Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hear Michael Cera Read a Story

I have to give famous actors a lot of credit: none of them really look like me. (I have never ever been mistaken as famous.)

But when Juno was released, I heard quite a few times, from at least a handful of sources, that (and, “-oh my God...”) I sound like Michael Cera. This fact became more of a reality for me when I heard recordings of my own voice, like the one I want to share with you now. So, what the heck. Let’s milk this thing.

Here, Michael Cera reads a story. (Link will direct you to YouTube, where I read Chapter 1 of The Almost Crime.)

There are other imbedded, dubious honors in this blog post. Have you ever wanted to look up an author’s nose? Here’s your chance! You get to see my head larger, even, then it is in life – because that’s the only way I could get close enough to the microphone for you to hear me. And my wife’s lovely wedding decorations are hanging on the wall, in the background. I take full credit for showing them to you.


Let me share something with you about YouTube, if you’re thinking about making a debut: it’s weird! For one thing, it’s very, very easy to show yourself to the world. I thought, “Perhaps I’ll do a reading on YouTube.” And thirty minutes later, I had the thing itself.

For another, you only have a couple of choices. There is a button for “Record,” and once you’ve Recorded, your only choices are, “Upload” (go live, to everyone) and “Restart” (erase everything you’ve done, so far). There is about as much room for error as there is during an audition, or an interview. I didn’t realize this until I did it!

Bellow* is a complete list of links of all the YouTube clips I’ve uploaded, so far. (New links will be posted, as they appear.) Please take note of all my mistakes, so you can learn vicariously through me: (Chapter 1)

*I made this mistake about a million times, when I was working as an assistant science teacher in Indianapolis, In. and was creating assignments. I leave the typo here as just one more example of what not to do.

A Beyers Tip: Judge this Book by its Cover

I’m sorry, folks. For two reasons.

For one, my Syracuse basketball team lost in the Final Four last night - so I’m a bit distracted. (The game we made the Final Four, my wife clocked my heart rate at upwards of 100 beats per minute – meaning, for me, sitting on a couch with chips is a better vascular workout than, say, jogging in place for thirty minutes.)

And secondly, and more importantly: this blog is aesthetically boring.

The problem is, I’m writing it. And putting it together. And making the decisions. And my idea of a pleasing image is a sentence that reaches the end of a page.

So in order to rectify this situation, I’m employing the same tactic I used to make my book itself not-aesthetically-boring: the help of a friend.

Without the help of a friend, the cover of The Almost Crime would look like:

The Almost Crime 
a novel
by Christopher Beyers

And the back-flap description would be black letters on a white background, with awe-inspiring text, like:

This book is good. You should read it. (Hint, hint: I didn’t write the back-flap.)

Don’t get me wrong: many friends of mine, and family members, and brief acquaintances, and friends I haven’t met, yet, and won’t, helped in the creation of my book. (If you think a book is a solo venture, skip to the acknowledgements page, if there is one.) But in order to add an element to this book that Suggested Changes in Bold didn't have, I decided to try and sell it. And in order to do that, I wanted some cool cover art. Like, done by an artist. And I wanted it to look cool.

So this blog post is about one amazing person in particular, and her name is Laura. (Link will take you to Laura’s awesome art blog.)

When Laura agreed to be a friend in need (and, therefore: a friend, indeed), I brainstormed with a few people I haven’t publicly thanked here, yet, and we concocted image ideas from Chapter 9: Say “Cheese” and Chapter 24: The Grey-Green Car and asked Laura to try and “do something” with our ideas. Laura was kind enough to read the chapters in question, and put these sketches together for me (Can you tell which one I selected?):


Laura then asked me about paint types and dimensions and on and on, and I fumbled to find answers for her. She wasn’t finished being thorough, though. A week or two later, I was on my laptop, minding my own business, thinking I had fulfilled my end of the art-bargain, when this message popped into my inbox: 

“Hey Chris,

As I am painting this book cover, I am realizing: Your story takes place in the winter, but my original sketch shows sort of a spring/summer backdrop. Would you like slush and snow and evergreens and bare branches instead? 



So, in conclusion: I am breaking an adage and asking you to please judge my book by its cover, because I believe Laura has done at least as good a job representing me as I have. In fact, throughout the process of spicing up my book’s aesthetics, Laura had only one minor oversight I had to bring to her attention. She has dubbed it, “The Accidental Cover Text.” I’ll show you some of her samples – see if you can spot it:


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Almost Crime: A Beyers Guide

It's official. I'm a father. (Will take you to The Almost Crime on Amazon.)

Like any new parent, I've delivered my baby unto the world with both hope and trepidation. What's more, I've decided that he/she/it is a member of the Mystery Genre. But this label may be misleadingly specific, when in truth it's no more descriptive than announcing, "It's a boy!" or, "It's a girl!"

