Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview with Chuck Wendig, Texas Ranger

Today, I'm very excited to welcome novelist Chuck Wendig to The Corner. I first stumbled across Chuck's blog, Terrible Minds, about a year ago, and I quickly discovered why it's frequently cited as one of the best sites for writers. Every week, he slings solid, get-your-hands-dirty writing advice, and if you're a writer, you need to make yourself familiar with his work, post haste. After you read this, of course.

His first novel, Double Dead, was published last month. It's a fantastic story about a vampire named Coburn who wakes up after a long coma only to discover that a zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of humanity -- and, as such, most of Coburn's food supply. It's funny, scary, and action-packed -- one of the best books I've read this year. There's a scene set inside a Wal-Mart that alone is worth the price of admission. 

I am a loyal reader of his blog, and you should be too. But I wanted to know MORE, MORE about this very fine writer, and so I put my interview hat on. If you're at all familiar with Terrible Minds, you know Chuck is one prolific little writer, and I thank him for carving out some time for this interview. Below is the result of our exchange -- my questions are in bold. Enjoy. 

1. I always enjoy reading about the different paths that writers have taken in their careers. Can you share your background? Is it true that you slew the mythical creature known as the Wendigo?

Chuck Wendig (CW) - I slew him, but then I became him, and then slew myself and became myself. I also ate a lot of funny mushrooms in the woods that looked like Timothy Leary’s face. Is that what you’re asking?

My real background is: I always wanted to become a writer, so I worked a lot of shit jobs until I figured out how writing could pay me. That’s the long story made short, but there it is.

2. What are some non-writing jobs you've held? What do you think you would do if you weren't a writer?

(CW) I’ve: shoveled horseshit, slung books, made lattes, shredded ground test documents so the EPA wouldn’t see, crashed a van, mingled with librarians, soullessly administrated “systems” for a fashion merchandising company, etc.

If I were not a writer, I’d probably be, I dunno. A grave-robber? A horse thief? A Clinique lady?

3. What do you think makes a person a writer? Have you ever given up writing for any stretch of time? 

Being a writer is the sum of two things: a) writing and b) realizing that writing is not merely what you do but who you are.

I have not given up writing, not once since I was 18. I’ve thought about it. I think most writers think about it. And then I think most writers knock back another whisky to drown that rat.
  
4. How did you end up with your agent?

We were trapped in an elevator. I saved her from lions. The typical “writer-meets-agent” story.

Uhh, no, it’s quite a bit more mundane than that. I had a novel. I queried that novel. She liked the query. Ta-da!

5. What's a typical day like for you?

It’s all, you know, high-octane living-on-life’s-edge kicking ninjas and riding pterodactyls. Oh, and writing. Sometimes I write. On those rare writing days, I wake up very early (6AM) and start writing. And then something-something baby, something-something change-diapers. Something-something coffee-and-liquor.

6. Do you do much outlining in advance of starting a new novel, or do you just push the pedal down and go?

You don’t read terribleminds, do you?

Outlining: I am a reformed pantser. Or a pantser at heart and a plotter by necessity.

Every novel demands a different type of outline, but for me, every novel demands some kind of outline.

7. I'm fascinated by writers who can produce a lot of work in a short amount of time. I remember a few months ago, you Tweeted about a 9,000-word day. Talk a little about what that was like.

I tend to write 2,000-3,000 words per day. On those rare days I crest, say, 5k, I do so because the story has such momentum it cannot be contained. That often comes during the third act, if you will, when there’s just no turning back and the dominoes race to fall into one another.

8. Is there a particular area of writing you're focusing on these days, or do you split your time pretty equally between your various projects?

Fiction, mostly – novel-length. But I also do a lot of screenwriting work on the side, and have a couple scripts that should come to fruition in 2012.

9. I have a terrible habit of not shutting off my mind when I'm not at the keyboard. How do you turn things off when it's time to stop writing?

Quaaludes.

No, my brain shuts off all on its own. After a long day of writing and editing, my brain needs to cool-down, and so I let it. Plus: the baby is a mind vampire, in which he eats substantial portions of my brainpower. So that helps. Er, sorry—“helps.”

10. Who are some of the writers that have influenced you? 

Robert McCammon, chief among them. Joe Lansdale. Christopher Moore. Bradley Denton. James Joyce.

11. I don't want to give too much away, but let's talk a little bit about Double Dead. What was the inspiration for the story?

