Today we welcome one of the finest indie writers in the business to KitFosterFiction - Blogger, Podcaster, author and all-round genius Robert Chazz Chute.
A writer of unparalleled wit and honesty, he is best described in his own words:
"Robert Chazz Chute (born 1964 - Gee, let's not speculate!) is in suspense, figuratively and literally. He is a former newspaper journalist and magazine columnist who has worked in various worker drone capacities in book publishing's hive mind. The winner of seven writing awards and nominated for a Maggie, he writes creepy stories from his bunker office under a volcano somewhere in the Canadian Shield guarded by a clone army of ninja monkey assassins. He doesn't take himself too seriously, even when writing about himself in the third person."
So, let's hear what he has to say!
You have a long history of working within the publishing business - so, what made you take the leap and go indie?
I’d been writing for years without sending much anywhere. I’d write a short story and send it off to contests or magazines here and there, but I didn’t pursue it seriously for several years. Dabbling is a bad thing. Once upon a time, I even quit. I worked in Toronto for several publishers of varying and dubious repute and one night, after an argument with a coworker, I went home and began to write out of anger and bitterness. It wasn’t any good and I think I stopped writing for about five years maybe. Quitting is worse than dabbling.
There was a long gap where I pursued other things. I worked as a massage therapist — what comedian Marc Maron refers to as the last resort of the thwarted. It wasn’t that bad, but the need to write for a living runs too deep to deny. When the economy went south in my area, I didn’t have much to lose so it was time to take the risk of really putting myself out there. Poverty is as good a time for a mid-life crisis as sudden wealth. That’s the ugly advantage of Nothing to Lose.
What are the challenges and benefits of indie publishing?
The challenge is to take it every bit as seriously as a big publishing company. Self-publishing’s young so it has room to mature. Too many people are suspicious of self-publishing, that it’s somehow not “real.” I have no idea what they’re talking about. The people you have to appease are the same: the readers. The process has been democratized so it’s up to the readers and ultimately sales numbers decide a book’s success. The idea that editors are gatekeepers? The gatekeepers are no more fools or geniuses than your average writer. They don’t have a special formula for identifying books of value. Their track records reflect that.
The benefits? I’m working harder at this business than I ever did with my old businesses, but I feeI more freedom and love it. I work with killers and weird people all day, but now just in my head. You’d never know it to meet me, but I’m an introvert struggling to talk because it’s an extrovert’s world.
I was never meant to work for anyone else. My energies and my practice are now aligned. I work for the readers, of course, but no one’s telling me what to do. Writers think they’re special. We aren’t, but we have to maintain that illusion to continue such an ego-driven endeavor as writing fiction and expecting anyone to read our stories.
You’ve got to really want to do this so it’s not a hobby. It’s at least a part-time job for most. I find the marketing takes up as much and sometimes more time than the writing, depending on the day. On the days I do my podcast, I write less in hope that my little internet radio show will draw in more readers. I also blog every day for the benefit of my fellow writers on my writing site. It takes a lot of time, but almost all of it is fun. The hardest part is waiting for reviews and getting strangled in obscurity. Despite some successes, I’d say I’m still not on the radar. That changes this year. Bet on it. I’m in the process of using my clone army of ninja monkey assassins for world domination. (Please note: They are ninja monkeys who happen to be assassins. They are not an army of assassins out for ninja monkey blood. Just had to clear that up because you know someone will ask.)
Of your novels, short stories and short story collections, which was the most fun to write, and why?
Tough question. I think the next one is always the most fun to write because it’s still coming together in my mind so I don’t have to confront my poor typing skills. End of the Line (from Sex, Death & Mind Control) is a fan favorite, I know, but it was laborious to write. Same with Sidewalkers and Cuthian’s Wake. Those are duels dancing across sensitive time bombs, but it took lots of rewrites to make the stories come together as puzzle pieces.
I think Self-help for Stoners was most fun to write because its creation skipped along. It came together easily and quickly. My favorite stories, like Another Day at the Office (from Self-help for Stoners) always have that Usual Suspects element where the twist comes but there’s an emotional impact, too. To be successful, it can’t simply be, “A-ha! Chazz fooled me again!” If it’s only twists, that gets tiring. I like to sprinkle compelling facts and laughs along the way so the reader gets a puzzle solved, but they are left wanting more.
How much of yourself and your own life (if any) do you put into your stories and characters?
All our experiences distill into our work, sometimes in ways that I only discover in the writing process. I grew up in villages in Nova Scotia and moved to cities as soon as I could. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the theme of escape and life change recurs in my short stories and novels.
