Chuck Wendig is equal parts novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He is the author of the novels DOUBLE DEAD, BLACKBIRDS, (launching today) and MOCKINGBIRD. In addition, he’s got a metric boatload of writing-related e-books available, including the popular 500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER. He currently lives in the wilds of Pennsyltucky with wife, dog, and newborn progeny.
We’re honored that this prolific writer, Class I snarkmeister and wizened writery sage took the time to sit down with our resident genius, Jennifer Sommersby to discuss writing, his experience with self-publishing and why he’ll never be Hemingway. Thanks to Chuck and Angry Robot for supporting LitStack.
LS: Your bio says you’re a new dad. In a sentence or two, tell us how your life has changed since the arrival of Mini-Chuck.
My wife and I made the mistake of thinking we needed to get everything “ready” for having a baby, which was, in hindsight, an oopsie. It’s like setting a table to perfection and cooking a most elegant dinner before you invite into the dining room a coked-up chimpanzee with a rusty machete. We had an ordered life, and now we have a chaotic one, and every day is a new struggle of order versus chaos.
Thankfully, that struggle is the basis of many a story, so my writer-side appreciates that.
In that struggle, too, we’ve found a joy in the madness we never thought we’d find. It gives me new reason to do what I do and to lead by example.
LS: On writing: Give us a glimpse of your process, i.e., do you have rituals, are you superstitious, do you have a blankie or a favorite pen, do you guzzle whiskey first, do you write longhand with a dodo quill dipped in the blood of fairies … ?
I procure hallucinogens from the Tuk Tuk people of Borneo, and then I kill my own doppelganger in hand-to-hand spirit combat.
Outside that, my rituals are fairly underwhelming. I wake early. 6AM. I write for as long as I am able and allowed (see earlier: “baby chaos”). I drink coffee, then tea. I outline because I am a pantser at heart but a plotter by necessity.
The only quirk I have regards fonts. I have to find a good and proper font for the story at hand. It’s like, I need to take time before I start a new project and zero in on that lest everything feel somehow “off.” It’s silly, but there it is.
LS: If you weren’t able to write, I’m guessing your head would explode. I worry about this, that I will suffer an accident and be left with locked-in syndrome. Tell us what you would do if, for some terrible reason, you could no longer push words around. (You don’t have to have locked-in syndrome. If you did, you’d do nothing but blink.)
I’d always tell stories — I used to think of myself as a writer, but more and more I’m leaning toward the more general “storyteller.” So, I’d tell stories. And I’d probably go on a kill-crazy-rampage looking for my words.
LS: Who do you read? What do you refuse to read? Best book ever? Worst book ever?
I read pretty widely. I have early fiction favorites that influenced (“infected”) me early on — Robert McCammon, Joe Lansdale, Christopher Moore, Robin Hobb — but I’ll try anything once. I read more non-fiction than fiction these days, I think.
I refuse to read the Twilight books but that’s a softball answer, isn’t it? I also refuse to finish out the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and finished by Brandon Sanderson. I loved the books early on but each book was longer and longer and the story stretched thinner and thinner until it felt like a 900-page series of strung-together moments that never quite move the story forward. Like treading water, somehow. So, I refuse to finish that series. (YMMV, of course.)
Best book and worst book ever? It’s the same book. “Everybody Poops.”
LS: Who do you find funny? Can be a comic or politician or anyone as long as they make you giggle.
I’m a huge stand-up fan. George Carlin and Bill Hicks are top-shelf comedy, incisive and weird and mean and all that stuff.
For fiction, you can’t really beat Christopher Moore. I mean, I guess you could — like, with a cricket bat or something, but I don’t know why you’d want to. He’s incredibly nice.
LS: Who’s on your iPod (or preferred listening device)?
Right now, I’ve been listening to Ludo’s “Prepare the Preparations.”
LS: What’s your drink of choice? Do you ever wish we could go back to the romantic days of Hemingway and drown our mental deficiencies in large quantities of amber liquids and still get paid, even though we screwed our deadlines?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and Scotch or Bourbon in the evening. Or maybe a nice IPA. Or a Malbec. Or blood from my steed as we stampede across the desert, driven by thirst and conquest.
But I’ll never be Hemingway. That man could drink steel and shit nails.
LS: If you had the opportunity to witness an exorcism, would you?
Without hesitation: yes.
LS: What makes a good story? How honest are you with your friends/co-writers about their work? Have you ever had to tell someone that his/her prized story sucks so bad, it made you consider self-chloroforming?
Good story is an alchemical recipe that has yet to be perfected but we know it can contain things like strong characters, core conflicts, proper pacing, and a plot that, y’know, makes sense.
I’ve done some editorial and development work, so I’ve had to tell people that stuff isn’t up to snuff. And while that’s never easy, you do it and you do it in a way that isn’t mean or snarky and just lays it out there, honest as Abe Lincoln.
LS: What is the worst job you have ever had?
I fed old EPA documents — found in folders thicker than my fist — into a massive industrial paper shredder that was chest-high and had teeth like a grain thresher. It was in a pigment factory and by the end of the day I was filthy with soot and pigment and chemical stink.
LS: The idea of writing for the gaming industry is confusing to some of us who are dumb. Please enlighten us as to the similarities or differences between writing for games and writing for books.
Books are author-focused and ego-centric. You tell your story and put it on the page as a relatively passive experience.
Games are audience-focused and generally require removing the ego of the creator. You instead facilitate the audience to tell and experience their own stories.
LS: On your blog, I love combing through past articles and finding those with great titles like “25 Ways to Unfuck Your Story.” I seriously clap and cheer and then I have to switch screens when my children want to know what’s making Mommy so giddy. How the hell do you come up with all those amazing things to say in those lists? Okay, dumb question. But, seriously, where does it all COME from?
It comes from my own trials and tribulations. That blog is most often me yelling at me about problems I am having or just had. I sometimes choose to blog like nobody’s listening.
LS: You have an agent—the revered Stacia Decker of Don Maass—which tells me that you’ve gone the way of traditional publishing. And yet, you also dabble in self-published titles. I read in one of your interviews that you think pursuing both avenues is smart. Compare for us in which arena you have found greater success, or at the very least, greater satisfaction.
This year, my income will be split pretty evenly between trad-pub and self-pub, which for me is ideal, because both feed off each other. Self-pub allows me to be more generative and put more material into the marketplace so that way momentum doesn’t die down between traditional releases, and the traditional releases carry my voice and work into spaces where (at present) self-published work generally does not go (reviews, awards, interviews, physical book shelves, foreign rights, film rights).
I dare not choose a favorite child there because both are essential to what I’m doing!
LS: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
Hawaii. Fighting volcano monsters. Riding a pterodactyl mount. Eating mangoes.
And I’ll probably still be writing, too.