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Established wisdom says that success in a creative career is more likely if you choose your niche and focus entirely on one thing. But what if you are someone who likes to play in all kinds of creative arenas?
What if you are interested in writing in multiple genres?
In today's interview, I discuss diversity of creative business with Tim Chizmar, who manages to achieve a great deal in a number of areas. I loved this interview as I am also a multi-passionate creative with no desire to focus just on one thing!
In the intro, I mention my 2018-2019 book sales income breakdown with exciting developments in global sales, with books sold in 54 countries this year! You can see previous posts at www.TheCreativePenn.com/timeline.
Today's show is sponsored by my own audiobooks for authors, and if you want to supercharge your creative business, check out How to Make a Living with your Writing, Business for Authors, How to Market a Book, or The Successful Author Mindset. Click here for the links to your favorite audiobook stores.
Tim Chizmar is an award-winning horror author as well as a short story writer, screenwriter, producer, ghostwriter, and professional speaker. Previously he worked as an actor and comedian. He has an interview with Clive Barker in It's Alive: Bringing your Nightmares to Life.
You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- How being onstage as a stand-up comic affected Tim’s writing
- Taking chances to meet the right people
- On the parallels between comedy and horror
- Working with Hollywood while also keeping a safe distance
- Job satisfaction with having multiple projects on the go
- Why interacting with peers is important, even if it’s online
- Connecting on a personal level with our literary heroes
You can find Tim Chizmar at TimChizmar.com and on Twitter @TimChizmar
Transcript of Interview with Tim Chizmar
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Timothy Chizmar. Hi Tim.
Tim: Hey everybody.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. So just a little introduction.
Tim is an award-winning horror author as well as a short story writer, screenwriter, producer, ghostwriter, and professional speaker. And previously he worked as an actor and comedian. You really are just amazing Tim.
I wanted to talk to you because you were the very definition of the multi hyphen creative idea.
Tell us a bit more about your varied career and why you're focusing on books right now.
Tim: I always wanted to be a writer. That was the thing when I was eight years old, a little kid, I really looked up to Bruce Carville and choose your own adventures. I loved writing. I always wanted to get into writing and I hear that over the course of our lives we tend to go back to that thing we wanted to do when we were around eight, even if we go off on different tangents.
That's what I've heard and it's certainly the case for me where I always put writers on a pedestal. That they had magic and they could build worlds and tell tales and it just really influenced your whole emotions and take you on this ride.
And so for me, I always wanted to go back to it even as I tried lots of different hats on over the years. I knew that ultimately I wanted to end back on telling stories.
Joanna: Stand-up comedy to me is possibly one of the scariest careers in the world and yet when I Googled you it seems like you were pretty successful. Some people say they were a standup comedian but they actually never were. You seem to actually have a fruitful career like that.
How has that career helped you with your writing?
Tim: I can tell you that yes as a standup comic and a true standup comic I've been asked to the major clubs and I went on the road of been casinos. I've worked with big stars and all that. You're writing your own material and there is a language for comedy.
There's a setup, a punch, a callback, a tag. There's the rule of three. There's always land on the funny. There's embracing pauses. There's being in the moment. So there's a whole language and in particular, the first screenplay that I ever optioned was a comedy screenplay.
Being on stage and doing standup really pushes you off the edge to embrace your instincts and to think outside the box and to think outside the box creatively. When I wrote the very first screenplay with a couple of friends from college I didn't know enough about the industry of Hollywood to know what not to do. So I was able to break some etiquette rules and it worked out for me.
I went to a comedy club because we had written this comedy script and one of the easiest ways to get a script actually made is to attach a celebrity to it. So I thought I know nobody but I have the script and it's really funny as I wrote it. So I just showed up at a comedy club with a cardboard cutout and I waited for Eddie Griffith.
Eddie Griffin is this black comedian. And I had a sign that said hey Eddie. And on the backside screenplay for you and I waited. And some of the people at the Comedy Club came out and they are like, what do you do and who is this guy. And they just thought I was a fan an anxious fan and I didn't look crazy. So they let me be.
