Chuck Wendig: Accidental Hauntings

CHUCK DAVID WENDIG was born April 22, 1976 and grew up in New Hope PA. He attended Queens University in Charlotte NC, where he studied English and religion, graduated in 1998, and “worked various bizarre day jobs, as many writers do” before becoming a full-time freelancer.

He published a story in 1997 as C.D. Wendig, and another in 2000 as C. David Wendig, but most of his fiction publications date from 2009 and after. Some of his short work was collected in Irregular Creatures (2011). He worked extensively as a writer and developer for roleplaying games, contributing to many White Wolf projects from 2002 to 2011, most notably developing Hunter: The Vigil (2008).

Wendig’s first novel was work-for-hire zombie thriller Double Dead (2011), followed by sequel novella Bad Blood (2012). His first original novel, Blackbirds (2012), began the Miriam Black fantasy series, continuing with Mockingbird (2012), The Cormorant (2013), Thunderbird (2017), The Raptor & the Wren (2018), and Vultures (2019). The Mookie Pearl duology is The Blue Blazes (2013) and The Hellsblood Bride (2015). The Heartland trilogy is Under the Empyrean Sky (2013), Blightborn (2014), and The Harvest (2015). Urban fantasy Unclean Spirits (2013) is first in the Gods & Monsters series. Zer0es (2015) and Invasive (2016) are thrillers. YA novel Atlanta Burns and sequel Atlanta Burns: The Hunt appeared in 2015, and middle-grade novel Dust and Grim came out in October 2021.

Wendig’s biggest book to date (in size and impact) is Stoker Award finalist Wanderers (2019), a sprawling thriller about climate change, pandemics, and artificial intelligence. A sequel, Wayward, is forthcoming. His newest work is The Book of Accidents (2021), a haunted-house novel (of sorts) about family and generational trauma.

Wendig’s tie-ins for the Spirit of the Century roleplaying game universe include Dinocalypse Now (2012) and Beyond Dinocalypse (2013). He has also written Star Wars novels and comics, and other comics work with Marvel.

With writing partner Lance Weiler, Wendig is a fellow of the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriter’s Lab (2010). They co-wrote short film Pandemic (2011). Wendig wrote interactive fiction Collapsus (2010) and contributed to David Cronenberg’s alternate reality game Body/Mind/Change (2013). Wendig often wrote essays about games and pop culture for The Escapist. He began his popular blog in 2000, and still actively updates about writing and other issues. He has published numerous non-fiction books about writing, notably The Kick-Ass Writer (2013) and Damn Fine Story (2017).
Wendig was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award (now the Astounding Award) for Best New Writer in 2013. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Michelle Kane Wendig (married 2009) and their son.

Excerpt from the interview:

“It turns out that I thought I knew the kind of writer I was, and then Wanderers changed everything about how I write, changed my presuppositions about how I write, and taught me that I don’t know how to write a book. I think that’s a good thing. Before Wanderers, I always outlined, and I didn’t really outline for that book. I had prewritten pieces that I sold it on. I was usually a butt-in-chair, 2,000-words-a-day kind of guy, and now it was like, some days are 500 words, some days are 5,000 words, some days are no words at all, and I’d just stare or research or whatever. It was a very different process. The drafting itself was different, too. I somehow got it mostly right on the first draft, and I was surprised it didn’t require a ton of rewriting or cutting. The Book of Accidents was an entirely different experience – that novel was made in the edits. That was a book with so much in the first draft, and it’s not that we cut a lot of it, but it was really a lot of work. I compare it to picking BBs out of a shot bird so you can bite into it. There was all this rewiring sinew and messing with the arterial structure of the book. It was very much a granular edit. It’s easier when you just have to, like, cut the middle out and merge it with another part and stitch it all back together. This was not that. It was constant – move this piece here, change this paragraph there. It was a very deep, crunchy edit. That was cool. I really wasn’t able to write very much during the pandemic, early on, but I had two books to edit, and I could do that. I have this middle-grade coming out this month, Dust and Grim – the art is great; it’s beautiful work by Jensine Eckwall – and I edited The Book of Accidents during that time, too. My brain was very good at editing during the pandemic, though initially not as good at writing.

