into reviewing my work. It’s just difficult at times to convey that without rambling on or seeming insincere or defensive. This is particularly a problem if I’ve specifically asked a person to give me feedback on something that I’ve written. I don’t want to say or do anything that would make them want to stop giving me feedback.

A few months ago, I was talking to my developmental editor about this problem that I have with not knowing what to say. He asked: “Well, what do you say when someone has nice things to say?” I gave him my go-to “thank you” message. He took a second, then said: “Well, why wouldn’t you say ‘thank you’ for any critique?”

We talked at length, but here is basically everything I realized, in a nutshell.

Just say “thank you.”

When you ask someone for critiques of your work, “thank you” is an appropriate response to anything they have to say. If they give you praise, then they are letting you know you are doing well and are on the right track. If they give you critiques of what can be improved, or talk about things they absolutely hated, they are giving you tips that could make you better. Either way, they are helping you become a better writer.

“Thank you” works for criticism as well as it works for praise.

Of course, there’s always a chance that a person will take this the wrong way and think you are being dismissive. However, people have to realize that criticism has to be processed before someone can respond in an appropriate way. The response doesn’t need to be made to the critic, either. The response comes in the form of deciding to ignore the critique, or going back to the drawing board.

Whether I get high praise or bad feedback, I always know that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’m constantly in my head, trying to figure out how I can be better or what I could have done differently. My own worst and best critic…is me. But I always need time to process my thoughts before I can make appropriate adjustments to what I am doing.

A reviewer or critic has had hours, days, or weeks of reading a book. They’ve had time to form helpful thoughts and suggestions or think of the praise that serves the work best. A creative cannot be expected to do the same thing within the space of seconds.

“Thank you” is good enough.

It tells the reviewer/critic that what they’ve had to say has been listened to and the creative will go find out what they need to do to move forward. The time and energy (and money) spent on reviewing the work is much appreciated, but the creative doesn’t have to sit down and tell you what they are going to do with the critique you’ve given them.

Saying “thank you” is a classy and perfectly acceptable response to any critique, good or bad. It shows that the creative is not going to argue or be defensive about the opinions of the reviewer/critic. So…if someone has a problem with that response…that’s really just their problem.

So, just say “thank you” when you get critique–especially if you specifically asked someone for a critique. It’s not awkward, it’s not rude, it’s not defensive or argumentative, it’s just perfect.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Dissect This

Advice is everywhere. Are you a new writer? Intermediate? Have you gone professional but still feel that advice is good from time to time? We can all improve, no matter our skill level, right?

Luckily, advice is everywhere in nearly every profession–but especially in the creative arts. If you’re a writer, a photographer, a painter, a sculptor, a director–if you are a creative, you will find a million people telling you what you are doing wrong and what you can be doing better. If you’re lucky, they’ll also be generous with telling you what you are doing right in your process as well.

I love advice. I love advice that aligns with my process and I love advice that is antithetical to what I am doing.

But that sounds like they cancel each other out! You might be saying that to yourself right now.

The truth of the matter is–being told you’re doing things right and being told you’re doing things wrong is important because the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This is because no piece of advice fits all creatives. Advice, like a lot of things, falls on a spectrum. What works for one creative won’t work at all for another.

Advice comes at me from all directions. Sometimes it comes from readers, whose opinions I value since they are who I am writing for and they know what they want. Mostly, advice comes to me from other creatives and the folks at my imprint. Often, I find that the advice of the consumer and the producers of the product is in direct conflict with each other.

So, while advice is helpful, conflicting advice can induce a headache at times.

How do you take advice from dozens of sources and figure out where on the spectrum the truth sits? I’m glad you asked. I have a checklist.

  1. Is your success important to the person giving advice?
  2. Does the person giving you advice usually consume the type of product you produce?
  3. Does the person giving you advice do the same type of creative work you do?
  4. If the person giving you advice is a creative–are they actually succeeding in their own ventures?
  5. Was the advice unsolicited, and if so, what prompted them to give you the advice?
  6. What are the advice giver’s credentials that makes them a good person to be giving advice?