When his limo pulled up and he got out with his entourage I held up my sign and he looked at it and I flipped it around. Screenplay for you. I'm just a guy holding a sign. And he walked over and said, So what do you got. And we started talking and I got his publicist and one thing led to another and they verified us that we had registered with the Writers Guild and all this. We were able to attach him to the screenplay and offer my very first movie.
Joanna: Wow. Now that to me takes, well it takes creativity, and some balls to go do that. We're going to come back to the screenwriting but I want to just ask you back on the stand-up comedy because you mentioned a few things that seemed like rules.
I see that a lot of writers have a problem between some of the rules of structure for example with screenplays, with stand up, with novels as such.
How do you combine the rules with your creative side, the structure you have to have with that little bit of extra?
Tim: I am a big proponent of once you know the rules and understand the rules then you can break the rules.
So in parallels with writing to standup when you're onstage doing standup a major booker will see a few things. When a comedian walks up on stage a lot of times like a comedian will be so in their head thinking about their setup and their jokes and what they want to tell that they're not present in the moment, so they don't move the mike.
They don't take the mike out and move the mike stand. An early comedian who's performed five times will take the mike out and not move the stand and perform their set in front of the mike stand because they're only thinking about what they want to say and they're not aware. That's one of the things that's a red flag to somebody that this person hasn't kicked around in the industry long enough.
Another thing is wrapping the cord around their hands. That's a sign of being nervous and not being comfortable on stage. Well, that same token if you look at somebody like Joe Rogan who's been at it for a long time I don't know who the big comedian in England is. Who’s the big English comedian?
Joanna: I didn't even do comedy.
Tim: Okay, Monty Python is on stage. If they wrap it around their hand they’re allowed because they've done this long enough they can break the rules.
So the same with in writing. I've often wanted to go into one of these writers critique groups and bring a couple of pages of writing from somebody like Stephen King and I bet you if I said this is my writing they would all break it apart and say things I needed to change and adjust.
But again once you reach a level, once you know the rules, you can break the rules. So I'm comforted by that. I like to know that there is a box and then I break out again.
Joann: Fair enough. My husband always laughs at me because he enjoys comedy. But my sense of humor is lacking. So comedy seems to me the hardest genre to write and it is well known as being difficult, as in, you don't just tell a joke. That's not how it's done.
Have you just always naturally been funny or how have you worked at the craft of comedy for both your screenplays and also for your other writing?
Tim: I keep it light. I keep people around me who are ridiculous and think outside the box and there is a lot of parallels because I tend to do a lot of things but I tend to mostly focus on horror and comedy and I know that we're going to get to that a little bit later on. But they both come from a very similar place.
There's an old saying that in order to make a normal person laugh you have a man dressed up like an old woman and pretend to fall down some steps. But to make a comedian laugh it has to be a real old woman. Comedians have a real dark side.
Comedy comes from a dark place and the happiest, jolliest guys on stage have got some darkness to them. And so it's a way for us to exercise some of those demons.
There is a power in making people laugh because even if they don't like you, you can make them laugh. I remember growing up as a poor kid in a crazy neighborhood and my mother was the crazy person then. And so there were some snooty high falutin people who would look down their noses at this little rapscallion. But when I could make them laugh they had no control over that, even if they didn't like me because of my I was able to make them laugh. And that was powerful.
Joanna: I think a lot of eyebrows are raised at comedy and horror having a lot in common because a lot of people don't see that. They feel like two different emotions. You’re not meant to laugh at a horror book or a horror film or are you?
Tell us about how horror and comedy relate.
Tim: I met the editor that I work with most often at a speech about this very, very big bopper Brent Collins and he feels a lot of the same way that I do that it's learning to accept parts of yourself.
There's a darkness there and we're working through things that's a bit of writing as therapy instead of running from. I've always felt that it's not the guy in the black hat you have to be worried about, it's the guy in the white hat. It's the person who's all smiley and pretending like life is great, you don't have to worry about a guy like me because I've seen some things and I've been in the trenches and I've worked through it. I bring that to my characters and I try to give them a full dimension of we don't get to choose what family we have. Both my parents are convicted felons. My mother served time for stabbing someone. My dad was a drug dealer and I've never gotten a parking ticket. So I looked at that and I said, Hey that's a bad thing.
