An Interview With Chuck Wendig

This folks is a great honour, I got the chance to interview Chuck Wending a while back.  Chuck is one of those authors who not only writes interesting books, but is also just as interesting away from the pages of his novels.  So sit down folks read a fascinating interview with the man himself.  

Hello Chuck, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.  How are things with you?
Uber-good. Ultra-awesome. Mega-super-dance-tastic. Thanks!
Let us start with the bog standard getting to know you questions.  Who  is Chuck Wendig?
I am a writer. And a father. And a husband. And an Internet blog sensation (translation: guy who makes specious assertions on the web.)
Can you remember when and why you first started to write?
I began writing very early on. Little stories and comic books. As to why? Egads, I’ve no idea. Brain disorder? Parents dropped me on the head? I loved stories and wanted to share them with myself, my imaginary friends, and the as-yet-uninvented-Internet.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
My sister, very early on, put a lot of great books in my hands, so she’s definitely the infection vector for all that. Early fiction influence probably falls to Robert McCammon.
What do you enjoy the most about the writing process, and what you enjoy the least about  it?
I enjoy it all, really. That sounds silly, but I do – I may not enjoy it every moment of every day, but in the overall sense, I really do enjoy it.
I do not, however, enjoy self-promotion. I do it, but it always feels a bit… sticky.
Would you say you have a particular style of writing, or does it change with each new piece of writing that you do?
My voice is my voice, and I can find it easily on the page though I don’t know how precisely I would define it. That being said, voice is not the same thing as genre and my hope is that I work across multiple genres. The other day the Guardian referred to my work as “New Pulp,” so I suppose that works.
I believe you are a connoisseur of Bourbon, do you have a favourite brand?  And who could drink who under the table yourself, or my good friend John Hornor Jacobs?
I am married to my bottle of Basil Hayden’s – though, I should note I’m still a relative newcomer to Bourbon (Scotch is a far older friend).
I cannot speak to JHJ’s drinking prowess, but I believe he’s strong-like-bull, so I’d dare not challenge the constitution of his mighty liver.
You started writing  RPG books, how did you get involved in this? 
I played such games as a teen, and then in my 20s I saw a writer’s all-call where White Wolf Game Studios was hiring a freelancer for their game, Hunter: The Reckoning. I applied, and wrote some pretentious foo-foo essay about the internal and external loci of fear, and somehow, my bullshit stuck.
There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about writing these sort of books, how does writing a RPG book compare to writing a more traditional type of book?
Well, writing is writing, and you still have to staple-gun your ass to the chair and write to spec and write to deadlines – so, the process isn’t different so much as what you’re writing. Fiction is a far slipperier beast.
(That’s a hard word to say out loud. Slipperier. Slip. Ur. Ee. Urrrr. Anyway.)
Fiction aims to tell my story. Writing for games is a vehicle for telling other people’s stories. Both are useful in terms for figuring out the fiddly bits of character and narrative.
Do you think being a sort of writer for hire helped to hone your writing skills, and your methodology towards writing?
It did. Writing as a freelance inkslinger did a great deal to divest me of many of the illusions and myths that hold writers back. It turned me into a workhorse, a craftsman – I can’t speak to the quality of my work, but I do know I’m willing to put my back into it. Which probably explains all my back problems, actually.
You have a publishing deal with both Abbadon Books, and Angry Robot, and you also self publish.  How do you keep everyone, including yourself, happy?
Okay, not really. Settle down, everybody. I know you don’t measure cocaine by the bucket but rather by the “bindle.”
I keep everybody happy by hitting deadlines and by trying not to suck.

That, by the way, is the secret to writing.

Write as much as you can. Hit your deadlines. And try not to suck.

That’s really all there is to it.

(Also, I have a deal with Amazon Children’s Publishing for a new YA series. Which proves that I am apparently just working my way through the alphabet, and I haven’t even gotten to the “B’s” yet.)
Talking of publishing contracts, you have just signed a new book deal with Angry Robot, just weeks after the launch of your debut novel with them.  At the risk of sounding trite, you must be ecstatic about this?
At the risk of answering too briefly: “Yes! I am.”

Do Abbadon, and Angry Robot, bring different things to the table in terms of how they help you as an author?