If the person is not rooting for your success, don’t take their advice. if they’ve never consumed the product you produce, don’t take their advice. If they have no experience with the type of work you do, don’t take their advice. If they are unsuccessful in their ventures, don’t take their advice. If you have any indication that a person is trying to sabotage you, don’t take their advice. And if they have absolutely no experience or credentials to be giving advice to others, you shouldn’t take their advice.

But if the opposite is true, maybe consider what they are saying and see if it can work for you and your process. It doesn’t hurt to try new things and tweak your process to make it the best it can be. This can be anything from the actual creative process to design to marketing. There’s no step-by-step for how to be creative and make the resulting product desirable to a consumer. There’s certainly no Get Rich Quick How-To that works. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King struggled before they made it. There have been superb books that just don’t catch on and there have been not so great books that millions of people adore. Art is subjective after all, right?

One trap I get caught in often is (sometimes bitterly) thinking: Why is THAT doing so well? It’s not that great.

That’s just an asshole viewpoint that I yank myself away from whenever it rears its ugly head. It’s not my place to tell consumers that they are wrong in enjoying the art that they enjoy. Most consumers enjoy a variety of different types of art. A reader can really enjoy reading both Twilight and The Kite Runner. Liking both doesn’t make a reader wrong. In fact, as I think about it, I love those types of readers. People who enjoy different genres and pick up a book solely because that’s what they’re in the mood for right now are some of the very best people.

Besides, trying to figure out why one thing works and another doesn’t will only cause a creative to go mad. You don’t have to assume that your high fantasy tale won’t be enjoyable to readers if everyone’s reading vampire young adult right now.

Keep writing your high fantasy. Write the best high fantasy you can write. Then figure out where and how to market it. You’ll find your niche in a market saturated with art that is in direct contrast to what you make. Whatever you do, don’t change everything about yourself to fit what is popular now. By the time you catch up to where the pack is now, they’ll have moved on to something else anyway. And then you’ll be in a never-ending cycle of trying to keep up with everyone else.

On this website, I often give advice in a way. I write about my experiences, how I create, and what works for me. I’m not really giving advice, but describing one way that being a creative can be successful. No one is required to read my blog posts and do things the exact same way that I do them. At best, I hope to inspire others to chase their dreams, try things, go against the grain, be unique, and hopefully be successful as a creative. My advice or descriptions of how I do things is definitely not guaranteed to make you successful in your endeavors. I’m still working on my own success, after all.

Ultimately, every creative has to realize that advice is just a suggestion. There are no hard and fast rules for how to create or what the next big thing will be. You can’t predict that. Who knew that Harry Potter would hit so big when it did? Loads of publishers rejected it, after all.

Listen to advice, send it through the checklist, try the things that make sense for you to try. Reject the things that make no sense to you. But most importantly, remember that there is only one you. Only you can make the art the way that you make it.

Advice is great, but a strong sense of self and belief in your art is invaluable.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

We'll Get There Eventually

When it comes to how I feel about a character in a story I wrote, or how I want a reader to feel about a character in the story, I like things to be vague. Sure, it’s obvious in some of my stories who I think is truly a “hero” and who is really a “villain” through and through. However, in real life, I feel that most people and situations have nuance. Hardly anything is black and white, especially where human emotions are involved.

Even a bully can be looked at sympathetically.

A hero can be greatly flawed.

I’ve been told by people that two of my characters seem almost “too perfect.” Those characters are Will from A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL and Ian from A SURPLUS OF LIGHT. Will is “too patient, too understanding and kind.” Ian is the same but also “too smart, too self-contained and restrained.”

Fair enough.

But here is the nuance. Both characters deny themselves so much in order to be these things. They deny themselves a love life, having friends, experiencing life as they normally would, in order to protect those they love or to keep themselves safe from heartbreak. Will won’t allow himself to have a boyfriend or have a full life because he is afraid it will keep him from being the best brother he can be to Noah. Ian won’t be friends with others or have a boyfriend because he has a target on his back as the “bad kid,” and he doesn’t want to take the chance he’ll be rejected for the same reason. They both have so much sorrow in their lives, they aren’t fully living like other people.

A lot of people see this as heroic and selfless. But is it?

Could it be fear? Could the thing they fear and the way they deal with it be the force field they carry with them through life to stave off any additional hurt that may come their way? Are they denying themselves…or are they terrified of opening their hearts?