“The Book of Accidents is one of the hardest books of mine to describe. Some books are so easy, like, ‘Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die when she touches you’ – you’re like, ‘Great,’ that’s super easy. This one, for the pitch I always say it’s a haunted house novel that’s not a haunted house novel. Then, once you start to get into it, it’s about breaking cycles of abuse – a family moves back home to a house of abuse, and it’s haunted, but is it haunted? Is it a haunted world? There’s a creepy coal mine, and a serial killer who’s gone missing, and a boy who feels too much, and a dad who’s trying not to carry forward the abuse that was perpetrated on him, and a mom whose art comes alive – there’s a lot going on in that book. I think it works, but it maybe should not have worked. The family is the main character in The Book of Accidents. It definitely has family as the end goal, while Wanderers has a broader community aspect to it. One is about big apocalypse, and one’s about little apocalypse.
“The haunting is really about what the people are haunted by, rather than the literal ghosts that haunt them. The ghosts are there, and the serial killer thing is there, but the characters are haunted by more metaphorical specters in the history of their family.

“I write in a linear format. I start at chapter one or the prologue, and I write forward until the end, and part of that is because I want to experience the book a little bit like the reader would experience the book; I’m also way too stupid to hop around. If I start hopping around, I will completely lose the thread and be lost in my own story, so I need to follow it from start to finish to get a sense of the rhythm and to get it to follow the plot. So if I end the chapter, I know what needs to be next; I just feel that out. There’s no specific pattern – it’s all an intuitive thing. The structure usually alternates between characters, but especially with this book.

“This is like a 20-year book. I tried writing it about 20 years ago, and I finished it – I actually finished the book, and it was awful. It was a trunk novel. Then I tried writing it again because the core of it bothered me. It worried at me. I tried writing it again about ten years ago, and it was funny, because I didn’t finish it. I went back and I looked at both drafts after finishing this one, and I remembered the first one pretty well, because there were some bones it has really in common with the current, published iteration. But the second version, I remember none of it. I made it 70,000 words into a book, and I don’t remember a word of writing it. I felt crazy looking at it, like I had fugued out and just failed to write this book. I’ve been trying to write this story for two decades now.

“It’s not completely different from the first version, but it’s mostly different. This version packs a lot more in, and it’s more personal now. I was maybe afraid to make it personal before. But there were always some pieces that were in there – the coal mine and the family home. There were some pieces that were always present. That first draft focused almost entirely on the son. Not in a young-adult way, but just that it was more his story at the beginning, and that didn’t quite work. In the second one, there were characters I didn’t even recognize or remember, but there were still a few pieces in place. That version felt even more removed from where I wanted to go. “I set out to really try to counter a lot of the things that stories force a little overmuch. Whether it’s a show like Lost or horror movies, you have characters who don’t tell anybody anything, and then that’s the reason another person dies, because no one can tell anybody anything. It often feels like the writers are trying to force a horror plot through having characters make poor decisions. That’s the core idea – don’t go into that dark room! Something’s calling their name, and everyone’s like, ‘Don’t go in there!’, and they do anyway. On the one hand, that’s certainly a functional way to tell that story, but on the other hand… what if you tell the version where they don’t go in that room, and they tell somebody else, ‘I think something’s in that room. You shouldn’t go in there’? Then it becomes an interesting challenge as to how the characters respond to that, because you still have to grapple with the problem – you still have to deal with the thing that you’re aware of together. I thought it was a more interesting way to tell the story than having a family keeping secrets and ruining each other. Communication doesn’t necessarily make their journey easier and, in some ways, it makes it harder, but it tells a different story, and it tells the story I was hoping to tell.

Interview design by Stephen H. Segal.

Read the full interview in the November 2021 issue of Locus.

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