Inspiration? You know, I can’t point to any single source of inspiration. Abaddon said, “Pitch to us,” and I kind of hovered over it for a while and somehow, I didn’t just get a zombie story, but rather, a vampire-in-zombieland story.

12. I think Coburn is one of the more unique characters I've seen in a while. In some parts, I felt bad for him. In others, I just wanted someone to run a wooden stake through his heart. How do you maintain that difficult balance of keeping him sympathetic but making sure the reader never forget what he is?

Real people are hard to make sympathetic because we gain few glimpses into their internal lives, and any glimpses we get are potentially manufactured.

But fiction allows us authentic – if, again, fictional – glimpses into a character’s internal life, and that’s where we find sympathy. Coburn was basically a case of taking a real person and forcing him to be monstrous by dint of his vampiric condition. The human is still in there, somewhere, and it was key to sort of highlight that humanity from time to time. Can’t know light without darkness, can’t know good without evil, can’t know cats without dogs or clowns without mimes. Or something like that.

13. Why do you think zombie stories have become so popular? 

I have no good answer. All I know is, zombie stories are about us, not about the zombies. Zombies are an environmental hazard, dangerous the way a flood is dangerous, or a plague of rats or a disease outbreak. (The vampire is the opposite of this: meaningful individually, given strong characterization over the hollow shells that zombies become. That’s part of what to me makes DOUBLE DEAD interesting, but that’s neither here nor there.)

In a zombie story, the real problem is the people you’re with – you can tell a good zombie story because beyond all the gore and fear and the debate over slow-versus-fast, you find out that the real danger is in the other humans. Humans who will destroy you with their incompetence or their selfishness or their selflessness.

In this way, zombie stories are some of the most nihilistic and awful stories of them all. At least in terms of horror fiction.

14. Your publisher's website describes Double Dead as an Abaddon tie-in. What does that mean?  

Abaddon has a series: TOMES OF THE DEAD.

This is their IP, their book line, in which they say, “Author, write a zombie novel, any zombie novel.” While Coburn and the world in which he inhabits are all my invention, it’s based in Abaddon’s sandbox.

Financially, this means it’s work-for-hire, not a novel given over to standard “royalty/advance.”

15. You recently became a father. Has baby-daddy-hood influenced your writing style or work habits at all?

Yesterday I went to the dinner table and found a dirty sock there. A baby’s sock, not like, some hobo’s sock or anything.

Just the same, that’s our life, now. Socks on the dinner table. Poop and crying and sleeplessness and confusion and smiles and spit up and gurgles and coos.

That’s our life and that’s my brain, too – all that stuff mixing around in my head. So, it’s definitely affected my habits. Style, maybe not, but habits, most definitely. I still crank out the words, but they’re snatched out of the air as if I’m chasing swiftly-escaping butterflies. Harder. Still necessary. But harder.

16. Other than your family, what would you say is your greatest personal accomplishment? What are you most proud of?

Getting BLACKBIRDS out there will be a truly great accomplishment and one I’ve been really yearning for. Otherwise, it’s all the milestones: meeting my wonderful wife, marrying her, buying a house, forming Voltron, conquering Spain, uploading my consciousness to the satellite I had built. You know, the standard stuff.

17. What's the story behind the name Terrible Minds?

I started terribleminds like, eeesh, ten years ago? Maybe 2000 or something. And initially I thought it might be a kind of community site for writers—on a BBS years before that I’d done a thing called WAR, Writers Against Reality—and so the terrible minds were the minds of the writers.

But then I thought, “Man, fuck those people. Writers are cuh-razy. It’ll be all for me! For me!” And then I dipped my hands in piles of gold and let the coins tumble between my fingers like shiny urine. And I laughed. Oh did I laugh.

Kind of a “HAW HAW HAW HAW.”

Or maybe a “MOO HOO HA HA HA HA.”

I don’t really remember.

18. Is there a particular genre you like to read? Do you read much nonfiction?

I used to read a lot of horror. Not so much anymore. I read more nonfiction than fiction, actually. I think this is true of a lot of fiction writers.

19. What's your take on online "networking," for lack of a better word? With life being what it is, I personally find it difficult to establish deep connections with more than a few people. You have a pretty large audience -- is it just the nature of the beast that in most cases, writers can have a hit-and-run sort of relationship with fans, other writers, other people in general online?

