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I believe it's important for us as writers to find successful authors to model, for inspiration on the journey but also to learn from.
Chuck Wendig is one of the authors I respect and aspire to model. He is an incredibly hard-working writer with prolific creative output, and some incredible writing. I love his latest novels, Blackbirds and Mockingbird and his blog, TerribleMinds.com is a must-read (although it does have a language warning on it and the profane humor is not for everyone). Chuck is also an award-winning screenwriter and game designer, as well as having non-fiction books available on writing.
Today's podcast is clean (despite Chuck's reputation!).
- How Chuck got started with writing 18 years ago (when he was 18) with his first published short story. He wrote 5-6 horrible novels including the first iteration of Blackbirds. He worked in the gaming industry and then moved into screenwriting, winning a contest and learning how to adapt Blackbirds to the screen in order to fix it and then turn it into a proper novel.
- From there, Blackbirds got published, Chuck had an Emmy nomination, his screenwriting thing took off, so did the novels and the blog. Now the novels are the main income stream which has developed in the last year. He has 5 novels, a stack of books on writing and 7 books due in the next 2 years. It's a busy time!
On writing horror and dark & twisty things
- On writing horror and also being psychologically healthy. I keep coming back to this subject as my own writing is getting darker. Writers address things that everyone is scared of, and everyone is scared of something. Figure out what your characters are afraid of and then confront them with that. As readers, we associate with the protagonist, so we're asking the audience to confront their fears.
- On self-censoring and being afraid of what people might say, of how they might judge. Chuck has some YA books coming out and there is a discussion of using a pseudonym. Write what you want and beta readers, editors etc will help you with what might be just over the edge of acceptable.
Tips for creating memorable characters
- The character has to be active and interesting. Don't have passive characters and don't use the ‘everyman' vibe which is mostly boring.
- The character has to have a ‘save the cat' moment – we have to see their motivations and their ethos, wants, desires in action that drives us to know their story.
- In Blackbirds & Mockingbird, Miriam Black can see people's deaths, when and how, when she touches their skin. She thinks she can't change this fate so she lives off other people's deaths, until she meets someone who makes her question whether she can change things.
- On gender and writing violent, dark characters. Miriam Black is a hard-core character, kick-ass and pretty nasty. Chuck gets two main complaints – his use of profanity, and the other thing is that he is a man writing a dark female character. Yes, she has a masculine side but she is just a hard woman. [Personally, I love the character and the fact she is a woman.]
Writing metaphor and description
- I think Chuck's writing is literary, in terms of the language being beautiful, evocative and original. As an example on his blog, check out The Battlesong of the Storyteller.
- A metaphor is combining two unrelated things that draw the reader in visually, emotionally and psychologically. Metaphors are fingerprints that tell you more about the writer than anything. It's a peek into the author's weird brain. Chuck mentions Joe Lansdale as an example of a writer who does this very well. Chuck tells a story about when he was younger and didn't realize his eyesight was so bad. He stalked what he thought was a wounded bird, but it was a rock. It's about seeing things differently.
- Here's 25 things you should know about metaphor – from Chuck's blog [language warning]
How to turn a terrible novel into something amazing
- Learning how to outline transformed Chuck's novel-writing life. It helped him change Blackbirds into a novel with a coherent plot and the book has gone on to enjoy great success.
- Writing a screenplay helped him learn about language. The description bars need to be evocative without being pages long. The dialogue needs to crackle. It needs to include interesting visuals and hooks. Applying that back into the novel is what gives it the edge.
The hybrid author. Combining traditional with indie publishing.
- Diversity is the best way to survive, so spreading your creative projects is advisable so you aren't dependent on one thing. Trad and indie publishing can also support each other and opportunities arise because of the different routes. Chuck's Kickstarter success for some indie books have led to a deal with Amazon for YA books. On the other hand, Blackbirds & Mockingbird as traditionally published books have brought some amazing opportunities in terms of reach, reviews, possible TV/film deals based on them getting copies of the book, foreign rights, graphic opportunities. The two sides work together. They don't need to compete.
On blogging and twitter
- Chuck talks about how he thinks the blog possibly helps his fiction but he has no proof of this. Publishers are certainly happy about the ‘platform' or audience numbers. He can track people's links to his buy buttons on the right hand side and people do click through. But blogging is an up and down thing, but overall an up because Chuck is still blogging.