The difference for me is the work I do with Abaddon is actually work-for-hire. I don’t own any of the work with Abaddon, as opposed to Angry Robot, which publishes my original creator-owned stuff. (Double Dead, for instance, is part of their Tomes of the Dead series.)
So why does an author who has two publishing deals self publish?
I believe a diverse publishing resume helps the modern author not just survive but, in fact, thrive. I love both “traditional” and “self” publishing for what they offer the authors, so, fuck it, why not do both?
Though, don’t discount the possibility that the answer is actually, “I am a teeny-tiny-bit crazy.”
You have written a number of how to self publish books guides, who are these aimed at, the new upcoming writer or the more established writer who is looking to self publish for the first time?
Any and all. If I had to pinpoint a segment, I’d say I aim my work at the professional author or hopes-to-be-professional author trying to navigate the salty froth-capped seas of New Publishing. In other words: fellow lunatics.
What do you think is the biggest mistake a self published author makes?
Being unprofessional. That can mean putting out work that looks like it was written and designed by a twitchy third-grader. That can mean acting like an ass-hat on public forums. That can mean fanning the flames of the completely-made-up “traditional-versus-self-publishing-war.”
And what annoys you the moist about this new breed of writer, constant spamming, the constant whining about not being recognised, or something else?
Ultimately, a DIY “indie” author can act however he or she wants. The only problem is, we may be islands but we remain a connected archipelago and your tides affect mine and vice versa. Garbage in the water will still reach my shores. So, self-publishers acting unprofessional makes all self-publishers look bad, regardless of the reality.
Tell us about Terrible Minds?
It is a digital psychic meme that will infect your mind-paths and breed its hypnotic nano-worms inside your synaptic uteri.
Or: it’s a blog where I talk about writing and food and publishing and porn and booze and writing and being a father.
Reading through your Blog, it feels like it is  part primal scream therapy, part therapists couch, and part sound block for ideas.  Have you ever published something on it that in hindsight you wished you hadn’t?
Occasionally. But nothing’s ever come back to haunt me – no doom-chickens coming home to roost in the barn that is my career.

Let’s talk about your novels now. How do you go about writing a novel?  Do you free flow, or do you work out every little plot detail before you start writing it?

I am a pantser-by-heart, plotter-by-necessity. I wish I could just make up shit as I go, but what I ultimately find is I end up lost in the woods, gibbering and fouled with my own waste. The plot unspools, the characters bump into one another, chaos takes hold. Thus, I outline because I must, not because I want to.
What would you say drives your novels more, plot or character?  And how do you ensure that one doesn’t swamp the other. 
The characters are in the driver’s seat. Here’s the secret: plot and  character aren’t at war with one another provided you remember that plot is like Soylent Green – it’s made of people. Characters create and drive the plot.

One thing I have noticed on your books is that the lead character is always an interesting and complex person, from Double Dead’sCoburn, Blackbirds Miriam Black and Shotgun Gravy’s Atlanta Burns.  How do you go about creating a character, do you ever use “real” people as a basis for them?

I roll-up D&D characters. That’s it. That’s all I do. I roll a bunch of d20s and, wham-bam-thank-you-bejeezus, complex characters.
Maybe not. I don’t know how I create them – they create themselves, really, which is another way of saying that they karate kick their way out of my subconscious mind.
I don’t use real people as a template, though I do look at real people I’ve known to see if certain traits make sense or seem realistic.
How did you get into the mind of Atlanta Burns, was it difficult to make this female High School student believable?
It wasn’t? And I don’t know why it wasn’t. Maybe high school is such an emblem burned into the mind it’s easy to go back to it? But Atlanta was very easy to write, regardless of whether she’s a boy or a girl.
It must be a goldmine, living in America, when it comes to creating characters, the idea of a British version of Atlanta Burns just doesn’t seem to work?
Doesn’t it? Surely you have bullies and bullied. And kids who have undergone sexual assault? And class separations? I could see a Chav version of Atlanta Burns. I don’t know that her experiences are uniquely American, though certainly the Pennsylvania setting is.
When will the next instalment of Shotgun Gravy be out, and can you tell us anything about it?
I’m writing it now! It’s called Bait Dog and it’s about Atlanta going up against a dog-fighting ring and how that dovetails into solving her friend’s murder. I should be done it in the next week or two – I’m scheduled to give it to backers by July, I think? And I think I’ll offer it to non-subscribers by the end of the summer.
I would like to  talk about Double Dead, if you don’t mind.  Coburn is a prime example of a great anti hero, he goes to sleep one night as the worlds alpha predator, then wakes up and suddenly realises that he must  now become humanities protector?  How challenging was it to create a character, that is essentially a vile creature, that is sympathetic to the reader.  We all know that he is only protecting his food source, but we as readers can’t help but like him?
It’s really fun writing those types of characters, and here’s why: because it’s like almostcrashing a plane. You point the nose toward the earth. You plummet toward the ground. And you get as close as humanly possible and, at the last minute, jack back on the stick and pull up and… y’know, not die.
You do that, and suddenly readers are falling for a character who they have no right to fall for. Or so the hope goes.
When you were writing Double Dead, how aware were you of what had gone before in zombie and vampire fiction?
I’m fairly well-read in both, though I wouldn’t call myself an expert.
The zombie genre and to some extent the vampire genre has become bloated with a lot of very poor examples of novels, how do you as a talented writer break through this and get your novel noticed?
Write well. Be inventive. But worry less about being inventive and more about writing the best possible story you can – a story that is yours, through and through.