And then I came over here and I just write about it because there are bad things in the world and you can work through but by surviving a horrible tragedy or by laughing at it and they're very similar. There's a lot of emotion and being able to survive is something worth smiling about.
Joanna: Your background is really interesting. Obviously, there's a lot within that.
One of the biggest issues that I think people have with their writing is bringing in as much honesty as they can without putting themselves in and making themselves too vulnerable or necessarily getting sued by the people they've actually written about, which we can get around a bit with fiction.
How do you protect yourself but also protect the people that you love while still speaking your truth?
Tim: I do a little exercise when I talk for writers’ groups and things like that where I start off by telling everyone to write down that one thing that you don't want anyone to know about you. Don’t show anyone, just write it down for yourself.
I pause I give them a moment let them write it down. And then I move on and I don't talk about it again until at the end of my session where I remind them to go back to it and then I say that thing that you wrote down is what needs to be in your writing.
So whatever it is, that's what you have the most emotion about, however you want to approach it, however you want to get to it. I've had people come up to me and cry at the end of a talk where I've never heard that before.
The first time that I heard that example it really meant something to me. So I think even if somebody else doesn't necessarily get it, but as long as you get it through your writing there are things that we all are dealing with and it's a great way to work through it by using it in your creativity.
Joanna: Fantastic. People are thinking about that now. And many of us do put that stuff into our writing.
Tim: Do we pause for intermission now?
Joanna: Pause to think of your secret thing to say.
Do you turn that one way to become horror and turn the other way to become comedy?
Tim: Sure. But I think that a really nice recipe can have both ingredients, which is what I do in a lot of my projects.
Take for example my bizarro novel Soul Traitor, is about a demon who comes to claim a girl's soul and then decides well if I instead of taking it to hell, what if I just swallow it? Now she gets what she sold her soul for. I get to stay on earth because I have a soul. And heaven and hell freaks out and insanity ensues. And so it's horror and it's comedy and I'm talking about what's good and bad and religion and it's a nice little mix of all kinds of stuff.
Joanna: I want to ask you about multiple streams of income, because on this show I talk about this all the time. I have multiple streams of income. I don't like having just the one thing and you definitely have all these things going on.
Tell us a bit about what your creative business looks like right now and where your streams of income come from, because I think you revamped your approach in 2017.
We'd love to hear about what things are like for you now.
Tim: Absolutely. I spent 13 years working in Hollywood, so I was doing mostly television and screenplays and standup and acting and stuff like that.
But the truth is I was not happy and a lot of the people that I surrounded myself with were some of the biggest names that you see in entertainment are not happy. So the guy who just did a movie with Lionsgate for three million dollars, sits in a mansion, miserable.
I was noticing that I was becoming more and more like the people around me. And I didn't like it, so I took a break and I left Hollywood.
Let me give a little example. The guy I was just talking about. We were doing the writing work, the punch up work on screenplays and stuff like that.
He would also pay me to get people together so that he could take them out for a night on the town because he couldn't relate to people. So he would pay me to get fake friends together. And that's the thing in Hollywood. They have all the money in the world but because of that, they're in this insulated little bubble and then they couldn't connect with people.
I was checking off all the boxes that I would think this should make me happy. I am working on these big projects and making money and I'm doing all this. And I was dead inside.
So I went up to the mountains of Idaho and spent a year trying to get in touch with what really matters. Why is the guy who has no money but walks his dog on Sunday happier than the millionaire in the mansion?
I spent a year just writing and I took a job working with kids who had anger issues and I got as far away from Hollywood as I could. I turned my cell phone off. At the end of it, I discovered that I love writers and I love creative people and I want to work with them but not so much the Hollywood thing.
So that's why I live in Las Vegas now because I'm four hours away from L.A. I always explain it to people that I'm close enough to the fire to feel the warmth but not get burned. And when I was in the fire I was getting burned. And so that changed everything.
I launched Spooky Ninja Kitty, my publishing house, and I started repping writer clients and doing more ghostwriting and worked to get outside of my comfort zone and focus on those interests that were more in the book world and less in film.