- On productivity. Chuck gets up around 6am and writes until he is done – 2000-3000 words per day, although sometimes significantly more than that. Then he does admin, emails, marketing stuff. But he writes fiction every day as this is his business and income model.
- Around a year ago, a whole load of things happened at once for Chuck, as if critical mass had tipped and lots of people discovered him. He says that Twitter is underestimated by many authors. It is a phenomenal way to connect with people. See Chuck's interview with Margaret Atwood. Writing helps you reach an audience with ripples, but twitter helps you throw out more pebbles (which make more ripples!)
- There is no single way for the writer's path. So take pieces of information from everyone but remember none of it is gospel.
I'm not usually a horror reader, but I devoured Blackbirds and Mockingbird, and I totally recommend them both, as well as Chuck's books on writing. Warning: adult language and content.
Here's my review for Mockingbird (5 stars on Amazon.co.uk)
“Chuck Wendig can seriously write a great metaphor – his language is stunning and original and I'm always re-reading lines to try and fathom the layers. This is definitely horror with a suitably violent and nasty serial killer hunting young girls, mutilating and murdering them. Miriam Black, with her visions of how people die, tries to change the fates of the girls she meets by hunting down the killers. But is her gift, or curse, beginning to twist her mind into madness? It's hard to tell as Miriam is one crazy chick, but a brilliant character. There's kick-ass action scenes as well as psychological weirdness. Highly recommended, but don't read last thing at night … “
Transcript of Interview with Chuck Wendig
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today, I'm really excited because I'm here with Chuck Wendig, who many of you know. Hi, Chuck.
Chuck: Hi. How are you?
Joanna: I'm good. For those people who haven't met Chuck before, Chuck is a novelist, a screenwriter, a game designer. He's also the author of Blackbirds, Mockingbird and Double Dead, as well of a host of e-books on writing, and he has a brilliant blog on TerribleMinds.com. So Chuck, I've been following you, I guess, probably about a year now, I think.
Chuck: Well, thank you.
Joanna: Yeah, about a year. It seems like you've done so much.
Can you give us a brief overview of your creative journey?
Chuck: Brief? That's a hard one. I had my first short story published when I was 18, so that was 18 years ago, which is totally terrifying to me right now. I think I just had heart palpitation; 18 years. I had that published and I always thought I'd be a novelist, and it turns out that I wrote horrible novels. There were five or six very bad novels including one called Blackbirds that was unfinished and terrible at that time. Building up to that point, I worked in the game industry also, to sort of whet my writing stone a little bit.
From there, I went to a screenwriting thing. I won a screenwriting contest competition which was a cheat for me. Then I was trying to learn how to adapt my own horrible piece of crap novel, Blackbirds, to the screen to fix it, and then transition it back to a novel. That worked. I won the contest. I got the mentorship. I did learn how to turn Blackbirds into a proper novel, and part of the secret there was outlining. Apparently, I need to outline, if I'm going to actually write books. From there, I got Blackbirds published, and Double Dead was in the process.
Then I had this blog and writing books, and I work in Transmedia. There was an Emmy nomination at one point, which is very exciting for a project called Collapsus. The screenwriting thing took off. I went to the Sundance Screenwriter's Lab with my writing partner Lance Weiler.
I've been doing a lot, really. In fact, now that I'm saying it all out, I might need a nap.
Joanna: What are you now then? What comes first?
When people say, “What are you,” what do you say? Is it author? Is it screenwriter?
Chuck: I just go with writer, or the occasionally cheeky penmonkey. It's just because I write so much. I mean if I have to put something front and center, novels are where it's at, just because they're paying the bills right now more than anything else. For a while, it was freelance game and work that was paying the bills.
Somewhere in the last year, I developed for myself a career in novel writing. I have four books out now, I guess — Blackbirds, Mockingbird, Double Dead, Dinocalypse Now. Then actually Bait Dog, which is a sub-published thing. I have another seven books I do in the next two years, so I'm on fire. I mean literally, I'm actually on fire in a good way.
