Tag Archives: writer

Is science fiction’s view of the future too dark?

I just listened to the C-Realm Podcast in which the question arose, is dystopian science fiction merely hip cynicism? (The “C” stands for consciousness.)

What happened to the utopian visions of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek? His future eliminated poverty while the remakes by JJ Abrams are about fighting terrorism. It’s a fascinating question well explored on the C-Realm Podcast, though my answer is, by necessity, going to sound a tad grumpy.

I think of myself as a suspense writer first, but zombies and vampires are generally thought of as horror and post-apocalyptic books are classified under science fiction on Amazon. Call it science fantasy if you want, but the story crawls into paranormal and supernatural, too, so it’s Genre-of-the-Moment Slugfest.

But is my vision (gasp) cynical?

Are zombies a hipster fad of which we should be ashamed? Can’t sci-fi lead the way as a predictor of glittering tech advances instead of dwelling on how we’re all going to die long before each person on Earth gets their very own sex robot? 

Every cynic thinks he or she is a realist, but first, I want to back up and say that Roddenberry’s visions weren’t always so rosy. I think the stories on Star Trek that succeeded for me were the war stories. Humans versus Klingons and The Wrath of Khan (the story itself the death of a utopian dream) held my attention. However, it’s probably true that the franchise got darker and grittier after Roddenberry’s death. Deep Space Nine had some of the Enterprise’s nifty IKEA furniture, but the quarters were more cramped and the lighting less cheery.

That said, I see what they’re saying on C-Realm. They credit Blade Runner as a leader in dystopian visions, at least in film. That’s a far cry from the gee whiz optimism of many sci-fi writers from decades past. We all need a little more Spider Robinson in our lives.

In the ’70s we had Omni magazine trumpeting the hope for the future of science and science fiction. For instance, they featured a graphic artist who created stunning spacescapes. It was truly beautiful art that only actual images from the Hubble telescope could replace. It was the artist’s policy never to paint any picture in which two spaceships engaged in battle. That’s admirable, yes, but it kind of sucks the dramatic potential out of a lot of fiction, kind of like taking the visual majesty and volleys of flaming arrows out of the battle scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, and asking, can’t we all just get along and make this a cozy comedy of manners? Is that beheading with all the blood spray on the wall really necessary?

Optimistic visions of the future in fiction make me think of Paul and Linda McCartney asking Weird Al Yankovic to refrain from a making a cover of Live and Let Die. Weird Al did not release Chicken Pot Pie out of respect for the former Beatle’s wishes. Longtime vegetarians, Paul and Linda worried a comedic song would worsen the commercial slaughter of chickens. It probably would have. Thinking about it makes me want a chicken pot pie right now. I also think Weird Al’s song would have been awesome.

But to the question, is science fiction’s tone too relentlessly dark?

The C-Realm host and guest offered the movie Her as an antidote to our dour visions of the future. There is something very alluring about a story that cranks up Iron Man‘s personal digital companion, J.A.R.V.I.S., to Level Scarlett Johansson Sexy. (J.A.R.V.I.S. stands for Just a Rather Very Intelligent System, by the way. Siri would have been cooler if Apple had called it J.A.R.V.I.S., though Siri has yet to live up to the J.A.R.V.I.S standard of service, reporting on my armour’s structural integrity and whatnot.) Actually, Iron Man’s inventions (as long as they don’t fall into the wrong hands) might be the most optimistic vision of the future you’ll see on screen this year, besides Her.

The darkness in our fiction lies not in our stars but in ourselves.

We write from the heart, or at least I do. A future where we’re overrun by a world flu pandemic is actually considered long overdue by virologists. (Could happen next week. Pack a linch and wear a sweater.) My zombies aren’t real zombies and my vampires aren’t real vampires. They are humans infected with a virus that changes their physiology. There are supernatural elements in This Plague of Days, but once you’re dead, you don’t get up again in the world I’ve built. It looks a lot like our world.

But is it too dark? Well, it is dark.