When I write a story, I try hard to not beat readers over the head with the message I am trying to get across. The most important thing to me is that the reader is made to feel and think…something. To maybe think about a person who is different from them in a way that they hadn’t before. I want the reader to consider why they feel the way they do about certain topics. To realize that people who look or love differently than them are really not all that different. Additionally, I want them to see that everybody, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, or who they love, is a complex creature.

It’s confusing to me that readers see Ian and Will as “too perfect” because I see them as two of my most deeply flawed protagonists. But because they are not flawed in a way that affects others, most people don’t consider their flaws. If a bully calls a character a bad name, people easily see the bully’s flaws. But if a character’s flaws affect no one but themselves, it’s a little more difficult to immediately recognize.

For me, Will and Ian represented the things I hate most about myself. Extreme passivity and inaction that cause someone to be labeled a “nice person.” Being passive and not acting simply because you don’t want to ruffle feathers or hurt feelings is not a strength. While it often makes others happy, it limits the human experience of a person. It makes them incomplete as a human being.

Regardless, I don’t worry about it too much. People can feel that Ian and Will are “too perfect”–or anything they want to feel. Every reader has a right to their own feelings about the work. I won’t begrudge anyone that right. What a person feels is almost always valid.

Besides, as I’ve said, I’m not here to bonk people over the head with the message I am trying to get across in my stories. All I can do is write the stories and people take what they want from them. Good or bad, the reader takes away whatever it is they take away.

That is another reason that I don’t engage with reviews or discussions about my books.

Once a person finishes reading a book, they have their initial thoughts and reactions about what they’ve just experienced. And if they’re anything like me, they will continue to think about those thoughts and reactions for a few days or weeks afterward. Maybe their thoughts will change. Maybe they’ll get to the place I was steering them toward. Maybe they won’t. It doesn’t matter.

Perception is everything. There are a million ways to live, experience, and perceive the human experience. Reading is a human experience. Humans are–as far as I know–the only creatures in the universe who do it. So, who am I to tell them that their perception of a character is wrong?

Advice I would give any writer–if they asked–is that once you release your baby out into the world, let it go. You no longer have control over it. You could have written a story that is technically perfect, that has a perfect plot, and that professional reviewers thought is astoundingly good. But your average reader doesn’t look at those things. They read for fun, to learn, to escape from life. That comes with a different lens that your story will be viewed through. One you can’t control. Letting go is a a deep exhale that you didn’t know you needed. If you’re lucky, maybe the reader will get to the place you wanted them to get to by the end of the book.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Do I Believe Me?

One thing that always jumps out at me when I consume any type of narrative art is that there is always something with which I don’t agree. Whether it’s a character who is *problematic*, a viewpoint expressed that I think is ridiculous, or relationships between characters that seem toxic, it pops up almost every single time I read, watch, or listen to a book, movie, T.V. show, or podcast.

Often, it makes me wonder about the person who created the thing that I am consuming. Is this indicative of their innermost thoughts and feelings? Do they hold the beliefs they are conveying through their characters or narrative? Did they feel that what they wrote was acceptable? Does this creative believe anything in their work, or is it just an expression of an idea that was cooked up in their brain?

Let me say this:

Life is about nuance. Most everything is gray, not black and white. That’s because humans are imperfect beings who are able to change and adapt. Once a bad person, a human can become good, and vice versa. Someone who does something bad in the moment is not necessarily a Bad Person. The same can be said for someone who does something good.

It is said that a person who dies committing a good act will be admitted to Heaven. One who dies committing a bad act will be sent straight to Hell. At the end of days, when all is said and done, God will open his book and cast a final determination on all souls. Those who lived a great life but did the bad thing will be brought up to Heaven. The bad person who did a good deed will be cast down to Hell. All people will be judged on the entirety of their life–not just one act. Balance will made.

I don’t know if I believe any of that, but whether it’s true or not proves that a person–a life–must be examined as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong–Nazis are bad. Racism is bad. Rape is bad. There are many things a person might say or do that might automatically and permanently get them labeled as “bad.”