Joanna: I can see that. We're going to come back to your productivity in a minute. But first, I want to talk about Blackbirds and Mockingbird because I'm not a horror reader, but I downloaded a sample. I love your style of writing. Anyone should have a look at your blog, at least. When I read Blackbirds, I was captivated by Miriam Black. You wrote this awesome woman. She's nasty and kick-ass. There's so much there.
First of all, where does this dark and twisty stuff come from, do you think? What draws you to the horror style?
Chuck: I don't know, but I've always been that way. I've always been kind of a weird kid. When I was kid, one of the first things I drew was this, and I don't know why. I don't even know, first of all, who let me watch Aliens, the movie Aliens, as a young child. But they did. I was horrified, but at the same time, completely compelled by the horror.
I actually wanted to be a cartoonist very early on. One of the first comic book/cartoons I drew was this weird, buddy-up adventure with Pac-Man and the Xenomorphs from Aliens. It's like the worst and stupidest mash up in the history of mash ups. It was dark and strange. I don't mean like really grim, but just odd.
I was always attracted to that stuff and I read a lot of horror as a kid. I tend to lean toward darker stuff. I like lighter stuff, too. I think there's value to that type of thing. Some of it just comes from the fact that in terms of narrative conflict really comes best when it's maybe from a darker place.
Joanna: Particularly, Mockingbird goes much darker, I think.
Chuck: In some ways, yeah, it really does. Mockingbird is probably a little more horror than Blackbirds is. Blackbirds has a crime-y-er feel but with a serial killer vibe. Mockingbird definitely gets that Silence of the Lamb-y tweak to it. I was actually re-reading Blackbirds as I was writing Mockingbird. I was really disturbed by myself. I was like, “What is wrong with me? I should actually probably see help, some serious, serious help.”
Joanna: There's so many things I want to ask you, but I want to deal with that right now. My husband is one of my first readers. He said he was reading one of my latest drafts, and I've got some ritual, sex, murder, ancient Egyptian tomb. He's like, “Where did this come from?” I'm like, “Well, I don't really know, but is it all right?”
Can you help us, those of us who are quite nice people like you and I, but have these dark things? Is it okay? Are we psychologically okay?
Chuck: I think it has to be because first of all, people read this stuff and other people write stuff. In fact actually, some of the indie author communities, some of the nicest people have been the horror authors, which is either A, because they're purging it. It's like an infection. They purge all that stuff, and now they're just all lightened up like unicorns. Or it's a ruse and they're planning on killing us, and it's getting us a lot. It's just that stuff's fake. They're like sociopaths. I'm hoping it's the former because I feel like I'm not a sociopath, but time will tell.
Joanna: Is it that as writers we can address things that everybody's scared of in that way?
Chuck: I think every novel and every story is, in its core, a horror story. Not in the squeaky, gore soaked, viscera laden sense, but in the fact that we're all scared of something. One of those key things they tell you about characters is to figure out what they're afraid of, and then often make them confront their fears. Then by proxy because the character, the protagonist is something we are meant to associate with in a deeper way and by proxy, we're really asking the audience to confront fears, which is ultimately, the goal of horror. But then it becomes the goal of all storytelling.
Joanna: Absolutely. Miriam Black, I find, is incredibly memorable.
I know you have a post on creating memorable characters, but I wondered if you would just give us some of your two top tips for how do we make such a memorable and original character.
Chuck: Two top tips for memorable and original characters. One, this sounds stupid, but they have to be interesting. They have to be active and interesting. They have to do stuff. You often find a trend sometimes where characters are very passive. I did this very early on, try to capture an everyman vibe because we're told that the everyman vibe, everyone can relate to. But ultimately, the everyman vibe just isn't that interesting. You can make it interesting, but you have to be very good to be able to turn that lead into gold. When you look at a character like House from the TV show House, he's an erasable, horrible person and yet, there's something in there that makes it a compelling character.
There's a tip. Actually, I cite this tip. This is not my tip. This is a tip from a book called Save the Cat, which is very early on, the character needs to have a Save the Cat moment, so we could get behind them. I don't necessarily think it needs to be a Save the Cat moment in that we're getting behind them as a good person, but I think we do need to see some of their own ethos and wants and desires and fears in action, in a cool way, that really drives us to another story.
Joanna: That's really good. Miriam is really interesting.
For people who don't know, she touches people and she can see their death, right?
