Interview with Chuck Wendig

Back when I ran my first Kickstarter, Chuck Wendig was kind enough to interview me for his blog. Since he’s running his own Kickstarter now — and I’m running another one myself — I figured it was time to return the favor. 

Much like myself, Chuck started out working in the tabletop gaming industry — he was a developer for White Wolf, among other things — but he’s since become one hell of a fiction writer too. He may be best known these days for his blog, on which he dispenses inspiring writing advice shot through with creative profanity, but his novels prove that he knows a lot more about writing fiction than just how to talk about it. I had the chance to read his upcoming Blackbirds, which is being published by Angry Robot in April, and it’s fantastic. 

Your blog is named Terribleminds. What’s that about?

The name, or the blog?

Doesn’t matter; I can answer both in a single answer. Like Superman.

I procured the URL over a decade ago and my initial thought was to do this online zine bullshit writer’s community hoo-hah, but somewhere along the way I decided, “That’s going to be a lot of work.” Then I took a nap. When I awoke I decided it would be better instead to just keep the site as my own personal babble-space.

So, the name terribleminds comes out of that notion where the site would allow an unholy host of terrible-minded writer-types to gather. Which, in a sense, it has become over these many glacial epochs. Prophecy, fulfilled!

How many years did it take for you to become the overnight success you are today?

Let’s see. I’m just about to turn 36. And I had my first short story published when I was 18 (a story called “Bourbon Street Lullaby” in a magazine called Not One of Us). So, it took me eighteen years. Provided my meager math skills are functioning correctly.

In other news: hey, holy crap, I’m getting older. Whee!

You publish your own stuff, write original books, and write tie-ins too, as well as write for games and film. How do all these fit into your genius plans to dominate the storytelling world?

Thing is, I have no genius plan. I mostly just rove drunkenly between whatever opportunity I can conjure up – it goes well with a phrase I use semi-often: “Painting with shotguns.” That’s basically what I’m doing. The key is – as you well know, as a many-headed penmonkey yourself – diversity of work. Tell as many stories across as many platforms as possible. Try not to fall down and die in the process.

As a sidenote, I just read a study that said most writers earn an average of $9000 a year. Which is, to me, insane. I can’t even imagine living on that. I hope some data is missing, there. [My suspicion is that counts part-timers, which spikes the average down.]

You recently launched a Kickstarter drive for your readers to encourage you to write a number of novels based on your Atlanta Burns character from your Shotgun Gravy novella. Tell us about Atlanta and why you chose her for this.

Both the names “Atlanta Burns” and “Shotgun Gravy” were kicking around my head for a couple of years. I had no idea what to do with them and, for some reason, refused to think that somehow they went together.

Then came a time when my head started orbiting the sadly real-life problem of bullies and gay suicide and the “It Gets Better” online phenomenon and a story started bubbling to the surface. I started to think: “Well, sure, those videos are great, but teens have a hard time seeing past the day in which they’re living. That’s why they drive fast and act stupid, because they don’t see the potential in the future. So, telling them it gets better is only so useful – you have to imagine that at some point a teenager is going to decide to try to make it better now.

But, of course, my brain is twisted, so “making it better now” suddenly became this story of a teen going up against bullies with a shotgun and making a right mess of things.

Somehow, the names “Atlanta Burns” and “Shotgun Gravy” just clicked with that concept, and here we are.

The original plan was admittedly to do a series of novellas, but the story for the next in the series, Bait Dog, got bigger and bigger in my head to the point where it seemed to deserve more room on the page. So now it’s novel-shaped, instead!

How do you like Kickstarter? Do you see yourself doing more projects using it?

Man, I love Kickstarter. It energizes your fans, it bolsters your work, it allows for a system that is equal parts “pre-order” and “artist patronage.” I totally intend to use it again.

You became a new father last year. How’s that affected your writing?

Ha ha ha ha! Hah! Hee. Hah. Haw.

*slams another glass of Basil Hayden’s*

It has been wondrous and maddening all in the same space. On the one hand, it gives me further impetus to do what I do. Now I’ve a kid with a mouth to feed and a head to cram full of crazy stories. On the other hand, as it turns out, you can’t just put a baby in a terrarium.

I mean, you can, but you probably shouldn’t.

They require attention! And writing requires concentration. Babies, I’ve posited, are the opposite of writers: chaos to the writer’s need for order.

So, it’s awesome in the truest sense of that word.

We both write novels for Angry Robot, and your first — Blackbirds — comes out this spring. It’s the first in a series of stories about Miriam Black. Tell us what’s special about her and why that speaks to you so much you decided to devote so many excellent words to tell her story.

Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die. She touches you and that’s it. She sees your death play out in her mind like a little mini-movie. Miriam’s story speaks to a very old theme of fate versus free will, but in an… erm, classically Wendigo-style. (Violence and profanity with a core of sweetness and sadness buried within.)

Her story comes out of my own life, in dealing with the deaths of many family members — and, further, suddenly realizing that uh-oh, I’m also going to die someday.

How did your work as a game developer train you to become the writer you are today?

I learned a lot about writing from doing game design, RPG scenarios, game-related fiction. I had some great developers in the game world. And some pretty shitty ones. Both taught me a lot about writing in terms of positive and negative lessons to takeaway.

With games, I mostly learned how important it is to appease an audience and to give them something they don’t expect. A lot of fiction is rote. I don’t want to write rote fiction.

You’re editing an anthology based on the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG? How does that editor’s cap fit you?

I’ve done development before (I developed the entire Hunter: The Vigil gameline, for instance). I love to do it. Love to foster writers. Love to teach inside the fabric of a draft.

But it’s tricky because editing and development time takes away from writing time, and more and more that’s becoming a no-no. I’ve devoted 2012 to being more generative as a writer, and so that means in the future I’m unlikely to take editorial work unless it’s something really special.

Now, that being said, the DRYH anthology is something special, and has some stories that made my jaw drop. (Including yours, if I may say.) We’ve got great writers on-board. LA Gilman, Harry Connolly, Stephen Blackmoore, Rich Dansky. And some unexpected stuff, too. Both Will Hindmarch and Josh Roby turned in stories that sucker-punched me outta nowhere.

You hand out a lot of writing advice on your blog, and you’ve collected much of that into three ebooks with 1,250 tips in total. Which are your three favorite bits?

It’s like asking me to choose my favorite children. Out of 1,250 children.

Which is how many children you have, I’ve heard!


If anything, three lessons pop up again and again:

First, finish your shit. Completo el poopo.

Second, we do not “have” time, but rather, we make it.

Third, read your work aloud.

If anybody takes anything away from the constant barrage of nonsense I barf up at terribleminds, those three are probably good ones.