But what about theft? Is theft bad? If a person steals to feed their family…where is the crime? A person goes against morals and ethics so that others do not starve–who is the criminal? The thief, or a society that creates thieves? If a person once stole to keep their family healthy…are they a bad person forever? Were they ever really bad?

If a person insults another in the heat of an argument, are they bad?

If a wife/husband commits adultery during a particularly rough patch in their marriage…are they bad?

These thoughts make me consider my stories and my characters quite often. Much of the time, I am not writing with my voice, but the voice of the character I have created. See, my characters are not me. They are not possessed with my thoughts, feelings, morals, and beliefs. They are their own “people.” Their way of living is not Chase Connor’s way of living.

When I write a story, I’m not endorsing a way of life–I am describing one.

I can’t speak for other authors, but I can speak for myself–I am not advocating that anyone behave, feel, think, or believe a certain way. A story idea and the characters that comprise that story manifest in some magical way in my brain, and I tell the story. My job as the author is simply to tell the story. At best, I tell it in a way that makes the readers consider which, if any, moral can be found in the story.

I write to not just tell a story, but to make readers think.

The best stories do not leave a reader’s consciousness upon closing the book. Hopefully, for days, weeks–or even longer–after the story is read, the reader is left to ponder how they feel, whether they agree, and what they would have done in the same situation. A great story makes a reader think critically, to become more empathetic, and be more open-minded. The best stories inspire readers to create change in their lives. This is not always achieved with characters comprised of puppy dogs and rainbows, either.

So, does everything I write reflect my own beliefs? Absolutely not. I can honestly say that in many scenes found in my stories, Chase Connor would react much differently than his characters. (It’s okay that I am writing about myself in third person since I use a pen name. Promise.)

I’m not as patient, understanding, and kind as some of my characters. Neither am I as cruel and mean-spirited as others. I’ve rarely followed a clear path in life, knowing where one event would lead or what was coming next. My life has been a series of twists and turns, “what the fucks” and “well, I’ll be damneds.” Like almost everyone else, I kind of make things up as I go. Life is like that.

If every situation we encountered in life had solutions that were black and white, it would be much easier. If people could clearly be labeled “good” and “bad,” life would be easier. But there’s more “gray” than anything. For the most part, we all make our choices, hoping they’re right, hoping that what we won’t totally screw everything up and we won’t be labeled as a bad person. Characters in a story should be allowed the privilege as well.

The next time you open a book or turn on the television, remember that stories are open to interpretation. A way of life is being described, not endorsed, and keep your mind open to consider everything that is presented to you. You might just be surprised with how that changes your life.

For all my fellow writers out there–do your absolute best to change the world for the better through your art. But don’t be afraid to tell a story that needs to be told simply because someone somewhere might have a problem with it.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Shake It Off

It’s an occupational hazard for many writers that when they write a book, and they finally are done with it–the first draft, second, third…the edits, the proofreads, the book is released–they find trouble moving onto something else. If they were writing a light-hearted rom-com and then want to write a dark twisted horror tale, they might have difficulty. How do you switch from something light and fun with sunny, personable characters to writing possibly twisted and unlikable characters, without it being a real shock to the system? For writers who often stay within one genre and have one specific type of book they write, maybe not so much of a problem there. However, for a writer like myself (and many, many others), who like to genre hop, it can be debilitating.

Normally, I am not the type of writer who has trouble finishing a project, getting it published, and then immediately jumping into another project with my foot to the pedal. Often, I’ll start on a new project while the previous one is still in edits and proofreading. I like to work, what can I say? However, I’d had many writer friends tell me that they had trouble clearing characters and storylines out of their heads before they could move on to something else.

They were exhausted by living with those people and that story in their head for so long. Those things had to be moved out before they could move new things in to work on. I always thought that was sort of odd.

Until recently, that is. Within the last six months, I finished a project and then started working on the final edits of another project. The second project was actually fully written, had gone through numerous drafts–it just needed editing, proofreading, and then final edits. I didn’t even actually have to write much.

And I could not make that work for me no matter what I did.

I felt, quite literally, paralyzed. The characters I thought I was finished with, the stories I had told, would just not get out of my head. And I needed to get into the mindset of the other characters and story quickly. I found it nearly impossible to do. In fact, I was pretty sure that it was impossible. The deadline was coming for both projects, too.