Chuck: Right. Yeah, she can see how they're going to die, but when and how, not where. That complicates her life a little bit and it makes her feel really twisted because it happens early on. It happens as a teenager that she develops this. She runs away, and she's on the road for a couple of years before the book begins. She believes she can't change it. That's sort of the crux of Blackbirds is that she thinks fate has pretty much screwed her. It screwed the pooch, totally. She thinks she can't change it, so that leads her to live a life as a vulture. She picks the bones of the dead, so to speak. Takes their wallets, keys, watches, calculator watches, shiny awesome calculator watches, whatever she can do.
She meets a person who she responds to. He's a character named Louis, who is possibly the only nice character in the whole book. I mean, like genuinely a nice guy, only nice person in the book. Everyone else is awful, by some degree. She learns that he's going to die and then the question becomes, “Is she somehow complicit in his death, and then is there a way to change it?” So once again, she takes on the battle of fate versus freewill.
Joanna: It's excellent. You're a man, right? I get this.
Chuck: I am not told that. I'm told to accept it, every once in a while.
Joanna: I think I get these comments just because I'm a girl, but I get people who say, “You're a woman. How can you write these types of violent things?”
You're a man, you've written a female protagonist, who is really, really violent. Do you ever get any comments on the gender stuff?
Chuck: That's probably one of the biggest complaints I have. Any time I see a bad review, I can usually be sure that the bad review's going to talk about one of two things. One, that I have a foul, foul mouth. The book is sodden with vulgarity. Again, I rewrite it again. I'm like, “My editor didn't take any of these out.”
The second thing is about that I'm a man writing a female character and that it feels like she's a dude. I'll admit to that. There's a male component to her. She's a very tough survivalist type character. That being said, I don't think that she is an unreal female protagonist. I've known people like Miriam. I have met Miriam in some guise among multiple people. She's a character drawn from real humans, real female humans.
So I don't think it's impossible with someone like that is a girl or a woman, but it was tricky, as far as criticism, to how do you respond to that. Every once in a while, you get the criticism or I get the criticism, that men should not write women at all. It's an impossible criticism because am I supposed to just write books about white, middle class dudes?
Joanna: Yeah, that's ridiculous. I really like the fact that Miriam is a woman because I'm totally with you. I think women are as dark and twisty or possibly more dark and twisty than men.
Chuck: Sure. Yeah. Right? That's the hope. I don't really ascribe to the theory that women are one thing.
Joanna: Yeah, I know. Nobody's one thing.
Chuck: Miriam, she has been on the road for six years. I just heard one review that's, “How does she know how to fight?” I'm like, “First of all, do I need a whole book to put it out how she learned to fight? Is that a thing?” She's been on the road for six years and it's not like she's some Kung-Fu master. She's a dirty, sand in eyes, stab you with a bottle type of fighter. There's no finesse.
Joanna: I want to get deeper into the bravery side then, because I do find myself self-censoring things. Like you, I have a bit of an internet presence now. I'm out there and people know who I am, so I'm starting to write things under another name that people don't know because I'm afraid. I'm actually afraid, so I'm wanting to bring that to you.
For people who are afraid of sharing honestly, what do you say to them?
Chuck: Sharing honestly, in terms of…
Joanna: Really what's in your head.
Chuck: Not fiction. You're talking about real life stuff.
Joanna: No, no. I mean fiction. Writing fiction that's scary and wrong in some way, and that people will attack you for.
Chuck: I can't say it's only the bad idea. I do have a series of young adult novels coming out with Amazon Children's Publishing, and there is the occasional discussion of whether or not I'll go with a pseudonym. It will be a known pseudonym, not hide it. People know what the books are, that I'm the guy behind them, but just to not confuse teenagers who become the one book and they are like, “Well, Blackbirds is probably also young adults.” Totally not young adults.
Of course, on the other side, I read stuff like that when I was a teenager and I turned out just fine. So I don't know. You do it and then if it's too dark, someone will tell you that. There's beta readers, there's editors, there's agents. Someone's going to step in and say, “Well, maybe this is a little too edgy.” There were one or two things in Blackbirds. They were very small things, but they were just a hair over the edge that we pulled back on.
Joanna: Really? I'm amazed.
Chuck: Yeah, believe it or not. There was an ending to Mockingbird that I pulled back on. I won't share that because it's a grim secret, but it was a dark, dark ending. It's a dark ending.