For one thing, each of its chapters begins with:

Narrative haikus
Expressing the singular
Thoughts of characters.
-Chris Beyers

For another, your classic mystery story is (for me, at least) a who-done-it, in which there is one of a handful of motives (usually: money, power, jealousy) and any number of possible suspects (usually: lovers, haters, heirs). Halfway through this book, however, you may suspect there are no suspects at all, and the murder-motive will be smoky mirrors. I could probably even tell you who the murderer is, right now, without ruining the narrative arc.

But, why risk it?

And, why read it?

Well, if you're a pure, honest-to-God mystery buff, and who-done-it's are your absolute cup-of-tea: you probably should not. But in addition to murder, I was trying to create something in The Almost Crime that was 1/2 literary and 1/2 philosophical, dark humor. (After all, I gave 150%.) I attempted to design something memorable, funny, and contemplative. I don't expect The Almost Crime to be required reading in AP Lit anytime soon, and you shouldn't expect slapstick, ROFL moments. But I hope you appreciate that my characters forget my character's names; or mis-remember details that could save their lives. And I hope you forgive me for how unreliable my narrator is.

All in all, I aspire to the carefully-crafted, careless tone of Kurt Vonnegut: quality included. Accept my child. And tell me how I did.

(For more about the writing of this book, and about me, as an author: read on!)

The Almost Crime: The Beyers Uncertainty Principle


I don’t remember the date I started writing The Almost Crime, or how fast I was moving – but I remember exactly where I was.

I was on a couch that is now in a landfill.

It was about time. The couch was white, for one thing, and I am not a particularly “clean” eater.

I was in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it was August – or early September – 2011. I had just come out of class at Sycamore School, where I was starting as an assistant teacher. In mid August I had graduated from a graduate program at Cornell University, and I had a shiny new 1-year Master’s degree in … Science Education.

Ha, ha! Useless! (I was just learning this.)

I finished and published The Almost Crime in January 2013, according to Create Space (the program I use). That means, technically, it took me about a year and a half to complete.

A lot can change in a year and a half, though. The couch. Where I live. The names of my guinea pigs. A year and a half ago, I was single according to the I.R.S., and now I’m filing jointly.

And the process of writing was, of course, not continual. I had a full-time job in Indianapolis. Now I live in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, and I have a full-time job. Saying it took me a year and a half to write The Almost Crime is like a painter saying it took a year and a half to finish an oil on canvas. Some of that time was thumb-twiddling, starting over, and letting the paint dry.

Months passed where nothing happened. Other days, I sat down in front of the computer and didn’t come up for air.

Most of the time, The Almost Crime was like dinner in a crock pot. I’d let it simmer. Inspiration would hit me. I’d add an ingredient. Then, I’d let it simmer.

The beginning and the end of the story actually happened pretty fast, in fact (I conceived the end before I conceived the beginning, like I usually do, writing – and then started at around chapter three or four, building backwards towards the front). The middle was conceptually more challenging – and in fact missing, for a while. That was the part I needed to ponder, and observe, to create. Once I had a working center, though, the final third of my novel came on like a fever – the same way the final 1/3 or 1/2 of Suggested Changes in Bold had come to me. I spent between 4-8 hours a day writing down the home stretch, and finished the first draft after about a week like this. 


Originally, The Almost Crime started as a sort of challenge-to-myself: Suggested Changes in Bold inspired me to write it. Not because it was good; because I was supposed to have improved with age. I was 23 (I’m 24 now…), and I hated looking back and thinking that 18 was, like, my creative hump. I needed to prove to myself that I was just as ambitious now, as then – and could still follow through, with something better.

But it was more than that. I started Suggested Changes in Bold and finished Suggested Changes in Bold on the eve of break-ups (somewhere in the middle, I had a nine-month relationship). I was young, and angst-y, and kind of tortured for most of the writing-time. (You could argue that I’m still young: it’s all relative, and I wouldn’t protest.) Now that I was an old(er), less was wrong with me. I had a fiancĂ©e, and after a year apart I got to be with her.  I was sort of doing the sort of work I wanted. My outlook on life was, all-in-all, improved; and I was mostly smiles.

So I hated the idea that, now that I was happy, I wouldn’t be able to write. I wanted to be like the man in the adage, who rises early and goes to bed early. (Healthy, wealthy, wise.) I wanted the world to tremble, but to laugh, too – and didn’t care if it was at or with me, really.

I didn’t want to have to undergo a tragedy before I got my mojo back.

One more thing. Suggested Changes in Bold had been a not-unremarkable undertaking, for an eighteen-year-old. But it hadn’t been the creative feat my eighteen-year-old self would have you believe it was, either. I poured more of myself into that book than I ever put into a diary, including actual entries I had written into diaries. (At one point, I copy and pasted a short story I had written into a chapter, essentially plagiarizing myself.)