Some of the events go from creepy to downright grisly. There are also jokes. I even include a few optimistic touches toward the end. However, I am allergic to Happily Ever After. I promise a satisfying ending and resolutions you don’t expect, but Happily Ever After often seems too pat and easy to me.

And that’s the crux of it.

My vision for the future springs from what I see now, not what could be if we really believe and clap our hands. If George Orwell hadn’t already written 1984, I’d attempt to write that. Drones, surveillance and the NSA cracking everyone’s porn privacy? That’s a dream straight out of an adolescent Big Brother’s wet bed. Because I’ve mentioned them and they’re always googling vainly, say hello! Hi, NSA! (Waves.) Just a writer spouting on the state of science fiction and the future. Nothing to see here. Move along to checking up on the sex lives of your former girlfriends and boyfriends from high school! Thank you! Also, please go catch a real terrorist with a suitcase dirty bomb. Aces.

Back on topic

I was promised jet packs when I was as kid (a fixation that’s shared widely, I think, since it’s also mentioned on C-Realm.) I’m still disappointed about that. No…bitter is the word. And yes, all the endless toil minus robots is a downer.

When we see the space shuttle in the promo reel before the movie trailers? I always think, We don’t even make those anymore! There is no Omni magazine heralding gee-whiz hope and they plan to shut Hubble down! And a trip to Mars? Sounds like a stupid suicide mission to me, especially when we could solve a lot of world problems with the money we’d waste on going to the red planet. (Think of Mars as the worst parts of Arizona, but without oxygen. To be fair, at least Mars doesn’t go out of its way to try to suppress gay rights, so there’s that.)

If my fiction appears cynical, all I can say is it comes from an honest place. Dark visions are the logical extensions of my worldview. Ideas about a cheery, brighter future would be a nice diversion and uplifting to be sure. However, I’m more interested in drama rising from conflicts I observe in the present. There’s something about those cheery futures which reek of white privilege to me. I’m not going hungry and I’ve got a cell phone (made by slaves) so why can’t we envision a future that amps up all that gee-whiz hope?

Because it doesn’t feel real, that’s why. Because we’re still stuck in stupid wars. Because the logical extension of now is more darkness. My fiction is dark because, as a person of conscience who listens to Democracy Now a lot, my worldview really is that dark.

Yes, I do give glimmers of hope here and there in This Plague of Days.

But the price at which that hope is bought — in both human lives and sacrifice — is very high indeed. I guess it sounds silly to talk about verisimilitude in a story about an autistic boy versus zombies versus vampires. But every emotion and conflict within the Spencer family at the end of the world feels very real to me. Joy, redemption, love, hope and loss is all there. I think of it as To Kill a Mockingbird, but with more zombies and even more child endangerment. For a zombie apocalypse, there’s a startling lack of gunfire in This Plague of Days. I think there are plenty of apocalyptic books that read like Rambo married an army manual and I attempt to do something different with all my fiction.

This Plague of Days is silly, escapist fiction (for the thinking reader with a conscience, I hope)…but I write it real.

I write what I see. And I concede, I do wish I could be more hopeful.

 

~ Season Three, and the conclusion of This Plague of Days by Robert Chazz Chute hits Spring 2014. Catch up on Season One and Two here.

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This Plague of Days: Influences on Season Two (and me!)

Want a hint at what happens next? Okay.

The Sutr virus is still evolving.

This isn’t a complete list of influences, but when I think of who and what influences the development of This Plague of Days, here’s what pops to mind:

1. After reading Blake Crouch’s Run, I wrote two fast-paced crime novels (Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus.) Season One was a slower build and burn. Season Two is closer to that pell mell pacing.

2. William Goldman (Marathon Man, the Princess Bride et al) influences all my writing. He’s the master of the surprise reversal. I’m telling you there will be plenty of surprises in Season Two of This Plague of Days. Knowing in advance won’t help.

3. Neil Gaiman. When you read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the realm you’re about to enter, that which is named is manifested.