Joanna: It's good to hear that, actually. Let's get back into your writing style.
Although you're in the horror genre, I think that your writing could be classed as literary. What do you think about that?
Chuck: I have a literary background. I studied English. I adore certain literary voices. I'm not opposed of that distinction. I don't mind being in a genre sense with a literary vibe to it. I think language is really cool. I like to play with language and get into the nitty-gritty of the narrative theme and mood, and all those little flibbertigibbets. So sure, I'll take it.
It was Stephen Blackmoore, fellow author, great author. He has a book called Dead Things coming up, which is great. He said something like some of the work in Blackbirds and Mockingbird sounds like poetry. I was like, “That's interesting.” I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I'll take it.
Joanna: I find your writing…it's beautiful. You had a post today on your blog, The Battle Song of the Storyteller.
Chuck: I do that once a year during November, some kind of crazy, insane, call to action. Those posts are where I uncork the bottle and I let whatever pours out. I just write insane stuff on those posts.
Joanna: It's a great post, and it's full of examples of your descriptive writing and your metaphor.
I wanted to ask you about that because you come up with some things that are really tangential. Do you have a process for that? How do you think you come up with that stuff?
Chuck: I don't know. Metaphor's weird. Metaphor is you're purposefully trying to combine two things that don't belong together. You can't combine two things that look alike. It doesn't make any sense. You can't say, “The deer looked like a moose.” It's stupid. It's meaningless. It has to be something. The way it moved has to be unusual and has to draw the reader in, in an interesting way, visually and emotionally and almost psychologically to a point. What you're doing is as an author, you're imprinting. I think metaphors are like fingerprints. They tell you more about how the author's mind works than a lot of things that are contained…character and everything does, plot everything in the story. The general construction of a sentence does not tell you necessarily how a writer's mind works, but metaphor is like a little peek, a pinhole for the door into the author's weird, weird brain.
There are some authors who do that very well. Joe Lansdale, his sentences are great and bizarre metaphor. They work. I don't mean bizarre in a non-functional way. If they're too bizarre, they fall off the cliff and die in the ocean somewhere, so they really have to be right and weird at the same time. I don't know how I think it up. It's just part of me just thinking visually, just taking a walk and taking photos and just seeing what things look like in an unexpected way.
There was a very brief story. When I was a kid, I did not wear glasses, and I did not know that my eyes were complete turds in my face, just useless pieces of crap stuck in my head. I was outside one day and I saw a bird, a pheasant. I was like, “It's not moving, so it's clearly wounded.” I'm like, “I'm going to go,” and I sneak up on this bird. I'm going to see what it is and I'll grab it. I don't know why I was going to grab the bird…what I was going to do with it. Choke it. I have no idea what my goal was. So as I crept up on the bird and I literally got within two feet and I realize, it's really just a rock because I had bad vision, horrible vision. But that was telling for me also in a metaphorical sense in that the rock looked like a bird, and it was just…you don't usually think rocks and birds are associated together, but there was a telling moment in that little broken eyed boy.
Joanna: I like that. That is kind of seeing things differently.
Chuck: Yeah. Maybe what I'm trying to tell people is mess up your eyes. You take off your glasses.
Joanna: I wear contact lenses. I'm completely blind. Well, not completely.
You said that you take photos and things. Do you carry a notebook and write stuff down as you see good metaphors in display?
Chuck: I don't, generally. I have my phone on me most of the time, as a modern techno whore. I can't leave my phone anywhere, so I will, if I need to take an audio note that sounds cool. But generally speaking, when I see something in the moment, it's rare that that's the type of thing that's ever going to come back. Like, “I need to talk about this tree.” No one else is going to get it. But what it does do…if we're to assume that this thing, this creative thing that we do is a muscle in some way, that I think exercising that muscle with metaphors, that is itself a metaphor, is useful and will continue to help you do it as you go.
Joanna: In the beginning, you said that Blackbirds has been around for ages. It was terrible and you re-wrote it. You did a script and then it's back to a novel.
Is some of this language stuff the reason it's become better or is it a completely different story? How did you take it from crap to being so brilliant?
