Random AMA, Ask Me Anything, Today

I’m kinda hovering around a couple different projects, so today, let’s devote it toward an AMA, aka, Ask Me Anything. Way this works is, you pop into the comments below, drop a question, and this afternoon I’ll go ahead and try to answer as many as I can. Note that jerky questions will be left unanswered, or worse, plunged into the Spam Oubliette where they will be left, screaming silently and pawing at the quivering pink walls of obscurity and oblivion.

That’s it. Easy-peasy play-Parcheesi.

Ask and ye shall receive answers. Probably. Maybe.

166 comments

  • Hi Chuck, I’d love to ask what’s most exciting for you when it comes to sticking with one character over a long span of time? I’m thinking of Miriam, as you’ve been writing her story for a little while, huh?

    • Seeing a character shift and grow over the course of many books is pretty fascinating — and to be able too to bring back in elements of plot from the past. It’s like writing a TV show, in a sense, or a comic book series. Lot of fun opportunity. FUNPORTUNITY. Okay that’s not a word never mind.

      • June 14, 2018 at 1:47 PM // Reply

        So a hashtag-shaped hat made of ham and affixed to your noggin with mayo, you’re sayin’? Because I was hyper-fixating on that instead of coming up with an actual question. Yes, I need more sleep.

  • What are the key attributes of a SFF convention that make it an appealing prospect for you to appear as a guest? What makes you leave a con happy?

    • OOOOOH, shit, that’s a good question. And one not easily answered here, and one that maybe needs a whole blog post around it. The short and easy answer is: a con that takes care of its guests and its attendees, and also that has an active and interested attendee base. When in doubt I try to find authors who have attended in the past to get their input.

      • Okay, follow up question to this: In your opinion, what are some of the best SFF conventions (US-based, to clarify) for 1) established writers, 2) new(er) writers. This is me finding an author (you) and asking their input. Thanks in advance.

  • hello! First of all big thanks – I just signed with an agent and am awaiting his notes to get my first novel ready to publish, and i can honestly say you were a huge part of why i statted writing it. – a bad story written down is already better than any that you havent written yet, after all.

    anyway, i was wondering – what do you think writers waste their time and money on? are writing retreats, workshops, special software, typewriters, nice pens etc helpful ways to explore your craft, or an excuse to do “writery” things without actually writing? would love to hear ur thoughts.

    • First: CONGRATS

      Second, to answer the question: haha writers have all kinds of options to waste their money, from… yep, pens to writing advice books to whatever. I think it can be helpful if it’s a reasonable outlet that is writing-adjacent — I think if it becomes a crutch then it ceases to be helpful.

  • How often do you need to aerate your aardvark?
    A little more seriously, have you considered writing a cookbook or at least a book featuring some made culinary genius? I’ve always really enjoyed your food related blog posts so I want more. 🙂

  • What has been your approach to writing outside of your experience? As a fellow middle-aged white guy, I guess I’m always wondering or worried when I write a girl/woman/other race, am I offensive or missing something? I end up reading back over and revising sections with those characters much more out of that concern

    • I:

      a) treat them as the people they are

      b) give them agency in the story

      c) make sure I’m not stepping on or taking over a cultural story which would in turn appropriate the opportunity for an author of that identity to write the story, meaning, I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a story all about the experience of growing up black in America, but I would certainly write characters, even main characters, who were black, as long as I wasn’t again stealing a storytelling opportunity

      This is by no means hard-and-fast math, and I’m always adjusting my thoughts on this as I learn from people.

  • Tell me Chuck, have the bees stopped screaming?

    J/K: Real question: with the recent controversy over Star Wars “fans” and toxicity, what has been the ratio of positive vs. negative comments you’ve received regarding your stance?
    Note: I stand firmly on your side in this debate. The amount of toxicity over new Star Wars movies, books, etc. staggers me.

    • Far more positive than negative. In fact, the negative tends to drum up even more positive. In this way, the negative ultimately fails — it generates defenders at a considerably higher rate. My experience with fans is ultimately a positive one. Especially in person — I’ve not had a single negative interaction in person. But you get a lot of the Keyboard Cowboys here on the ol’ Intertubes who want to froth at you from behind an internet firewall.

  • I liked your thread this week about the importance of finishing your work. I definitely get your point about learning how to shape the whole narrative, but if you get half-way through and realise that it’s just not working, on a fundamental level, isn’t finishing it just going to do more harm than good, considering the time and care investment required?

    • Nnnnnyes and no? Maybe? This is really tricky because sometimes as writers we’re right when we feel something isn’t working — but we can just as easily be very wrong. Writers are often the worst judges of their own work, especially when you’re in the thick of it. You develop a good instinct over time to know, but if you haven’t really built that up then there’s some value in just finishing the thing and then going back and seeing where you went wrong and how to fix.