I love social media and networking. It can take up a lot of time so I mostly let it fall between moments – but just the same, it’s allowed me to meet some incredible people and foster genuine and unexpected friendships.

The key is to engage. Make sure it’s a wide open two-way street.

20. You seem quite happy with your publisher, Angry Robot. What is it about them that has clicked with you?

Angry Robot? Well, they wanted to publish my book, for starters. That’s always a strong way to get on my good side. 

But they’re also very author-friendly.

21. What can we expect from you in 2012? 

I’ll be doing a nudie calendar.

But you don’t want to hear about that.

I’ve got BLACKBIRDS in May and its sequel, MOCKINGBIRD in… September, I think. Then at some point a pulp novel for Evil Hat’s SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY RPG called DINOCALYPSE NOW.

Plus, scripts and blogs and some more Atlanta Burns and possibly another short story collection and, like I said: nudie calendar.

-----------------------------------
Chuck, thanks again for joining me. 

And I think that's a very fine way to close down 2011. I'm slashing my way through the jungles of a new manuscript, and I plan to use the holidays to make some hay with it. 

So as Hans Gruber says in Die Hard, "be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock." 

See you in 2012, when we'll start our Mayan Apocalypse Countdown! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Top 10 Things That Happen to First-Generation Americans

I was the first person in my family born in this country. My parents, and every other member of my family who preceded me, were born in Lebanon, which is a perfectly lovely place when it's not embroiled in civil war and shredding itself into hummus-flavored ribbons.

This makes me, like millions of others, perhaps some of you reading this blog, a first-generation American. And there are some things that go along with being the first. Some might call them sacred rituals. Others, rites of passage. So let's get right to them, shall we?

1. There's Been a Discussion About Medical School

For immigrant parents, there's something talismanic about a medical degree. In other countries, physicians are accorded the same level of respect that E! heaps upon the Kardashians. You know that means crazy respect. At least we can rest easy that the U.S. educational system will brutally weed out those (like me) who are too scientifically inept to diagnose a hangnail, much less practice medicine. The good news is that if you are not "scientifically inclined," you can do what I did -- go to law school and get a Juris Doctor degree! No one will know the difference. And if you practice insurance defense law, one day you'll second-guess the decisions of a doctor in open court!

2. There's Been An Ethnic Thing Happening in Your Lunchbox

At a time in your life when you want nothing more than to disappear into the herd, you will invariably open your lunchbox and discover a spinach-and-goat-cheese-and-seasoned-ground-beef pie. This may sound delicious to you trendy suburbanites and urban hipsters who like re-gentrifying old neighborhoods, but to a six-year-old, it's like being lathered in A-1 sauce and dropped into the tiger pit at the San Diego Zoo. You don't want to be the winning answer to the borderline-racist trivia game of "One of These Things is Not Like the Other."

3. There's a Problem with That Girl/Boyfriend Whose Ancestors Arrived on the Mayflower

YOUR BRAIN: I like making out with my new girlfriend. I can't believe she's attracted to me. This is awesome. Maybe I will see her naked.

YOUR PARENTS' BRAINS: Sdifhudfuasdfussdf!!!! He's going to marry her and run off and I'll never see my half-blood grandbabies and why did you bring me here to America!?!?!?!?!? Have they ever even TRIED tabouli?

Yes, your parents will initially hope that you marry one of your own kind. Eventually, they will realize that you're a gigantic bag of crazy and if you can find someone to love you just the way you are, then hell with it, they love all the colors in God's Crayola box of 64.

4. You May Have, But Just Once or Twice, Pretended to Remember the Names of Cousins You've Forgotten Even Existed

I've got 27 first cousins. We've got at least 50 children among us. But yes, I totally remember the one time that the five-year-old accidentally drank a shot of Ouzo! Actually, I do remember that. He's 28 now, so is it OK for me to say that was funny as shit?

But I confess, sometimes, I can't remember all their names, and there are many, I'm sad to say, that I've never met. And I'm sure many of them cannot remember me beyond "that one that lives in America. Their national soccer team stinks."

Oh, yeah, little cousin? Our soccer team may be average, but we've got Donald Trump. FACE!

5. In Space, No One Can Hear Your Parents' Heavily Accented Scream

You don't hear your parents' accents until you do. And then you REALLY hear it. That your parents' English is so precise and correct that it's the grammatical equivalent of a cruise missile is irrelevant; all you hear is "WE ARE DIFFERENT. COME TOILET PAPER OUR HOUSE. DON'T INVITE ME TO THE COOL PARTIES."