Chuck: There were two things. First of all was learning to outline. I am a pantser by heart and a plotter by necessity. I would love to just be able to like, “I'm just going to write.” That was always my dream and I was always like, “You can't oppress me with your outlines.” When the mentor, the screenwriting mentor, Stephen Susco, who wrote both The Grudge films and Jack Ketchum's Red adaptation. He said, “You have to outline.” I said, “No, I don't do it. I'm sorry. Maybe you come from the screenwriting world, but I come from novel land, where we all do our happy artistic muse dance.” I'm like, “I'll do a ritual in the woods and it'll all just come to me.” He's like, “No, you're going to outline.” So I outlined grudgingly and painfully with gnawing my nails to the quick. It turns out that totally worked because what I didn't have with the story was a plot that made sense that can hang anything on. I was able to outline it and turn it into a screenplay.
The screenplay taught me a lot about language. I'm not talking about a shooting script, but like a spec script. It's a script that's still meant to be read. Even though it's a blueprint, the script as itself, kind of a bare bones outline that's meant to be translated to another form. It still has to be a compelling read. The dialogue starts to crackle. Those description bars need to be evocative without being pages long. You can't sit there and take a half page to describe something. You just can't because each page is a minute of screen time, so the more you do that, the more you lose.
He taught me well. You really need to be sharp and short with your language, but also still throwing interesting visuals and interesting little hooks that compel the eye and compel the mind. So I translated that back to the novel writing process and said, “I'm going to take that ethos with language and make it a short, sharp, shock of language, but still little visual jazz hands, if possible.”
Joanna: The other thing that I find really interesting about you is you are an example of the hybrid author, who is combining traditional publishing with indie publishing.
Do you think that's the best way that people can do it? What do you reckon about this whole indie trad thing?
Chuck: The reason that I think it's the best way is because I do it. Now, that's horrible logic. Do whatever I do. No, don't.
The reason I think it's a good idea is because diversity is a really powerful thing. I mean nature diversity, that's the thing. It's how species survive. If you have a lawn that's all one grass seed, and that grass gets hit by a drought that affects it or some sort of pest or parasite, then your lawn is all dead. People look at our lawn. We live in the woods and people look at our lawn. They're like, “It's green. It's so lush and beautiful.” But if you get close, it's actually all weeds. Our lawn is just a weed bed, but it's kept short and mowed short. In the worst droughts, it's emerald green. Part of that is because diversity allows it to survive, so if one weed dies, there's still a whole filthy nest of other weeds waiting to take over the territory.
What you get with traditional and “indie publishing” is you get these two sides of things that if one should fail, the other is there to support you. They also feed off each other. There were points at which some people were questioning maybe if I shouldn't do the one thing and shouldn't do the indie side or should focus on the other side, but the opportunities that have been afforded by both could not exist, unless I did both.
Having my young adult novel get published with Amazon and with what was a deal that was frankly very good for me was in part was lent off the fact that I had two kickstarters that I was part of. One was my young adult series, Atlanta Burns, Bait Dog. The other one was a middle grade-y young adult, at least in terms of tone and subject matter, pulp novel called Dinocalypse Now for the Spirit of the Century role playing game. Both these things lent themselves up to it.
Yet on the other hand, the experiences that I've had with Blackbirds and Mockingbird, I could've never had had I self-published them. I'm not only talking about just sales numbers. People will talk about it as pure sales numbers. That's what we often get with the indie community. It runs like, “You do so much sales and you control the thing, you get 70%. That's the best thing ever.” It is, at a very basic math level, but what it doesn't tell you is that there's things that you don't get with self-publishing. You don't get great reviews. You don't get your book in unexpected hands.
I got to pitch to incredibly awesome people at film companies out in LA because they've got a copy of Blackbirds. It just happened. They just got it. I had another company, a comics company, talk to me. Just things like Blackbirds falls into people's hands. I've had foreign rights sold in multiple places. All these things build on top of each other, and yet Blackbirds also gets attention from the indie side. What they do is they work together. There's no competition. I don't know why people feel the need that these two things need to compete. They can work very well together, and perhaps, probably it should.
Joanna: I'm with you. That's my aim, too. On that, I saw Mockingbird, I think, reviewed in The Guardian in Britain. That's one of the most highbrow papers in the country. Maybe it was Blackbirds.
Chuck: I think Blackbirds was. Maybe it was. I think it was. Yeah.