  • What do you do to help with plot snags? Do you have your end complete when you begin, or a more general idea of how things resolve? How do you navigate these murky waters? (Many thanks for all you share!!)

    • Plot snags are easier to navigate when you lead with character. (I hate to do the needless plug thing, but DAMN FINE STORY has a lot of info on this particular point.) If characters are leading the way, creating the plot as they go, the plot snags far less often, if at all.

  • I’m an indie writer and still in the red when it comes to sales. I see authors attending large conventions and wondered if it would be better to wait until I have a larger reader base before attending said cons, or dive deeper into the red abyss in the interest of finding readers?

    • I can really only answer that for myself — for me, it has been vital to have an agent. An agent, a good agent, has made my career. Stacia has been crucial toward making sure I didn’t get screwed on deals, on getting opportunities that would not have presented themselves otherwise, on helping navigate foreign deals and film/TV deals, and also for just being a great sounding board on the 1-year 5-year 10-year career plans. It really depends on one’s aim, but I’d argue even an indie author can find some value in an agent because there are still rights to be sold.

  • I bought seven of your books for kindle because you are so very entertaining on twitter. Someday I will read your Aftermath trilogy if they ever go on sale.

    I finished the Heartland Trilogy recently. For the most part it was a good tale. It may have been a bit too “Steam Punk” for my tastes, but I can totally see how someone who loves “Steam Punk” would eat that story up.

    Now my Q: It may be due to the kindle format, but I cannot recall what happened to Rigo’s father. Did he explicitly or implicitly get killed by the Vengeful Hobo with the burnt face? The Depot scene with the Dogs is the last time I recall him being mentioned. A lot was going on in that scene, why can’t I recall what happened to Rigo Sr?

  • Hey Chuck!
    Have you had any projects that just take a while? Not because you don’t want to write them, but because it just seems to work that way. I’m mostly a slow writer myself and have been trying to get down a novel. I have an idea, I’ve expanded on it and written about 3,000 words into the first chapter or so, but at the moment it’s just slow going. It’s this way with my short stories as well, although being at university took a lot of time this semester from actually getting something done, I’m finding that again, I’m doing a lot of drafts and a lot of rewrites. It’s not like I’m being a perfectionist, but is there anything wrong with that? Lastly, any advice on writing faster? You seem to be a master at getting things done in more than a timely manner.
    Thank you for what you share and sorry for the multiple questions!

    • BLACKBIRDS took five years. It just did — I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know much about outlining yet, etc.

      WANDERERS, out in early 2019, has been kicking around my head for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I could write it.

      Books take the time that they take. Just make forward progress, as you can.

  • What is the greatest challenge that keeps you from writing words or throws roadblocks in your writing rhythm and how do you deal with that challenge?

    • Being distracted by —

      *gestures at the giant toilet fire ongoing in the news*

      I get past it by gritting my teeth, bearing down, and not looking at Sauron’s Eye.

  • How do you distinguish between necessary research and procrastination-by-research? I’ve been struggling with that for a while now 🙂

    • Well, necessary research is the research absolutely necessary to make the story proceed. Everything else is ancillary — but that’s not bad, either, it’s good to KNOW MORE STUFF. Just make sure you’re writing the story, too, as you read the ancillary stuff.

  • You’ve had your writing shed for a couple/few years now. How much of a difference has it had on your productivity? Has there been anything that surprised you about the change its made?

  • Hey Chuck,

    I’m currently freelance writing for several RPGs, but wondering when/how I should begin branching out into more ‘mainstream’ writing like short stories and novels. Considering personal time constraints, I’m worried about shifting focus away from something that provides a steady (albeit it small) revenue stream.

    Cheers!

    • This was the challenge for me — I had to literally disentangle from freelancing to focus on writing a book, and that was a rough year, financially. It paid off. But that’s the creative life — a series of risks. Sometimes you have to leap out of one plane without a parachute in the hopes that you can jump into a second plane instead of splatting on the ground below.

  • Would you describe yourself as a planner or a pantser? By which I mean, planner – everything’s plotted to within an inch of its life before you write the meat onto the bones, or pantser – have a bit of an idea and just go with, see where it takes you?

    Or are you a plantser? Bit of both so there’s enough of a framework to start with to give basic shape, but enough room for the unexpected to occur…?

  • June 13, 2018 at 9:29 AM // Reply

    How long did it take to write/ publish your first novel, or is the first one still in unfinished pergatory?e

    • Five years to write BLACKBIRDS, a month or two to get an agent, a year-and-a-half to find a publisher.

      That wasn’t my first novel, though.

      First five novels never got published.

      Thankfully, because eeesh.