4. Your reviews. I won’t lie. I’m exhausted. Typical days run sixteen hours at least, especially in the last month as I prepare the new season. On those busy days, the work continues even into sleep with lucid dreaming. Those happy reviews kept me excited to keep going and push through to make my deadline. Thank you!

5. My Chemical Romance. The Black Parade is on a continuous loop. If you don’t know their scream-o music, how I envy you. “Mama” is especially appropriate. (I listen to Everlast while writing crime novels.)

6. Podcasts and Kurt Vonnegut’s nerve. I listen to The Young Turks, The Best of the Left and dozens of other podcasts. So, yeah, I believe the military-industrial (and corporate) complex is the devil President Eisenhower warned us about. Do I get preachy about it? I don’t think so. Vonnegut let his worldview slip into his books. I believe I cram it in sideways without being too intrusive on the story. Heck, it’s part of the story and many viewpoints are expressed. The world as it is informs the plot. Kurt Vonnegut was a disappointed humanist. He believed in human potential and noticed when the world fell short of those ideals. Put that label on me, too.

7. Comedians. I love them. Even amid the horror, perhaps especially in horror, there’s room for jokes.

8. Movies. I have an eidetic memory for movie quotes and if you’ve read my crime novels, you’ll spot the obsession. I grew up working in a video store and I’ve seen more movies than the average bear. In the character of Aadi, it pops into TPOD. Also, the visuals in This Plague of Days are very cinematic. Yes, I’m considering a screenplay.

9. Kale shakes. I think clearer on kale shakes.

10. Mom. My mother is dead now, but I inherited her obsession with words early on. My mother had hidden talents. Besides brilliant stock analysis, she was a code breaker. Every day we’d crack the newspaper’s cryto-quote together. She was unnaturally fast at pattern recognition. Also, the house was full of books. That’s where I got my love of reading, through her osmotic obsession. I still read dictionaries for fun and can lose myself in them for hours at a time. My quirky hero in This Plague of Days understand each other.

11. Pathology. I studied it. It comes up a lot in details. When I studied human anatomy, I was in awe of the organic machine. When I studied pathology, I got freaked out about all that can go wrong with our bodies. That’s how I studied my way into becoming a hypochondriac.

Season Two launches October 1. The complete season will be available then (at a discounted price) For those who prefer to take it in week by week, it will be available as a serial starting October 7. 

If you aren’t already on board the crazy train, check out the sample of Season One of This Plague of Days at the link.


Season 2 of This Plague of Days: Behind the scenes in the final polish and hitting #9

The first This Plague of Days t-shirt! Creepy, huh?

The first This Plague of Days t-shirt! Creepy, huh?

 

I’m feeling a bit bad for my beta readers. They slog through my typos and make their suggestions, but it feels like it’s the final polish where things really come together. Unless they go through the book again, they’ll miss some of the little surprises and tweaks that enter at very late stages in the process. I’ve received some nice feedback from advanced reading copies and I’m grateful to the team at Ex Parte Press. The truth is, if I didn’t set a deadline to get the new book out there (October 1!) I’d fiddle with it forever. Past a certain point, polishing becomes procrastination.

Still the lure of playing with scenes and rhymes and words is strong.

Like Jaimie, I fall into dictionaries and share his fascination with collective nouns. Who decided on a murder of crows? A tower of giraffes? A bubble of goldfish? There are three collective nouns for wasps alone! Jaimie’s word addiction is woven into the story, so of course I had to include all three for wasps (i.e. nest, pail, pladge.) You can look up that last one on the web, but Google will insist you’re asking about the word “pledge”.

Yesterday, I became so entranced with the word “pandemonium” I wrote a new paragraph for Jaimie’s analysis. I posted it on Facebook so I could get that instant approval I crave so much. That need is rather pathetic and possibly pathological, but it’s one of the main reasons I do what I do. (Be my friend of Facebook here and you’ll see it in the timeline on September 20.)

More good news

I rarely have good news. Sunny optimism is not me. However, today I engaged two strangers in conversation and told them to have a beautiful day, despite the thunderstorms and local flooding. 