Joanna: When I saw it, I was like, “Wow. That's amazing.”
They only review about five books a week, and you made it. I was like, “There's no way that would happen with an indie book.”
Chuck: Yeah. No, indie books are held at arms' length. Sadly so because I think there's a really awesome number of incredible indie books out there that would just never get the attention they deserve. That's the other myth, too. There's a lot of the indie proselytes will tell you that, “You just write the greatest book you write, and it's the greatest cover.” Because it's indie, it's just going to float to the top and cream floats. But it doesn't, though. In fact, a lot of the really bad stuff floats and a lot of the really great stuff sinks. True in traditional publishing as well, so I don't mean it. It's not indie's fault. Indie is not a solution in and of itself.
Joanna: No, I agree. Just in terms of other things, you blog a lot as well. You blog almost every day.
Chuck: Yeah, Monday through Friday.
Joanna: Yeah, so you blog a lot and a lot of people would say, “Stop blogging. Keep writing.” I heard of you through blogging, and I'm sure a lot of people have.
How is your blog fitted in with your fiction? Because you seem to do both.
Chuck: I have no proof that it helps. I think it helps. I have met a number of people who have found me obviously, via the blog, and have a very big audience, both on Twitter and the blog. At this point, over the last year that for some reason, people feel the need to actually listen to the crap that I say online. What's wrong with you people?
I think it helps. I feel like my sales are strong. Both in terms of publishers and editors and stuff, I think they're pleased that I have the platform, which I don't consider a platform so much, as just an audience. I think an audience is really what you're looking for. I think it works, but I also don't have any numbers. I can't say, “I get this X number of people on my blog and this percentage of them has bought my book.” I had no idea, but I do see every day that I have my links on the side. My Blackbirds, Mockingbird, and all my writing book links on the side. They do see that people are clicking out to these fairly frequently. Fingers crossed, it has some effect.
Joanna: You enjoy it, right?
Chuck: The blogging? On and off. Every once in a while, it's a little frustrating, not because of anything anyone does, just because it is time consuming. I had to take time on the weekends to do it because my writing schedule for the week doesn't really afford that. There are sometimes I'm like, “Maybe I should stop doing this.” Then I find some reason that I want to blog again, and then I love it again.
Joanna: You mentioned your writing schedule there. You seem to be incredibly prolific.
I love the way you talk about working pods. Can you tell us a bit about that? What are any tips for productivity? What does your week look like?
Chuck: I tend to wake up usually around 6 in the morning and I will write until I am done, which generally means 2000 to 3000 words a day. Every once in a while, I'll do significantly more than that, but I don't force myself to do that. There's no gun to my head, which will be really weird if I held gun to my own head. I write that and hit that mark, and then I cool down and whatever happens in the middle of the day, lunch and whatever. Pornography? I don't know. Whatever happens in the middle of your day.
Then from there, I tend to do editing in the afternoon, or other administrative stuff like answer whatever e-mails have piled up over my head, which are usually in the hundreds and often not useful. E-mail feels like drowning. I'm just telling you that right now. There needs to be a more efficient e-mail. I don't mean like e-mail needs to go away and there needs to be something more effective in its place.
Joanna: Like Twitter.
Chuck: Like Twitter. If we could all just tweet at each other, it'll be so much more effective. Force me to conform to 140 characters, that'd be great.
Joanna: So you basically do write everyday on fiction.
Chuck: Yeah, especially because right now that's what I have to do. I say that in a good way like it's great that I have to do that. I literally have seven novels on track. I have to write. People are making me write, which is great. Because it means I'm going to be fed. My family will be clothed, and we'll have mortgage payments paid, roof over our head for the next two years.
Joanna: That's brilliant. I just have one more question, and I don't know whether you can answer it. You've mentioned several times that about a year ago, something happened. Things took off. Your blog took off. The books took off.
Do you know what happened? Was it critical mass? What do you think was the crux of things?
Chuck: I feel like it was critical mass. I had just a bunch of stuff happen — Double Dead and Blackbirds. I had already come off to Sundance Screenwriting Lab. It was just like the blog was starting to really do very well in terms of people reading it and communicating it to each other, and then Twitter.