Joanna: I'm just the same as most writers. We all would like the film deal or the TV deal. We would like to be in that world and yet you've been in that world and you've left that world. But you still cross over into that world.
You have a little publishing house now. Do you rep your clients with Hollywood?
Are you doing screenplay’s still or how are you still tied in there?
Tim: Yes and yes. Spooky Ninja Kitty is my publishing house. And with some of my clients I help them to adapt their novels into screenplays. And I do some screenplay work. I'm doing a woman in peril screenplay right now for a client.
There is crossover and I still help out with drawing the line and helping to advise.
I like the chaos, Joanna. I like staying so busy that like I was telling you a little bit ago depending on who I'm talking to or what group I'm going to I adjust what I focus on. Because for a lot of people they're like how does this all lineup? He sold a TV show that combined pro wrestling and standup comedy and he did a movie for Full Moon about killer clowns. How does this work?
Well, that's what makes me happy right now. As I'm doing this interview with you I'm finishing up the woman in peril screenplay. I'm ghostwriting a book for a celebrity. I'm representing PR for my clients, doing client blurbs, writing for First Comics news and I'm moderating two panels at Days of the Dead right here in Las Vegas and that'll make me happy. I like being that busy.
Joanna: I'm someone like you, although I don't think I have as much energy as you do. But I think having multiple projects makes me happy as well. But it's kind of annoying as well sometimes because we do see that the most successful authors say that to be a name brand generally means you have to stick to one genre and deliver the same experience over and over again to the readers. What are your feelings about that?
Do we just double down on what makes us happy?
Tim: That's kind of what I think because I think it's personality driven. And that's OK.
What works for me doesn't have to work for everybody but I'm personality driven. So I have a name in the pro-wrestling world. We just did this big thing called Star Cast and I'm hanging out with all these pro wrestlers, doing wrestling stuff.
I also do the horror thing, so I'm able to go to horror conventions. The comedy thing, the Comic Con thing and because of who I am I can exist in all those areas.
Now if somebody isn't as giant a personality as old fathead over here, and if they hardly ever leave their house and they love writing westerns they should at least join a Western writing group. Go on some Western writing message boards.
They need to interact with people who think the same way that they do because they're a brand and that's the brand that they represent.
With me, my brand is my personality so I'm able to break it off into some different facets that wouldn't necessarily line up. I tell some of my clients who have very strict guidelines about what they write not to say that I represent them. Because some of the things that I do might not fall into their area.
I tell them that ahead of time. Some of the work that I do I literally don't say I represent so-and-so and they've got a great book about pottery coming out. Instead, I say I have a friend who has this book about pottery and would you write a blurb for them.
I work within those parameters because I understand that not everybody is as loud and outspoken as this guy.
One of my clients wanted to write a book. Are you familiar with Chelsea Handler? You know who she is? She's a big comedian here in the states she has a talk show and she wrote some risque books about her personal life.
And so this client of mine wanted to do the same thing. She wanted to write a book about her personal life and she thought it would be entertaining and all this. She told me that she was going to rent a castle in Ireland to go there and be inspired to write this great book. And I knew, and you probably know, that if she can't write it in her office she's not going to be able to write it in the castle in Ireland. But she went there spent all this money got this castle and stayed there a month and came back and she had barely forced out a chapter of the book because it's about mindset.
If you can't do it in your head, it doesn't matter what the view looks like outside the window because it's a view that's inside your mind. So anyway, I just want to point that out.
Joanna: I totally agree with that, and in fact, I say to people I did the same thing years and years ago. I quit my job in order to make a business and it didn't work. And in the end, I built this business while having a day job because you kind of need that structure at the beginning.
You mentioned there that if you do write genre then joining a genre organization is a really good idea. You co-founded the Las Vegas chapter of the horror writers association, which I'm also in and sometimes indie authors feel that literary organizations are not that welcoming.
Why is the horror writers association important to you and why should authors get involved in your organizations?
Tim: I think it's important to build your brand with people who are alike and I can use myself as a perfect example. I had a comfort zone that I was comfortable with. It was screenplays. It was punch up work. It was writing jokes. It was eventually short stories and magazines.