I was horrified.

Genre hopping is something I do. I’m used to moving from one type of story to another. Sometimes I write in a very straight forward manner (JACOB MICHAELS IS… series) and other times I like more lyrical or poetic language (BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE). It depends upon the story, really. So, I feel that I can mold my writing to whatever situation is called for in each story.

Not this time.

Paralyzed from having your head (possibly permanently) inhabited by a previous story and cast of characters might be the scariest thing for a writer. For me, it made me wonder if I had written my final story. Had I written something that I felt embodied who I was as a writer so completely that my brain was telling me: “You’re done, Chase.”? It also made me wonder if I had spent so much time with one type of writing and one way of telling a story that I could no longer function in other genres or methods.

So…I did something that I have been notorious for never doing. I read my previous work. For pleasure.

I opened the book and read it like a reader would. I wasn’t proofreading or editing as I went…I just read the story as it was meant to be read. I allowed myself to experience something I had written as it was meant to be experienced. The story unfurled as I read, I was introduced to these characters, they told me their story. Straight through, in one sitting, I read the book. It was like sitting down to watch a movie–done in one go, no stopping or starting.

When I closed the book…well, I don’t have words for how I felt as now the writer and the reader.

Then I went and sat on the couch and reached for my laptop. I didn’t get that far. Instead, I cried. And I allowed myself to cry.

When a writer writes a story, becomes friends with these voices in our heads that we call “characters,” and then spends months (or even years) with them and their incredible stories, it’s like making new friends. Every waking moment of your life as a writer is devoted to them. They feel like family in a way.

And then they’re gone. You may never write about them again. Never spend any time with them and their unique voices and comforting stories.

Like the loss of anyone who meant something to a person, a writer sometimes needs the time to mourn the loss of these people and their stories. So…I grieved.

Maybe things are different for me. Most of my stories are not horror or fantasy or science fiction. They are–with the exception of JACOB MICHAELS IS… series–realistic. I often borrow things from my life or things other people have told me. So, maybe the loss of my “friends” and their stories feels a lot more personal. I put so much emotion and feel so much responsibility to get things right (even if I don’t), that when all is said and done, I feel as though I’ve ridden a rollercoaster up, up, up and then ridden it all the way down. There’s a build and a sudden release. And I feel empty.

New characters and their stories fill that emptiness or void that the loss of the previous ones created.

Sometimes–or, at least, in this one instance–there wasn’t anything to fill that emptiness. That emptiness demanded that I feel and experience it.

So…I sat on the couch and mourned the loss of people who were never there.

When I was done crying, however, I had shaken off those feelings. I felt like I had given those previous friends and their story a proper send off. The next day, when I reached for my laptop, I didn’t feel paralyzed. I felt ready to revisit old friends.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Never Regret What You Don’t Write

Abraham Lincoln provided the title of this post. The context is this:

His Secretary of Treasury said: “Oh, I am so sorry that I did not write a letter to Mr. So-and-so before I left home!” Lincoln responded: “Chase, never regret what you don’t write; it is what you do write that you are often called upon to feel sorry for.”

Yep. His Secretary of Treasury was named Salmon P. Chase. How’s that for a coincidence?

We all have regrets, right? As a human, I have many regrets. As a writer, I have millions. Why did I use that word? Why did I cut that scene? Why did I include that scene? Why did I have the character do that? Why didn’t I include this? On and on ad infinitum until I just want to whack myself in the head with a hammer so that I can think about something else for once.

Regret is compounded by the fact that you can never really fix a story. Once it’s published, it is what it is. Sure, you can make a new file, include or remove stuff, and upload a new file so that the next reader will get the story as you really wanted it to be. But it’s not the same story anymore is it? Furthermore, a creative could drive themselves absolutely bonkers this way because you’ll eventually realize that you’ll never be completely happy with your story. It doesn’t matter how many files you change and upload.