There is a sequel planned can you tells us when it will hit the shelves and can you tell us what to expect from it?

Bad Blood is already out. It’s an e-novella sequel and takes Coburn into the heart of San Francisco. Ketamine! Vampires! Orphans! And, of course, shitloads of the stumbling bumbling starving dead.
In your latest book Blackbirds, Miriam Black has the power to see how and when someone will die, but is essentially powerless to anything about this?  Was making her somewhat impotent a reflection on your past experience and thoughts on death?
It was. Death is a great equalizer and it makes us all powerless. We are fate’s bitch. That’s Miriam. Or is, at least, at the start of the novel.
Is writing a cathartic experience for you?
It can be. It isn’t always. But stories that are more personal do have the whiff of exorcismabout them.
Other than Miriam’s ability can you tell us what the book is about?
It’s about fate versus free will. It’s about choice and self-control. It’s about love in the face of death. It’s about trying to be a good person in a bad, bad world.
It’s sad and funny and gory and wildly profane. Or so I intend, anyway.
If you had Miriam’s power, and you shook the hand of your most hated enemy,  would you gloatingly tell them how and when they were to die?  And would you get a ringside seat for the moment of their death?
See, the part of this question that has me jazzed is the “most hated enemy” part. I don’t know who that is. I need an archnemesis, now. Any takers?
Anyway. If I hadan arch-enemy, sure, I’d gloat. I’d roll in their demise the way a dog rolls in gopher shit.
And I had a dog roll in gopher shit once. He loved it. Me, not so much.
As mentioned earlier you have just signed a deal with Angry Robot books, in which we get to see the further adventures of Miriam.  Can you tell us about these books, and have you already decided on how the series will end?

Mockingbird hits in August/September, and puts Miriam on the trail of a serial killer who has it out for “bad girls.” The Cormorant will be sometime in 2013 and will put Miriam in the sights of an old enemy.

There has been a huge amount of critical acclaim for the Blackbirds, how do you deal with this?  Do you lap it all up, or does all the acclaim make you feel nervous about whether  your next book will live up to the readers expectations?
I lap it up. I stuff my face full of it. I swoon and howl at the moon. Then I get back to work and try to live up to it. I don’t feel nervous or anxious, I just want to do right by readers.
Dinocalypse Now,  is a very interesting concept.  You have financed the publishing of this book through Kickstarter.  What exactly is Kickstarter, and why did you decide to go down this route?
To be clear, I didn’t finance it – the publisher, Evil Hat, did. And they didn’t just finance the Dino Now trilogy, but Fred actually financed an entire Evil Hat fiction line. (Prior to now, Evil Hat produced only game content.)
I also worked with Evil Hat recently on a horror anthology, Don’t Read This Book.
You initially set out to raised $5000, however the response has been unbelievable did you ever think that so much money would be raised?
I hoped, but you never know. I know I have some fans here and there, and I damn sure know Evil Hat has a whole armada of fans ready to mobilize. It was a really sweet spot, I think. Doubly true when he started bringing in other great authors (Stephen Blackmoore, CE Murphy, Harry Connolly, Brian Clevinger).
Is this sort of response more satisfying than glowing reviews, as essentially your fans have taken a chance and pledge their hard earned cash  on one of your books?
It’s very satisfying because it takes a lot for them to put their faith in something that isn’t even out. That’s a true measure of a fan and the support is overwhelming.
Dinocalypse Now  sounds like a love letter to the great old days of classic Pulp fiction, are you a fan of the genre?

Not in a big way, more in a passing appreciation. The key for me was bringing strong characterization to the genre.
Can you tell us what readers can expect from this book?
Psychic dinosaurs! Non-psychic dinosaurs! Jetpacks! FDR! Gorillas in kilts! Atlantis! Shark-Men! Hawaii! Dirigibles! Two-fisted heroic action! Pow pow! Biff biff!
Can you tell us about any future projects that you have coming out?
The next Miriam books are on the horizon. As is my young adult “cornpunk” trilogy, the Heartland series (beginning with Popcorn). As is my criminal-underworld-meets-actual-underworld novel, The Blue Blazes, with Angry Robot. Lots to do!
Chuck, it has been a great honour getting the chance to talk to you, do you have any final words for our readers?
“Carpet noodle.”
Thanks for having me!

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