Twitter is a big thing that happened. I think some authors underestimate Twitter, some don't. Obviously, many don't. But Twitter is phenomenal. I am talking to people I should never be allowed to talk to, but on Twitter, I can. The fact that I was able to interview Margaret Atwood at Terrible Minds is absurd.
Chuck: I even told her, “This can only hurt you and help me. It will not increase your profile, in any way, shape or form. You're already good to go. You do not need to do this.” She was still very kind enough to do it. She retweets the blog every once in a while. I meet these great authors. They are just funny, phenomenal people, proving that writers are actually fairly nice, generally speaking. Sometimes, they're total dick bags. But generally speaking, they're very nice.
Twitter has been a huge thing. I always say, “Sometimes, writing is like feeling you're in the middle of a lake and your audience is on the shore. You're just trying to reach them with ripples.” Twitter is a great way to throw as many pebbles as you can. It doesn't even take a big audience in Twitter to reach a big audience, because there's always someone out there that has that. Twitter's definitely a very big thing. Not Facebook, not Google Plus. I think now, it's a boneyard. Google Plus is a boneyard. I think they're burying digital corpses in Google, sadly.
Joanna: We should remind everyone, that at the beginning, you said it's been 18 years.
Chuck: This is not a fast process. No. This is like a one foot in front of the other, very long process. I don't think it will always take everyone 18 years. Every writer is a totally different animal. Getting into the heart of the publishing mountain is every writer digs his own tunnel and detonates it behind them. I can't tell you how many different stories you hear as to how people do that. My experiences getting an agent, my experiences getting published are going to be wildly different from how everyone else does it or did it.
That's where writing advice and talking about the blog and all that stuff is useful, in the sense that it's interesting and you may find things that are valuable to you. Certainly, any pieces of information you glean from these places, you should use and feel great about. But ultimately, none of it is gospel, and there's nothing that you should read that says, “This is my new bible and I'm going to follow it, pound for pound, line for line.” Because it probably won't work. Got to find a way.
Joanna: Fantastic. Where can people find you and your books online?
Chuck: The best place to start is at my other website, which is www.TerribleMinds.com. Then on Twitter, which is first name, last name. ChuckWendig. C-H-U-C-K W-E-N-D-I-G. Not Wending, because people misspell it that way, or Winding…I tend to be Wendigo, if you feel like I should be a native American spirit who will eat your frozen heart.
My books are available obviously, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and hopefully, your favorite indie book seller and library and Walmart and Target and airport. Not really. They're not available in those places.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks ever so much for your time, Chuck. That was great.
Chuck: Thanks very much for having me.
Shaquanda Dalton says
I would love to be a hybrid author and I love the idea of goal setting. I think my peek is midday for writing because I’m not too sleepy or too tired. Then again anytime to write is a good time.
Love the interview and I agree that outlining a book helps a lot when writing because it helps destroy writers’ block. Hey, when you know what to write, you know what to write.
Thanks for sharing Chuck and Joanna 🙂
Mark T says
We’ve teouched base before via ALLi but just wanted to say a quick thank you so much for the writing tips in your blog. They are really helping me a lot as I work on writing my first book. Reading about your own personal journey has also been real inspiring. Hope to connect with you soon!
Gary A. Swaby says
I love Chucks writing so was looking forward to this interview, and you guys didn’t disappoint. Joanna asked Chuck all the right questions, and Chuck had great answers. What i love about Chuck is that he’s not afraid to hold back with the wit and profanity, and his personality is perfectly contrasted within his writing.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Gary – it was a fun interview 🙂
Loved the interview – Chuck gave an interesting and erudite interview. For me the most resonant part was his thoughts on what you learn from writing a screenplay (as opposed to writing a novel).
Writing a story in screenplay format is a great exercise that everyone should try – it forces you to really strip back and focus on story. And everything has to drive the story forward…you don’t have to worry about details of stained glass windows and 16th century religious architectural terms (though you’d probably geek out on that 😉 ) – instead you can write:
EXT – RUN DOWN CHURCH
Very liberating in many ways.
Great interview….keep knocking them out!
PS – do you follow David Siteman Garland? (Rise To The Top)
Joanna Penn says
Hi JJ, although I like recording video, I don’t consume much of it at all 🙂 so I know of DSG but don’t watch his vids.
Joanna Penn says
My interest in writing a screenplay has definitely risen again too 🙂