  • Hi Chuck. For a first novel, should one try to get all the kinks out before sending in or does it make sense to try earlier than later and and accept that if it’s baseline good enough, there will be a lot of changes anyway? Yes, I am going to buy Damn Fine Story, but not sure if it covers that process… My main concern is that I know I have too many little threads that I love and I am pretty sure that some will have to go, but I would rather have an expert help on that… Unless said expert won’t take the time because maybe they don’t do that (let’s assume for the sake of the question that the plot, characters and writing are basically good, which may not be the case, but otherwise it would just get rejected anyway). Thanks and thanks for everything!

    • Get most of the kinks out, yeah. You want your best foot forward. But it’s also worth realizing you can’t be perfect — the perfect remains the enemy of the good. Make sure it’s good. As good as you can get it. Yes, everyone is aware that the book can grow and change, but that doesn’t mean you want to hand them a wonky story.

  • Would you rather engage in fisticuffs with both Sam Sykes and Kevin Hearne simultaneously while moderately buzzed, or with Myke Cole if Mr. Cole were in a life-size Kool-Aid Man suit and hopped up on a case of Red Bull?

    Asking for a friend who is totally not an underground fight bookie.

  • Hey! Love your writing advice. Damn Fine Story was a fantastic read.

    What’s your favorite thing to photograph?

    I think I’ve read before that you’re a “hybrid” author. You self-publish and publish traditionally. Do you prefer one avenue over the other? Are certain projects better for self-publishing? What do you think self-publishing has done for the industry?

    Thank you, Sir Wendigo!

    • Favorite thing to photograph: probably waterdrops.

      Hybrid author: ayep, I do both — I prefer traditional because, well, I’m lazy and I’d rather focus on writing, but yes, certain projects are far better for self-pub. Self-publishing… I dunno what it’s done to the industry, but I can tell you that it’s opened doors for tons of writers across a variety of genres, and has been a net positive for storytelling. But it has some problems, too, though those problems are far too great and squirmy to be encapsulated in a single comment, I fear.

  • What are the feels when you get the “Wendig is and the rest of them are intentionally destroying my childhood!!! They hate happiness and morality!!!” … is it anger, amusement, frustration? Do you laugh, cry, punch walls? All those things? Writer here and I go through the 7 stages of grief sometimes on the crazy comments. Something like, “pfft. They’re stupid. But… do they have a point? Am I a terrible human? No, they are insane and no one listens to them. But what if they do? No, no… it’s just funny. Terrible funny *cackles for days*”

    • I assume you mean, re: STAR WARS?

      Initially it was anxiety. I was upset that I’d done something wrong, that I’d… failed my one shot in some way. The one-star reviews piling in were upsetting. But then I hit list and the book sold really well and they gave me two more books and I realized the people who were really mad were also really, really marginal. And their points are frequently ridiculous.

  • I’ve been going through the Aftermath trilogy, and I have to know, did you want to write the Kashyyyk spiders into the story, or did the spiders write themselves in? Thank you

  • Could you say something to piss off toxic Star Trek fans too? I want to see if your ability to piss off sad toxic fanboys was a one off. 😀

    Love your stuff, Chuck!! Keep it going, man. The light side will win.

  • Hi there Chuck, thanks for doing this.

    Two questions, both about Aftermath: Life Debt

    1) Did General Madine really die? Or was he just faking his death so he could go off grid and rain down justice on the Imperial remnant at a later date? (Please say he faked his death because otherwise he would have been the character to die the chumpiest deaths in both Legends and New Canon)

    2) In the Epilogue, Sidious does something like reach out with The Force to pull Galli to him. But Galli resists. Was Galli holding on to something to help him resist? Or was he using The Force also?

    Thanks!

  • Hi Chuck! Did you enjoy writing as a kid? If so, what did you write about and who was your biggest supporter?

    • I did! I wrote and drew a lot. Wanted to be a cartoonist but that would’ve taken WORK ha ha ew. I wrote some SW fanfic and other nonsense, also a lot of horror when I was a teenager. Biggest supporter, probably my sister.

  • If I remember correctly, you were seriously considering a move away from the US right after the election. Did anything come of that? Are you really living in Nova Scotia and making us believe you’re still in PA/OH/WV/wherever? Or has it not yet happened but still on your mind?

  • You’ve always been so approachable in the past, I’m realizing you’ve answered a number of my questions already! (Directly or indirectly though your writing like DAMN FINE STORY)

    So, I guess, hey thanks for all the help!

    Oh, wait, here’s one, do you think you might be going to ECCC again next year? Also, what are the odds of a Star Wars / Scooby Doo crossover?

    *rips off mask*

    *collective gasp*

    “Old Man Palpatine!”

    • I hope to do ECCC next year, it was SO RAD. Plus WANDERERS will be out around then…

      As for Scooby Doo Wars — hey, I’m in. MAY THE SCOOBY SNACKS BE WITH YOU.