By comparison, The Almost Crime was an experiment to see how elastic my mind could become. There was no word-for-word borrowing from my life, and by the end of the story my cast of characters was really and truly carrying me… until I knew where the story was supposed to end, and didn’t want it to. I got wrapped up in one character after another… until I couldn’t help but bring the dead guy back for a cameo in a dream, and spend an extra chapter with “the injured man” in his hospital bed. I even threw in a character I never expected to make the final cut, because I loved the way light bounced off of his shiny bald head, in my mind’s eye.

This time, my finished product was not about self-indulgence in a time of need. It was about interesting people and intriguing motives; twisted morality, death, and deceit.

This time, I drew a line for myself in the sand, and crossed it. (And even thought about a sequel, which was a first, for me.)

I hope you read The Almost Crime. And I hope you enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed the process that was writing it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Almost Crime: No Beyers Remorse

I have been writing since I was in the second grade.

A a. B b. C c. Ha, ha!

No, my first real author steps were not in the fiction genre, or even in paragraphs. Rather, the first thing I remember about being a writer is having a piece of paper in gym class. And there was a girl I wanted to show this piece of paper to. Like, before I perspired.

(Before this, my English teacher had lauded a poem I had written, as "worthy of a 12th grader." But this was teacher-talk. This didn't count.)

I think I was in 9th grade, but I could be mistaken. We (the country) had just invaded Iraq, and were looking for WMDs, and failing to find WMDs, and loosing interest in what W, M, and / or D stood for.

I was feeling clever.

So I showed this girl this piece of paper I was so proud of, about Iraq and oil crises and George W. Bush, all in AABB rhyme-scheme and stanzas. And she sort of shrugged, and was nice to me. She may have even said it was good.

She was lying.

Henceforth, I remained not-a-writer. My sophomore year of high school, I became involved with the school newspaper, The Tattler. Over the next couple years, I wrote several April Fools pieces, set an unofficial record for letters and poems to the editor, and wrote maybe one news story (that wasn't very good).

My technical writing faltered throughout this time. I entered a Tattler column contest, and was told unofficially - by a friend - that my entry was unreadable. (By comparison, reading this blog post is like trying to find a needle in a pincushion). I turned in one essay that came back to me with the comment, "Is this a joke?"

And no, it wasn't.

But I also did a bit of experimenting. I wrote some of my first short-stories, including both fiction and non-fiction. Some of them caught some attention: by my closest friends and family members, who would have shown me attention (I would assume) no matter what.

And/but I was ambitious, back then. I wanted the moon, or nothing. So I began the thing I thought would make me a writer, once and for all, and which nobody could argue with.

It was not The Almost Crime. It was a book called, Suggested Changes in Bold.

Like many grand ideas I'd had, I entered college without finishing Suggested Changes in Bold. Once I was there a couple short stories trickled out of me - but they were John-Irving-inspired, and preachy, and longer than they needed to be, and more-or-less plot-less. And none of them are worth mentioning here.

However, a wonderful thing also happened my freshman year. It came with cash-money, and a picture, and some free desserts. (Just? I don't know.) It was called a James E. Rice, Jr. Prize, and came with publication. I was officially kicked in the pants.

That summer, I went home and had a bout of two-dimensional writing circles (the opposite of a "writing block..."). I wrote about half of Suggested Changes in Bold in a week, and had my dear, darling dad print and bind a couple of copies for me. I did some editing (not enough) and asked around for some editing (not enough), and had grand schemes for what I was going to do with my finished product, now.

Again, I didn't follow through.

One good thing became of Suggested Changes in Bold, however -- before I decided to self-publish it and be done with it. My then-friend read it, and thought it was okay. Four years (and change) later, I married her.


I continued to write at Cornell, taking Verse Writing and then Narrative Writing and then Narrative Writing and then Narrative Writing. (I figured out that you could get credit more than once, if you changed professors.) I had some swings, some misses, and perhaps some RBIs. But I also had another wonderful thing happen to me my junior year, which may explain why I wrote The Almost Crime, and why I'm writing this blurb here. It came with cash money, too, and was called an Arthur Lynn Andrews Award for fiction.

Once was a fluke, but now I was on to something... and for once, I knew what I was on to. It turned out, I could get inside a person's head pretty well. When I won the James E. Rice, Jr. Prize I had pretended to be Freud. When I won the Arthur Lynn Andrews prize, I had pretended to be a college student with an autism spectrum disorder, trying to find love. My plot-lines were still crap and my scene-setting was still crap, but I could more-or-less characterize.

And I could do almost anyone.

Since then, this is what I've built on. I've poured my mental energy into my characters, and let my characters dictate my stories. My writing has relied more on thoughts than actions (and hardly at all on setting scenes) - and The Almost Crime is no exception. Yes, there are car accidents. Yes, there is armed robbery. Yes, there is murder. But I swear to you that 1) The Almost Crime is my crown jewel, so far, and 2) the plot isn't where the action is.