There are many things I regret each day as a writer, but most of them are fixable things. I’m working to show more and not tell as much. I’m working on grammar, spelling, punctuation, descriptive passages, passive vs. active voice (though PASSIVE HAS ITS PLACE), and learning to self-edit a bit as I write. I’m working on learning that not every piece of dialogue has to have dialogue tags, especially those with adverbs (though ADVERBS HAVE THEIR PLACE). I’m working hard to trust others in the industry more–especially those who are invested in my success and betterment. I’m trying to get better at giving critiques when they are asked for by others. I’m trying to get better at not putting up walls around myself and sequestering myself from others who just want to get to know me and share knowledge about the industry.

I have trust issues. What can I say?

But…those are all things I can work on, right? Do you want to know my biggest regret about one of my books that absolutely gutted me for the longest time?

In my book A SURPLUS OF LIGHT, there wasn’t a scene involving Independence Day. The book flat out celebrates Americana as seen through the lens of two gay teens growing up in Texas, coming-of-age, and coming out. AND THE BULK OF THE STORY TAKES PLACE OVER THE COURSE OF FIVE SUMMERS! I had 5 whole opportunities to have an Independence Day scene! ARGH!

At least once a day since A SURPLUS OF LIGHT was released on September 6th, 2018, I’ve mentally beat myself up over missing a prime opportunity. That’s 537 days, people. Mike, Ian, fireworks? That would have been an amazing scene. Or scenes. Five summers, after all…

Over those 537 days of calling myself all kinds of names, I’ve perfectly crafted what I thought that scene would look like in the book. What would have happened. The sights, sounds, smells–all of the sensory experiences I would have injected into the scene. And I think fans of the book would have absolutely adored it. I’ve even toyed with the idea of writing a “bonus scene” and adding it to a “deluxe” edition or something, but I’ve always stopped myself.

Why?

Well, the book is done. It is what it is. If I let myself go down that path of constantly fixing and adding to work (I call it “George Lucasing”), I would never be done. The paperback is a tight 159 pages. In my opinion, I told the story the way it was supposed to be told. No fat, nothing extra, just the story of two boys, their summers of friendship and love…and now it belongs to the universe. To change it would be to dishonor it. Would adding an Independence Day scene make it closer to perfect? Probably not. Would readers enjoy it? Maybe. Would it make me think that there was nothing else about the book I could make better? Definitely not.

At some point, all of us creatives have to send our art out to live its life. We can’t keep tweaking and “fixing” it. To be honest, I never knew that ASoL was going to end up being one of my most loved pieces of work. I thought it was just a sweet, touching story about two boys who find their person on the banks of a creek in Texas over the summers of their high school careers. To know that so many people have connected with the story and enjoyed reading it amazes me, but makes me so happy.

For them, I will never change ASoL. I don’t want to take something that so many people have connected with emotionally and say: “But it’s not good enough.” Obviously, it was good enough. And I have to respect that.

Besides, now I have a fully crafted Independence Day scene that I can use in any future book of my choosing, right? It won’t be Ian and Mike that readers see in the scene, but they can still experience it through the lens of a new story. That will just have to be good enough.

Furthermore, as Lincoln pointed out, what you don’t write can’t get you into trouble. Maybe the Independence Day scene would have ruined the whole book. I never have to worry about finding out if that’s true, do I?

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

What Does Your Title Say?

It’s no secret that I love a quirky–some might say “long“–title for a book. Titles like A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF NORMAL, A SURPLUS OF LIGHT, and THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING are just a few of my seemingly strangely titled books. People will often comment on my book titles and we laugh about them. Because it’s funny. Some of my book titles are a bit wordy and strange–I can’t deny that. It makes me laugh sometimes, too.

One thing most people who have followed me for a while know, I’m highly inspired by songs, song titles/lyrics, quotes, and advice given to me, as well as things I see and hear when I’m being a creepy people watcher in public spaces. A coffee shop and a book are my two best friends. It allows me to appear normal while listening to everything going on around me. I also draw from my own life at times. It’s easier to write a character if I can relate them to a person I knew.

As far as titles go, for example, the title for ATAoN came from the running theme in the book of how relationships and families that don’t seem “normal” have just redefined what “normal” is to them. Some families who have different circumstances have to figure out how things work best for them, regardless of the status quo. When people actually examine these families, they often find that these families are incredibly normal on the inside. It’s only when looking from the outside in that things seem different.