What I was not comfortable with was writing a full-length novel. I was just terrified of that. It was too much. Because when it's done it's done. And I was afraid of that moment where it's like OK because it's easier to talk about how great it will be. Oh, I'm working on this thing it'll be so great. You won't believe how great it is. But when it's done and it's a novel you're really standing on your own. That was tough for me.
I say that because when I went to the HWA (Hollywood Writers’ Association) I was worried. The first group I went to was in Los Angeles and I was worried that they were going to be snooty that they were all going to be pompous librarian types where they looked down their nose and they all write with quill pens or something.
So I went and they were very welcoming very nice. Some of the greatest people I've ever met and most important when it comes to business, I sold my first short stories to people at HWA groups. They ran traditional publishing houses. They were putting together collections.
And I was spoiled. I actually got some really nice deals and I got into really some good publications and it was amazing and I got to share this one. This just sums everything up why everyone should run, don't walk to join a genre meeting group for writing.
I went to the HWA in L.A. and I had sold a couple of short stories. Well I was talking about my crazy demon novel and there was a woman who ran a traditional press at the meeting and at the end of it she came up to me and she gave me her card and she said that sounds great. My small press would be interested in possibly putting out your book. And so she gave me her card and I said OK. And I put it in my pocket.
Now between you and me, because it's just you and me there's nobody else listening right? I was terrified to put a novel out. I wasn't ready for it. So I took the card. Oh thank you very much. And I blew it off. I did not follow up on it.
A couple of months later I was at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, this giant book convention in L.A., and she approached me again and I had made some friends and people knew me and so she asked if she could talk to me again. She took me aside and she goes Tim, I just want to let you know that I spoke to the people at our press and we understand that the first time when we offered you that book deal we insulted you by only offer you a one book deal so we would now like to offer you a three book deal if you would please consider going with our publishing house.
But the truth is I wasn’t comfortable with one book, let alone three. But that kind of thing that can happen if you're just friendly and smiley at these publishing places because you are who you say you are. If you say I am a professional, established writer and this is what I do and here's my idea, people will treat you as such.
Joanna: Circling back to your cardboard cutout as well at the beginning is just actually sometimes physically being in places with other people is important. I'm an introvert as much as anyone listening is an introvert and it is hard for some personality types to do that.
I agree with you and it doesn't matter if your personality is not like yours. You have a very welcoming and wonderful smile and I think I could come up to you at a convention and talk to you, whereas I'm scared of other things.
But your experience shows that you just have to be a person with other people.
Tim: Absolutely. Because you never know what they're going through and the grass is always greener. People are nervous and they have things that they're worked them through as well and you can connect just by being yourself, just by being honest and open. And that's important.
It's very hard for you to connect by staying in your living room because that owner of a traditional publishing house isn't going to come walking through. So you kind of have to go to them.
Joanna: I agree. Unless you have a podcast and you get on Skype, which is how I do it.
You have a chapter in a fantastic book: It's Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life, which just won a Bram Stoker award, which is very cool and it's great. And if you want to write horror, for anyone listening, it has lots of great interviews about writing darker stuff.
You interviewed Clive Barker, master of horror, which firstly incredible that you've got to interview him. I wonder, was there anything that really stood out from that interview? Obviously, people can read the whole thing in the book.
Was there anything that really stood out for you? And how did you get that interview?
Tim: Sure. Thanks for asking.
I met him years before that. And I hadn't thought about this, but it's a cool thing to share because we've been talking about stepping outside your comfort level. I was in line to get an autograph, like all the other fans, and I wanted desperately to make a connection with him because I had read his books as a child.
And as a writer and I just wanted to make a true connection with the man.
When I got my opportunity to get the book signed, I had three things to say, prepared in my head, that I was going to say that would separate me from everybody else. And it worked and he asked me to come around to his side of the table and I sat down next to him and talked to him like a friend while he signed everybody else's books. And that absolutely happened.
At the end of it, he gave me a big hug and gave me his manager's contact information. And it was amazing and we became friends and we emailed after that and we kept in touch and he gave me some advice on writing and we kept in touch over the years.
