Chuck Wendig "..A lot of the prescient stuff wasn’t particularly insightful or prophetic on my part—it’s not like we didn’t know pandemics could happen or that white supremacy was a problem. But the Black Swan / Blue Dot thing was hahaha yeah, that was a little freaky....."
Chuck Wendig is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author, both non-fiction and novels. His recent books include Wanderers, which is a Locus, Bram Stokers, and Goodreads award Nominee. As well as the series Miriam Black, Force Awakens, the Invasive Duology. You can find him on his blog Terribleminds or his Twitter account @wendig, where he might be talking about writing, birds, apples, or sandwiches, depending on the season.
Chuck was kind enough to chat with me about his writing and his upcoming horror novel, The Book of Accidents.
Reading your stories, I have noticed that you don’t do a lot of worldbuilding. You establish a setting and go, or maybe jump right in as you did with Wanderers because [gestures around] the scene is pretty much already set. Is that a conscious choice or how the words flow out of you creatively?
[CW] Worldbuilding is something I love very much, coming from a roleplaying game background (both playing and writing) but it also can be an anchor that drags a story down—I do as much worldbuilding as is ideally needed to get to the next section of the book. It’s a bridge, in many ways. Not to say you can’t or shouldn’t build other pieces of glorious architecture. Every book is different, and I don’t think every story needs to be mercilessly screaming WELL THIS MUST SERVE A POINT OR YOU WILL BURN IT DOWN. But for my mileage I do prefer to focus more on the characters, and through them, worldbuilding is revealed.
As someone who is deathly afraid of ants, I read Invasive because apparently, I enjoy creeping myself the hell out. One of the first lines of my review was “Chuck Wendig, you are a maniac.” Why ants?
[CW] Ants are awesome and weird, that’s why. Like bees, they are eusocial, and have behaviors that are both individual and group-based—I’ve always been interested in them. In fiction form they also make a nice metaphorical stand-in for anxiety.
Wanderers is an epic story. When you sat down to write it, did you have any idea the depth of scope it was going to cover? Or did you always know that it was going to be a huge story?
[CW] I knew it was huge, but mayyyyyybe not 280,000 words huge.
What kind of research did you do for Wanderers? While we did not have a great sleepwalking plague of 2020, there are certain similarities between the governmental response in the face of a health crisis and how things played out in your novel. Wanderers was remarkably prescient. Especially the Black Swan AI versus Blue Dot AI.
[CW] I’m a lazy writer, and much of the research for the book was not done for the book, but was rather just stuff I read that I found interesting. A lot of the prescient stuff wasn’t particularly insightful or prophetic on my part—it’s not like we didn’t know pandemics could happen or that white supremacy was a problem. But the Black Swan / Blue Dot thing was hahaha yeah, that was a little freaky.
Tell me a bit about your newest book, The Book of Accidents. It seems like a complicated horror story to sum up with a small blurb. A lot is going on. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few of the different horror types in it: Lovecraftian, paranormal, post-apocalyptic, psychological, and serial killers, all as part of the narrative. As the author, how would you describe it to prospective horror readers?
[CW] A lot is going on, indeed. It starts simple, as a family moving to a haunted house that was once the home of the father, a home of abuse and trauma. And from there, it certainly goes places. I like to focus on the family aspect: What happens when your family is at the center of great evil? How do they survive? How do they help each other? They are haunted by not only apparent specters, but also by generational trauma and cycles of abuse, and how do you break that circuit? How do you exorcise that kind of evil?
One of the central parts of the story is the dynamics of family and the effect family can have on someone for good or evil. The story rang with authenticity, especially the scenes depicting familial violence. What kind of research did you do to portray the characters so accurately?
[CW] No real research there—I have my own family and grew up in a haunted house, so I had enough idea ammunition for this. It’s a very personal book.
When you were writing The Book of Accidents and wading into the kind of horror and darkness described in the story while writing during a pandemic with the horror and darkness in the real world, how did you shake it off?
[CW] I wrote this before the pandemic, actually (though edited it during). We originally were going to release this book in October of 2020, but before the pandemic the publisher (wisely) opted to move the date—not, in fact, because of prophesying the pandemic but because there was going to be a huge, tumultuous election at that time and it would be hard to get traction with media attention for a book. And then, as it turned out, there was TOTALLY a global pandemic so I’m pretty glad we didn’t release then. (We are still of course in that pandemic, but it’s certainly an easier, calmer time.)
How do you separate yourself when writing such complex themes during such a difficult time like 2020?
[CW] I don’t really separate myself? I’m writing a book for a reason and that reason is personal, so I don’t try to give myself great distance from the work. Especially in first drafts.
Talking about horror stories in general, I found The Book of Accidents dark but not bleak. It treads the line bringing you to the brink of despair only to have a small glimmer of hope to grab on to in the distance. Do you find that to be an essential aspect while writing horror in general?
[CW] That’s usually my aim—dark, but not bleak. There’s enough despair in this era, and I’m not interested in adding to it. Just the same, I feel like horror fiction helps us contextualize real-world horror. I often compare it to how a sorcerer creates a summoning circle in which to conjure demons: that circle is a safe place to fight those monsters, and that’s horror fiction to me. It’s a safe place to fight monsters.
Finally, I would love to know what you’re reading and what books you are excited about in 2021?
[CW] I just read Christopher Golden’s Road of Bones and it’s fucking legit, stellar “adventure horror” that just fires up my readerly happiness. Always excited for new Stephen Graham Jones. New Caitlin Starling, too. Kiersten White’s debut with Del Rey. Delilah Dawson’s The Violence. C’mon. This is a great time to be a horror reader.