This Plague of Days, Season One roared up three Top 100 lists (Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic on kindle and higher in Dystopian books.) I don’t even understand that last one because it’s not available in paperback yet.

Even better, TPOD hit #9 across all of Amazon yesterday.

This was a huge milestone for me. I’d hit #1 on free sub-lists before, but this was my catapult moment, even if it spiked to #9 for only an hour. I couldn’t believe it. I got misty. I’ve dreamed of this many people reading my books as long as I can remember! The giveaway was a great success! Extra thank yous to the three new reviewers who ate up Season One as soon as they got it. As my British friends would say, “I’m chuffed!”

Thank you so much to everyone who helped, clicked, read and reviewed.

Special thanks to She Who Must Be Obeyed and my awesome cover designer, Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Plus, horror author of Dying Days and cool guy Armand Rosamilia provided a new cover blurb for Season 2!

And now, I should get back to the polish.

Have a beautiful day! This is my best day in years.

FYI: That T-shirt design will undoubtedly make the cut for giveaways, promotions and sales. Just focussing on giving Season 2 at the moment. Lots more TPOD action coming your way soon.


Why This Plague of Days is a serial (and click on for a secret)

(Author’s Note: The following article is about why I serialized This Plague of Days. If you came for a secret revealed that isn’t a spoiler, The Link for the Curious is at the bottom of this post.)

Dickens wrote serials. So did Hemingway. Much of television is based on the serial format. The formula for reader satisfaction is pretty straightforward: hook ’em and give them some play but keep them on the line. Give readers rising tension and cliffhangers and you have a story that keeps them coming back week to week.

When I worked in traditional publishing, the model was much different: 

The Zombie Apocalypse serial is here. Get it week to week for a scary summer or get the whole season.

The Zombie Apocalypse serial is here. Get it week to week for a scary summer or get the whole season.

One launch date; blitz all media all at once; concentrate the push within the first couple of weeks of launch; watch all efforts either win or peter out as bookstores sent back their inventory returns a few weeks later.

Here’s what’s different about This Plague of Days:

It has six launch dates; five episodes per season sold at 99 cents each; or get the whole book immediately at a discount (just $3.99) and find out what happens to my autistic boy and my uber-villain.

The change in the publishing model

Amazon used to work something like old world publishing in that you could marshal your forces and do a book bomb. A book bomb is where you get everyone you know to buy your book on Amazon at 2 pm on a Tuesday. The way it used to work, the algorithms would boost your book up the charts. Once the Mighty Zon recognized that was what some people were doing, they changed the algorithm to push those books down as fast as they rose. 

Now I know drip marketing is the best way to go (as I learned from David Gaughran, author of Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible).  Amazon algorithms favor book sales over time. It’s still great to get a big X of sales over a short Y amount of time, but Amazon likes sales consistency, not stabs in the dark that can’t be sustained.

Serials can sustain. With each episode serving as a sample to encourage readers to go ahead and buy the full Season One (and Season Two comes out in September) I feel like I haven’t even begun to reach new readers. When you launch one book, it feels like the date comes and goes quickly. Maybe you make an impact, but it feels like one kick at the can. After that, you’re repeating yourself and boring potential new readers. (What? He’s still on about that book he published all the way back in June?)

An autistic boy and his family versus The Running Dead

An autistic boy and his family versus The Running Dead

Serialization allows me to keep talking unselfconsciously. I have new launch dates, new material, and new information. I give readers a lot to look forward to.

What’s more? 

I didn’t skimp on the episodes. Many serials give 10,000 words per episode. My episodes run 20-25,000 words. I wanted to be generous and give them lots of action.

Also? This Plague of Days is like two books in one! This is a zombie apocalypse with a contemplative side. At its heart is a boy with autism who sees the world very differently. So yes, there’s tension and creepiness and fast zombie action and an international thriller. There’s also a family dealing with a plague from the cold comfort of their living room in a world suddenly dystopian and unfamiliar.

Not all mysteries will be solved in Season One. A very important story arc in This Plague of Days is fooling readers right now! 