We just had that connection and again that's a cardboard cutout moment. I didn't know the man. I literally was like all the other fans online.
But there's a big difference between being a fan who's just like oh god thank you sir and walking away versus being a peer. I wanted to let him know that I respected what he did and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
One of the things I said to him was that I appreciated the fact that he never turned his back on horror. Dean Koontz started the horror writers association and then went to thrillers and Anne Rice went to erotica stuff and Stephen King does things like the Green Mile and Clive's never done that Clive's a horror guy. I told him that I appreciated that he stuck with it and that was just one of it but I had a few things.
I want to separate myself and anybody can do that. You can meet somebody that you admire and as long as you talk to them like a human being like a peer. So anyway I had that connection.
Years later Crystal Lake Press was putting out the second in a trilogy of books about advice for writers. The first one was about the ideas. The second one was about the actual process. And the third one was to be about promoting the works.
So they reached out to me because they knew that we were friends and asked do you think he would be interested in it because I hadn't worked with him on anything so I just reached out and it worked out. I was able to spend three days at his home in Beverly Hills and we just went through the process and I recorded a lot more audio than I used. I probably have enough for three more interviews with the guy and he is just amazing.
The friendship, the encouragement, it meant the world to me. The blurb on my writing. And I'll tell you the biggest thing I got from being able to work with Clive was that we are all human. We all bleed. We all cry. We all get scared. We all laugh.
When I was walking through his room of paintings, these giant huge paintings, there was a pile of dusty old awards and some of them were falling apart and they were some of the biggest awards in the industry that we all hope to achieve. And here they are. Dusty and an old table in the back row and it was just it was kind of cool because we all think about that moment when you accept it on stage and then the years roll on and so it was just it was really cool to see that.
I'll tell you what, and I don't mean this disrespectfully in any way, I felt like in the movie Ed Wood when Ed was spending time with Bela Lugosi that's how I felt like. There was this guy who had been this giant industry for years. And here he is, later in life and he's human just like we are. And it was just it was really amazing to be at the feet of the master.
Joanna: That just ties in as well. I think we have the theme of this podcast, which really is making an effort and I think that's what you've shown in this is that you haven't just gone, Oh I'm going to go and meet Clive or that comedian or whoever.
You've actually thought about how you're going to approach things in a way that makes you stand out and that is the key.
I've learned a lot from you today about that and I'm going to try and be more brave in that way. So tell people where they can find out more about you.
Tim: All right. Well, you’ve got this and you said you're a member of the horror writers association.
Joanna: I am and I'll be at Stoker Con 2020, because it's in the UK right?
Tim: OK. I was going to say I want to see you a Stoker Con
Joanna: I will be there. So tell people where they can find you and all your books and everything you do online.
Tim: Definitely. You can find me for the repping clients and that side of it the happy, smiling stuff at TimChizmar.com.
And then for the doom and gloom dark stuff that that's SpookyNinjaKitty.com.
You could find me on social media at Tim Chizmar. I'm pretty easy to find. You can find me on Amazon.
This is great. I get to mark this off my bucket list. I love the podcast. I'm a huge fan. Thank you so much for letting me have you on the show.
I do have a bit of advice for writing suspense. A really great tip for writing suspense, if you'd like to hear it.
Joanna: Okay, give us that.
Tim: I'll tell you another time.
Joanna: Very good. You've been great. Thanks.
Adriana Licio says
Loved today’s podcast! I’m not sure how “useful” it will be since I’m sure if I were to meet Joanna Penn in person – no matter how prepared for the occasion – I could just syllable “hi!” or – more likely – just faint. But I loved this idea of a such a strong bond between light and darkness, comedy and horror meant just as simply as one’s own inner demons. I’ll store this episode for moments of down or when you need a recharge, and feel life is beautiful with all its nonsense. Thanks a lot!
Una Medina Olmsted says
Love this podcast! A writer friend just sent me your link and it’s perfect!
I write Deadly Romcoms. Thank you Joanna Penn and Tim Chizmar for being the beacons: I have found my tribe.