  • What have you read recently that made you think, “Damn, why didn’t I think to write that?” Or any opportunities that you passed on (films, comics, etc.) that you now wish you’d taken?

    • I don’t generally have that kind of regret, and if it’s something someone else wrote, I’m mostly happy to read it and not have written it? And no real opportunities — I generally say yes to a whole lot of things, and those that I say no to (which is increasingly the case) are ones that are better left.

  • How hard was it to find your agent? (Did you find your agent, or did your agent find you?) I ask because after a hundred or so agent queries for various works, I’ve had *maybe* two replies that might, depending how you hold them up in the light, be encouragement to keep trying; and it makes me wonder how typical that is. I’m at the point where I’m looking into making my own agent from mud.

    (Checks encyclopedia… that works for golems, probably not agents. Shit.)

    • With BLACKBIRDS, it was pretty fast, and we connected very well very quickly. But I’d taken another book out before that and made only a meager dent.

      My suggestion is, do what I did: write the next thing, submit that.

  • Hello! I caught you at the last minute at last year’s Comic Con, and you signed a poster for me. This signature has become the greatest mystery of my lifetime. It says, “[My name] — MTF Blog!” (I think.) “Motherfucking blog?” “Mind the fucking blog?” “Monday Tuesday Friday… blog?” I have been trying to decipher this from the day I received it. I greatly appreciate that you took the time to sign something for me, but I’m going absolutely nuts and could not pass up an opportunity to crack the code once and for all. Thanks!

  • What do you do if you discover that you have created something that has already been done a thousand times before in a niche you didn’t even know existed? Do you kill a darling, even if you have poured so much blood, sweat and tears into it that it is now a family member? What do you do when you think you have a good idea, but loads of folks have the same idea and now the market is drowning in it?

    • That’s hard to say, as I don’t know the idea — if it’s generic, like, VAMPIRES, then you can stand out. If it’s HEY WHAT IF A GUY GOT TRAPPED IN A SKYSCRAPER WITH A FLOCK OF GERMAN TERRORISTS, then you might have a harder, though not impossible time.

      You are an original voice no matter the source material, though, so if you still bring something new to the table, keep on keeping on.

  • I recently was given the wonderous opportunity to have half my day available for writing. Now I’m finding it hard to get my butt in the chair on a consistant basis. Do you have tricks you use on yourself to write on those days when the lawn needs to be mowed or the house is a foot deep in dog hair?

  • I’m participating in a Writer’s Digest online tutorial on Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing Thursday that includes a look at the first 750 words of a manuscript. I’ve never done anything like this before & am mostly doing it to see if it can help me. I’ve been a professional writer (mostly sports, mainly racing & some newspaper reporting) for almost 30 years, but I’m trying my hand at fiction now. Are these types of programs useful? Do you feel I would get a decent ROI, knowledge-wise?

    Thanks, I’ll hang up & listen.

  • Is “Kick ass!” your go-to signature accompaniment phrase, or does it vary depending on the starry-eyed lad/lass before ye?

    • Like, is it a thing I say out loud? Shit, maybe, I don’t think so. I write it in the books sometimes when I sign — usually THE KICK-ASS WRITER because, well, it’s there in the title.

  • How do you balance being a husband and a father with being a writer? How would you do so, if you weren’t already a full-time writer? I have three kids under 12, so I’ve basically back-burnered any notions of writing for a decade or so.

  • I have an opportunity to pitch my first book soon and was wondering what gems you might have to offer in regards to upping my pitching game? In return for your wisdom, I offer a weird interpretive dance.

    *awkward flailing* *trips over own foot*

    Uh-oh.

    • *roaring applause*

      So — pitch as in, a query? A query should look like what you imagine the back of the book — the “flap copy,” so to speak — would read. Also practice the logline — that quick one-ish sentence, 30-second elevator pitch. “WHAT IF ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WERE REPLACED WITH ROBOT PENGUINS,” or whatever.

  • The Wendigo was such a hit. Have you ever tried a sandwich combination that turned out to be a bad combination? If yes, what was it.

  • Have studied you for years. Picked up Keith Smith and Sage Reynolds, then took an art class on hand made artist’s books beginning last January. Find that format, very restricted size and page count, gives me a way to write out what I call “movie stills.” Still wandering around in the back of my mind trying to figure out images and graphics to set up a text of twenty four pages, each with five short stanzas. Another question: do I go one off? Or, do I go type, imposition, and small edition? Marketing and financial income are at the bottom of the list and may have fallen off. please and thank you! you make my days better.

    • The 25 things series mostly… ran its course? Like, hard to imagine what else I could say there.

      Exposition — well, my advice there is, if you gotta do it, just make it interesting. Literally practice how to make simple information interesting in some way.

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