Many authors experimented with serialization. It didn’t work well for them. Perhaps they were ahead of their time. Perhaps there were other variables that didn’t fall into place. I modelled what successful authors were doing and added length to the episodes to give bang for the buck. Then Amazon came out with its serials program and I felt like the biggest brains in publishing blessed the model I adopted.

If you haven’t bought Season One yet, there’s a secret I’m prepared to reveal now.

Not only did I serialize This Plague of Days, I did something no traditional publisher would have allowed.

If you want to know that secret (and see the new video)…if you are One of The Blessed Curious, click here.


The book I lost a job for…and why zombies?

 

Worldwide distribution of plague infected anim...

Worldwide distribution of plague infected animals 1998 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When I began writing This Plague of Days, it wasn’t about zombies and, in a way, it still isn’t. It’s about people in desperate circumstances trying to survive extinction. Also, the infected are not the walking dead. It’s more of a 28 Days Later, humans with rabies sort of situation. Things happen that may be paranormal or they may have a rational explanation. (I won’t spoil it.)  

 

I will say that my horror serial begins with one plague that spirals society down as the virus mutates. The Sutr-X virus evolves, things get worse and, of course, the world will never be the same. There are great human losses to both strains of the virus. Jaimie and his family face illness, death, danger and betrayal. Worse? The pandemic wasn’t an accident of Nature. There’s an awesome villain and a group spreading the virus for purposes they consider noble, right and true. As the book unfolds, terrorism and the plague’s evolving horrors stretch across the world. A new strain of Sutr-X rising  in Britain puts vast forces on a collision course with the little family from America’s midwest.

 

The serial evolved into a big book that started with a character study. TPOD started in 2009/2010 with a small seed of an idea, my fascination with the world flu pandemic and a daily visit to Starbucks to write. I was so passionate about the project, I lost a job over a key health and survival issue that pitted me against the bureaucrats that employed me. I told them they were endangering healthcare workers and their families. They didn’t appreciate my input. (I take a chapter in TPOD to show those same bureaucrats how wrong they were, but that job loss and the issues around it are for another blog post on another day. I’ll get into that background when I publish that episode, no doubt.)

 

I began the book exploring the mind of the main character. It is an ensemble cast, but everyone loves sixteen-year-old Jaimie Spencer: 

 

Autism spectrum

Autism spectrum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

1. He’s on the autistic spectrum.

 

2. He is a very shy, selective mute who must hold his father’s hand when they go out in pubic.

 

3. He sees auras.

 

4. His special interest is Latin phrases and English dictionaries.

 

5. He’s in his own world.

6. Jaimie is a boy who sees significance in every detail and every word. He often gets lost in those details and so seems oblivious to danger.

 

When the Sutr plague strikes, stress and circumstance bring Jaimie closer to our world in surprising ways. When worlds touch, they ignite sparks that let his family and the reader glimpse his mind and true abilities. 

 

But why pit this strange boy against a world filled with nasty survivalists and infected, rage-filled cannibals?

 

I could tell you that high stakes and steep odds matched against a charming underdog in a tough conflict makes for a compelling story. But you already know that. The simpler answer is, I’m a bit strange, too. I do not have Aspergers Syndrome. I do, however, see the world askew and you’re going to love the odd word excursions almost as much as the zombie attacks, evil villain and my strange plague apocalypse.

 

This Plague of Days launches soon. I love surprising readers. I will.

 

 

 


They versus We: From Slave to Immortal in One Manifesto

Photo on 12-12-05 at 4.33 PM

You have suspicions about the way the world works.

You wonder if you are watched. (You are.)

You suspect you are judged. (Oh, my, yes.)

But it isn’t God that’s watching. It is the Devil in each person’s busy little mind. It is the Dark Matter, that vast expanse amid all you think you know and what They tell you ought to be. We are connected to the Dark Matter by invisible strands that make us puppets in a sad collective.

They issue orders: Get a loan, stick to the plan, sign your life away, head down, pull the harness. Do not look at the stars. Do not hope.

The Puppeteer wants you to paint on a happy face and do Their bidding and make Them rich and never think you should do anything outside of your box. If you think “outside the box”, you’ll find you’re still in Their cage: the debts you can’t pay, the job you can’t leave, the cash you don’t have and even the unemployment you can’t break from. If you let them, They control the transmission: your thoughts.

The Matrix is real. You’re swimming in it now. It is cold and it does not care about you.

The cage is the limitation you put on yourself: Your little life is Their paradigm. Your tiny, unfulfilled dreams are Their victories.

We know how much you swear under your breath as you smile at church. We understand how scared you are. We share your fears. Your fears are legitimate

They won’t tell you that, but that is the way it is. The universe doesn’t care about you any more than you are aware of a tiny stone on a small moon in an unknown constellation in a galaxy beyond your comprehension.

There is a choice: Wake up.

You will have to care for yourself. You can break from They. Form your collective of We.

We are dust motes in a sunbeam, mostly invisible, here for an instant and gone forever. We defy mortality with Art. Art is the only taste of immortality we are allowed. Graves are forgotten. In a generation? Perhaps two? You linger in no one’s memory without Art. Art is evidence you once breathed and loved and sang and thought and were.

You want to dismiss these words, but you know who They are. Even in your loneliest moments, you know you are a slave.

What is Their name? The Devil has many names: 

Habit.

Tradition.

The Way It’s Done. 

What You Should Do.

Normal.

What’s Expected.

What We Want for You.

Established Best Practices.

What We Need.

Nationalism.

Being “realistic”.

The Greater Good.

They aren’t concerned with your good and They do not want you to ask questions.

They are the enemy because They want you to pretend you are less than you are. They want to douse your flame and keep you asleep. They want you to die as soon as you are born.

They praise control, security and rigidity.

They condemn us because we are creative and we strive free ourselves of Their expectations.

But We?

We are not They.

We want to meet our own expectations and learn to control our own minds and hearts and bodies.

We set our goals and we stand for no dictator and we don’t sit to take dictation. We don’t put up with dicks, either.

We are not slaves. We are artists with names and aspirations. We write and produce art and inspire more art. We consume art and live it. Each conversation, connection and kind touch can be Art. Artists light fires in others, as one candle fires another.

We become Art in each giving, caring, real moment.

We make and remake our lives until we break the bonds They knotted so tightly when They insisted we sit quietly in straight rows, never questioning the paradigm that only benefits Them.

In creativity, We are Free and We live beyond the grave.

Our sunbeam warms us longer.

Our dust mote dances in the light.

~ I don’t know why I wrote this tonight. It often seems the world is stacked against an artist’s success. Successes are so rare, but success comes in many forms. What if I reach you tonight with these words? I couldn’t risk not whispering a word of encouragement in your ear.

This Plague of Days will launch soon. Until my stories are out in the world, these are the days of dread, the pregnant pause just before a hopeful, tenuous birth.

To read my books and catch my podcasts, see the links at AllThatChazz.com.

 

 

 


Another snippet from This Plague of Days


This Plague of Days III

From tonight’s revisions:

Farther north, they saw their first lynchings. Women and men alike hung naked from overpasses. Their crimes were carved into their torsos. The knife writing was opaque crytography to Jaimie as they passed under the bodies.

However, if the birds didn’t get in the way and if the flesh was not rotted through or torn too badly to decipher, Anna read aloud: “Looter…thief…Adulterer…looter…looter…killer…carrier…looter…thief…fool.”

And this…

“I’ll turn around. We’ll find another road as soon as I see a spot for a U-turn.” But there was no such spot and no time.

Ahead, a man in camouflage stood on an armoured personnel carrier. He wore a gas mask. The large glass circles for eyes made him look like a bulky praying mantis. He pointed his machine gun at the line of cars. 

Jack felt a long icicle of fear pierce her diaphragm. “Anna, switch places with Jaimie! Quickly!”

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of This Plague of Days. His friends call him Mr. Sunshine.


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