6. Really, Would It Kill You to Learn a Little ArabPortItalianese on a Sunday Morning?

Yes. It would. I don't care that knowing a second language will give me a leg up academically. What I do know is that this little lesson is cutting into my BUCK ROGERS and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA watchin' time, and it's 1983 and we still don't have a VCR. (I'm going to assume my readership is old enough to know what a VCR is). You weren't even letting me be the best dork I could be!

7. Shared Nationality Goes a Long Way To Covering Up the Fact That Guy is a Douchebag

At some point, you will realize that someone you've known since birth is a total jackass, quite possibly a thief. You will keep this largely to yourself while you hear your beloved relative talk about said jackass in this fashion: "It's not a LOAN. It's venture capital! We went to school together in the same village, so that means he's totally good!"

Ummm, no. If there's one thing that knows no race, ethnicity or creed, it's Douchebaggery.

8. There's a Huge Disconnect Between Your Parents' High School Memories and Yours

It's probably safe to say your parents didn't attend an all-night kegger at the home of a classmate, said party being sponsored by his attractive, newly divorced mother. This lack of perspective makes for a rough landing when you're 14 years old and discover that your classmates are plowing through illicitly obtained Coors Extra Gold on the weekends and smoking cigarettes.

I even remember where I was when I learned this. It was like discovering Santa didn't exist. You mean other teenagers don't sit at home on Saturday nights watching Mr. Belvedere with their parents?

9. That Awkward Moment When You Realize These Grape Leaves are Fucking Delicious

At some point in your young adult life, you will attend a [Insert Your Country of Origin Here]-ese food festival, and you will spend sixty dollars on a meal that, when presented with it four thousand times as a child for free, you turned on it like a body rejecting a transplanted kidney.

And then you tell your parents that you make your own hummus now, but you go easy on the tahini because it makes it a little overly pasty, and their eyes light up like the Emperor's in Return of the Jedi when he says, "You, like your father, are now .... MINE."

10. At a Family Gathering, You Realize This is Pretty Close to the Opening Scene of The Godfather

A lot of kissing on the cheeks, judgmental whispers about THIS COUSIN or THAT AUNT, and a lot of delicious, delicious food that your Caucasian counterparts get from the gourmet market at 14 bucks a pound.

Just like a family gathering should be.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Had No Idea It Would Be So Much. I Won't Pay It.

*From Ghostbusters, the scene where the snooty hotel manager won't pay our boys the amount due for services rendered in capturing the slimy green ghost.

Anyway, just a quick alert to let you know that the I'm raising the price for The Jackpot to $3.49 $2.99 (I panicked and brought it back down to $2.99. Sue me). It will go into effect whenever Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords process my request.

I've been thinking about doing this for a while. Not necessarily to make more money (although, duh, that would be nice), but to see if it has any impact on sales. Lately, I've been seeing more and more evidence that the 99-cent book's time in the sun has come and gone. No longer is it enough (or truly, even necessary) to sell a book dirt cheap. Not to say certain authors won't rocket up the bestseller list at that price. But maybe it's not the best way for a self-published author to get read.

Why? Who knows? Maybe there's a perceived lack of value at 99 cents. Maybe it's because the market is flooded, and the 99-cent price point looks like a desperate grab to push as many units out the door, and people who are looking for a good read and not a toothbrush are tired of being bombarded with LOW LOW PRICES. I don't know. The eBook landscape has changed a lot in the last year, even in the six months since I published The Jackpot.

But here's perhaps the most important reason.

I want people to READ the book. I've seen a lot of anecdotal evidence that while people might buy a 99-cent book, they won't necessarily read it. It will languish on their e-reader, literally the 99-cent weakling that gets sand kicked in its face by the big boys that the reader paid as much as $14.99 for.

And if someone buys The Jackpot, but doesn't read it, what good does that do me? That person won't get a chance to enjoy it (hopefully) or perhaps even review it. A book can't be shared by word-of-mouth if it's never read, right? I'd MUCH rather have one person buy it and read it than six who buy it and don't.

So, this is me, drawing my line in the pricing sand. It's time for my book to act a little bit like all the other books I've happily paid full price for. Time for it, in the words of Don Corleone, to "BE A MAN!"

Comments are welcome.