A lot of little anecdotes pop up here and there. In the crime novel I’m writing now, there’s an incident where someone gets his nose broken on a military exercise. The core of the event is true. Then I embellished it so I doubt the person who told me the story would recognize it. Things get wild and the characters are often odd or special in some way, but drawing on real life is necessary to get the verisimilitude I want in my books.
Do you have any weird writing habits?
I don’t live like a normal person. I write full-time, but a lot of that involves thinking before writing. I’m not procrastinating over coffee. I’m thinking about my next move. I’m not napping. I’m dreaming up the next twist. I often don’t go to bed until 2 or 3 a.m. I draw on a huge library and research a lot, but not in an organized way. Any reading I do is research. I can spend all morning lost in Wikipedia.
I have an obsession with dictionaries of all kinds so, in This Plague of Days, I gave the kid Asperger Syndrome and an obsession with Latin dictionaries. Often I’ll take medical trivia or a factoid from mob lingo and extrapolate from that. For instance, a “throw-down” is an untraceable pistol an FBI agent might drop to justify shooting the unarmed goon he wants dead. (Yes, that has happened. In fact, it’s happened so often, there’s a term for it!)
Which authors have influenced your work most?
Always and forever, William Goldman. Lawrence Block once said that reading Goldman is like watching a master do card tricks while drunk. Goldman is better known for his screenwriting (The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men and many more). However, it’s his books that get me. The Color of Light is my favorite novel. Others? Chuck Palahniuk’s got an artistic sensibility and sense of humour I share. I love Vonnegut. I write dark stuff, but I’m a disappointed humanist like Vonnegut was. I want to see the good but you have to look past an awful lot of bad to stay positive.
You've won multiple writing awards, and been nominated for a Maggie - any tips for other aspiring writers wishing to achieve such successes and recognition?
You have to write a lot and write well, of course, but I’m the wrong one to ask because more often than not when I read a first place award winner, I wonder what the judges saw that I don’t. I think there’s still a legacy in these contests that eschews plot for character so a lot of the stories that win don’t actually have an end per se. It’s the pseudo-intellectual, MFA effect. That’s not a story as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want a too-subtle character sketch. I want stuff to happen. Events must occur! Move me with sharp and precise turns of phrase. Make me laugh. Surprise me. As a reader, I want to be satisfied with the story and take away something memorable. For instance, people are still quoting Fight Club years later. That’s a story well told with style and substance and a subtext that’s deep.
I have a friend who writes. He’s still waiting for trad publishing to discover him. I tell him to self-publish and show them you can do it without them. Then when agents call, you can politely ask: What do I need you for? Also, I don’t think most literary magazines are worth your time as an avenue into the industry. Not anymore. Not for years past. You can easily have a blog and publish your work to a much larger audience. Literary mags are on life support. Stand up and be your own publisher. The wait is shorter and the way is surer because it’s your way.
What's in the pipeline for Robert Chazz Chute? Have you any cheeky wee tasters of forthcoming releases to whet our appetites?
I’ll be announcing the crime novel soon. It’s very action-packed with some sweet and heartbreaking moments. That’s going to make a big splash and will definitely be a series. This Plague of Days will be coming soon. It’s quite a saga about a family fleeing a plague. Then there’s the beginning of the Poeticule Bay Series. It’s suspense in the town in Maine I keep going back to in several of my short stories. Poeticule Bay is an amalgam of the little places I grew up in and exploits small-town claustrophobia and people with secret, dark pasts. I also have to get to revisions on Sex, Death & Romeo, a novel about a young actor wannabe who gets targeted after a classmate dies of an overdose and he gets blamed. It has a surprising injection of Shakespeare in it. My books are in some ways all over the map, but it always comes back to complex characters in suspenseful situations. Surprising the reader is paramount, but the story must always be contextualized so when you read it, you’ll think: That was a wild ride, but maybe that could happen, too.
Do you have Costco in Scotland? They’re cheaper if you buy in bulk. They’re louder and throw more poop than my first clone army. Those were Stormtroopers. The white armour was spiffy, but they were too easily fooled. My ninja monkey assassins attacked the Jedi who dared to tell them, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” (Fun fact: Though lightsabers are deadlier than katanas, you can overwhelm a Jedi if you have enough ninja monkey assassins who also happen to be Siths. Siths cost more, but they’re worth it and my fortressed realm is secure.)
Follow Chazz and his work at: www.chazzwrites.com and www.allthatchazz.com.