For the title of TGoN, I took the title from a running them in the book about how trauma can turn people into a shell. Make them empty. That’s hard to pull oneself out of, even with resources and time. A person I interviewed for the book said to me (word for word, because I took notes): “Man, when you’re left fucking running on empty and don’t even know who you are anymore, there’s just no escaping that. You make yourself feel nothing so that you don’t feel anything. It feels like you’re anchored to the ground and nothing can pull you out of it. You want to give up.” So, the running theme and that interview quote provided my title.

For ASoL (and I’ve mentioned this before), I was inspired by the Jeanette Walls quote from THE GLASS CASTLE: “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” In the book the main characters, Mike and Ian, are only friends during the summers–when there’s the most light in a day. Hence, the title.

So, some of my titles, while they seem pretentious, actually apply to themes in the stories and pay homage to the people and things that inspired me to write the stories.

Inspiration comes to me at the weirdest times. Usually in the shower, to be honest–but I never have a pen and notebook with me for some reason…

Regardless, I love having new experiences, trying new movies, music, and books to get my creativity humming. Inspiration comes from the most unlikely places for me. All of my books have LGBTQ+ elements (so far) and many are young adult/new adult, but I look outside of that genre for inspiration. Sometimes just thinking of a unique title for a book makes a whole story unfurl in my brain; I have to rush to write all of my ideas down so that I can start writing it.

In fact, a friend recently sent me a copy of Tanya Tucker’s album While I’m Livin’. (Like, an honest to goodness CD. I hate to admit that I don’t have a CD player and it took me far too long to remember that I could use my laptop to play it.) My friend knows that country is not my preferred genre of music, but thought I might connect to the lyrics of it. They were absolutely right. So…look for something that came from that in the distant future. Additionally, if you haven’t heard the album, I highly recommend it. When I think “Americana,” it definitely is an album that comes to mind.

I imagine that everyone is wondering what the point of this entire post is, so I should probably get to that point.

Besides wanting everyone to know that it is okay to draw inspiration from anywhere, that there’s no right way to dream up a story, I also want to point out that titles should mean…something. A quirky, catchy title is cool, catches the eye, and makes a book cover even more compelling, but if you named a book “Blue” and the whole story was about the color red, it would make no sense. It would also leave your readers bewildered and feeling as though they had been misled in some way.

A title for a book should capture the spirit of the book, give the reader an idea of what type of book they are going to read, and draw parallels to the theme and plot. There’s really no right or wrong way to decide on a title–other than what I just wrote. Some people will tell you to avoid really long titles because it will make readers avoid your books.

I mean, there is some wisdom to that. THE STAND, IT, CARRIE…Stephen King’s most popular novels have short, succinct titles. Stephen King is who I used as an example since so many people in the Writing Community on Twitter revere him.

However, a book that a friend gave me, that I absolutely loved, was titled THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. He simply referred to it as “The Potato Book.” The full title has everything to do with the book, so it is not misleading, just long.

However, as shown above, if readers really, really love your story, they will find a nickname to avoid having to say the complete title.

When readers give your books nicknames and share them with others, to me, it means that they really connected with your book. When my friends/readers say “Enzo” or “Surplus” or “Normal” or “Surfer,” it makes me smile. Especially when I see or hear them saying those words to each other. They don’t have to use the full title in conversation to know exactly what they’re talking about. How cool is it that someone says “Surfer” when talking about my books, and people know which book/series the person is talking about?

Ultimately, I guess my main purpose in this post is to remind writers that we often worry about things that aren’t the most important things. Covers are important–whether we like it or not. They draw the eye of a potential reader and make the first impression. Titles can be catchy and make a person want to read a book. However, what I’ve found to be most true is that readers just want a damn good story. They want good editing. They want characters they connect with emotionally. They want a solid plot. They want to have a near sensory experience, as if they are drawn into the scenes you craft. They want the story to match the genre you labeled it as so they don’t feel deceived. They don’t want to feel that they wasted time or money giving you a chance. If they are still thinking about your book for days or weeks after they are finished, they will likely be life-long readers.

Do your best with your covers and titles…but make sure you use your inspiration (whatever it may be) and write a good damn story. Everything else should be secondary.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase