Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Oh, Whatever, Everything Is Totally Great For Writers Right Now

What’s that? How is it being a writer right now? An author? Ha ha, yeah, man, yeah, no, it’s fucking great, everything is super cool right just, just really chill and what is it the kids say? Skibidi? It’s all coming up skibidi. Skibidi toilets all the way down, dude.

Yeah, no, check it out, right? So it’s like, publishers always threw us to the wolves a little but — but then there was Twitter, which was this rickety platform we could all stand on and squawk like angry blue jays about our books. Except then I guess that got bought by an apartheid-huffing man-boy billionaire who I think instantly turned it into an antisemitic NFT or something, and so Twitter stopped being a thing. But that’s fine, because now there are a hundred different little online fiefdoms, several of which are governed by the same callous, insane algorithms that have long governed readers’ absolute inability to find what they’re looking for at Amazon, right? Which is fun because, you know, if you have 10,000 followers, any post you do is probably only going to see, max, 1000 of those people, which is — which is really just perfect, it’s exactly what you want. You don’t wanna reach everybody who follows you, that’s fucked up, I mean, haven’t you ever heard of the Scarcity Model? Bingo, yeah. You need to be scarce as an author — just, like, a secret presence, a shadow on the wall, a whisper in the ear as if from The One Ring. If everybody who subscribes to you actually has to hear from you, that’s too much, just way too much. This way it feels special when they do see something you post! It’s like Christmas. But Christmas can’t be every day or it isn’t fucking Christmas anymore, yanno?

But whoa, here’s the real corker, right — so the people, the humans, they’re having a harder and harder time seeing you, right? And you, the also human author, are having a harder and harder time reaching them, yeah? What’s cool is, though, you still get to reach the robots. And the robots, they’re fucking everywhere, man, they’re crawling the internet like bugs, and they’re just gobbling up content left and right, just chewing it up like termites. Then everything the robots chew up gets turned into this paste, yeah? Like, a spackle? A content spackle? And they fuckin’ barf it back up in different places, so that’s cool because I guess they call that exposure or something. The molecular material of your writing and art is kind of in everything, then, like how we’re all made of stardust and shit? Yeah. Yeah. It’s cool, it’s great, and no, no, there’s no attribution or anything and no, nobody is paying us for that — ha ha, yeah, they’re just stealing it, but it’s not really stealing so much as it is like, being inspired by, because robots can totally be inspired, right? Probably? I think it’s nice. It’s all just glue for the internet–

Oh! That reminds me, the other cool thing about the robots is that, speaking of inspiration, they’ve been super inspired to just grab hold of all your informational searches across Google and make up their own creative writing answers to real questions. Like, someone asked how you stop the cheese from sliding off your pizza and the new Google Robots were like, “We got this, you put non-toxic glue on the pizza,” and it was like, what? Whoa. That’s wild, just fucking wild, and if you try to figure out why it said that, you can track back its inspiration to one person, a guy on Reddit named Fucksmith, and that’s pretty awesome. For so long we’ve been told in all our pop culture how even just one person can change the world, and look no further than this very situation — the robots were like, “Hey, you got a question, we got our main man Fucksmith to answer that for you — we dug a decade deep and found him in our brain vaults and we just scooped him up and now he’s the go-to guy for all the information. Fucksmith says you should eat yard mushrooms and give sick raccoons big sloppy open mouth kisses to cure them and that the best kind of condom is the kind you make at home with arts and crafts, probably. Who knows what wisdom Fucksmith’s ancient words can offer us? The Fucksmith Scrolls are gonna save us all.” And that’s why it’s like, really cool that the artbarf robots are hoovering up all our shit because one day someone’s gonna ask the robots to tell them a story and the robots will just tell them your story, like, word for fuckin’ word. We’re living immortal on the fury road, man, welcome to valhalla, buddy.

Plus, the Fucksmith AI is out there also ready to answer our questions, too, because us writers need the internet for more than just marketing. We ask it questions for research and now we have all the best research available — it’s been masticated and regurgitated by the termites, all of it tinged with the wisdom of Fucksmith. It’s great. Nothing can go wrong there. The other day I was like, “How does gravity work?” and Google was like, “elf piss,” and I’m like, great, that’s exactly what I figured. And I put it in a book.

I mean it won’t matter eventually anyway because nobody is hiring writers, they’re just paying for the robot sauce, and then hiring ‘editors’ at a cut rate to scoop up the robot sauce with their bare hands and try to sculpt something out of the raw slurry, but for now, yeah, I got my new space opera coming out with the elf piss ships, I just hope people read it, yanno?

Oh, yup, no doubt, we still need the net for marketing, sure, sure. Yup. And it’s like, that’s fine, because Twitter died, and then the publishers are like, “It’s fine, we have a plan, our plan definitely wasn’t just Twitter,” and I believe them even though they kinda winked at me? Like a little secret wink? Like someone who says, “It’s okay, I didn’t just poop a little poo lump in your Cheerios,” and you’re like, “what?” and they wink a little at you? It’s like that.

Still, though — yeah, no, yeah, due diligence, and it’s like, “I def believe you, publishers, but like, what plan?” And they muttered “TikTok,” and then said something about “reels,” and I said, anything else, and they were like, “nah,” and that’s good enough for me, so I guess now I have to make video content if anyone wants to see me. Which is fine. I mean, right, yeah, I’ve trained to write books, with words, and my ideal state is actually hiding in the darkness like an eyeless cave squirrel but if they say I gotta get on the AI-gobbling Tokstagrams and do a little dance or be a fun comedian and also learn video editing to make movies, then, sure, yes, I’m going to do that, because I am informed that the alternative is to — *checks notes* — starve.

I mean, ha ha, yeah, no, I’m 48, this is the ideal time to start doing Fornite dances online so people will buy my books. No, I know! I didn’t think I could get more cringe but I can definitely get more cringe, turns out.

Anyway! It’s great, it’s going great, I’m not worried about any of that. Sales are down, sure, sure, and okay, yes, paper prices are up, and I think advances are going back down again and oh right it’s an election year where it’ll just be even harder to get heard over the din of poisonous noise, not to mention Fucksmith’s increasingly loud instructions to slather our smashburgers with poison ivy and rubber cement, oh and also if we make one wrong move online the parasocial relationships we’ve been inadvertently cultivating will suddenly flip over on us like a janky four-wheeler, crushing us underneath even as its engine revs louder and louder, ha ha, oh man, it’s fine, it’s definitely fine. Nobody ever says anything wrong online where it’ll haunt them eternally. Plus I think the internet is straight-up breaking? So whatevs. Anyway, I gotta head out, good chat — what’s that? Oh yeah I got a meeting with myself, just to be alone with my own endlessly unspooling loops of intrusive thinking about my future and how one wrong step will doom us all and how it doesn’t matter anyway because soon every last one of us including our children will be drowning in a boiling ocean of microplastics and bird-flu, so yeah, let’s do this again. Have a good one. Okay. Okay. Witness me. Ha ha. Yeah. Cool, talk to you later.

Furiosa, Fury Road, And The Necessity Of Stakes

The tl;dr is I saw Furiosa, it was good! I liked it! It was also not amazing, and I think it fell way short of Fury Road (to be fair, nearly everything falls short of Fury Road) — and so I have myself asking, what about it falls short? As a storyteller, I can be pretty hyperactive with dissecting narrative even as it appears before me — my brain turns into ants picking apart the body of a struggling beetle, rendering it into its separate bits even before it’s dead, just to see what makes up this strange bug in front of me.

A really great story will lose me in it, bypassing my scrutiny — Fury Road, for instance, was like a snap to the medullah, just boom, delivery of pure delight. And Furiosa did not do that. And so I’m left asking why that is.

And in that there are some basic things I could say, right? It’s a bit long. Draggy at about the 30% mark for me. A bit overstuffed with plot in some places, and utterly hasty with plot in others. A lack of great side characters. It also suffers from what I call The Prequel Dilemma, which is not a Robert Ludlum novel, but rather, this (quoted from an earlier post) —

“Prequels represent a tricky conundrum because a story should have everything it needs to be understood in its first iteration. Right? From start to finish, the audience needs all the salient details to parse the plot and more importantly, the emotional throughline. So, to prequelize anything either means you’re going over redundant information or you’re leaving required material out of the prime narrative so that it can be told later. Neither are super-delicious choices. If you go over redundant information you run the risk of being bored, or actually changing the story (think of stepping on a narrative butterfly in the narrative past which then retroactively changes the future, like how Darth Vader’s redemption is very seriously complicated by Anakin’s choice to kill children and physically abuse the pregnant mother of his future Jedi-babbies). And if you’re leaving required information out, now you’re just doing the equivalent of offering paid DLC to complete a game someone paid full price to play in the belief it was, well, complete already. Which can be frustrating for the audience.”

Prequels are telling a story locked in fate — you have a known narrative terminus, a carved constant spoiler warning, and the best you can do is build up to that. You’re just lining up data points. Furiosa definitely falls into this: we know who she is, where she comes from, why she wants to go back, already. And the film doesn’t expand on that very much, except maybe on the notion that in Fury Road she talks about wanting redemption — though, I also don’t know that Furiosa convinced me she was in need of it? Mostly, the new film just… lines up the backstory we already knew and pads it out with PLOT STUFF and WORLDBUILDING BEATS, never challenging our understanding of the character very much.

Then there’s also some janky, I dunno, CGI? The effects are mostly solid, but do feel a bit behind Fury Road, and there are a few shots where it looks like you can tell it’ was made with… I don’t think it’s green-screen, per se, but maybe that new tech they pioneered for The Mandalorian? Which I think is both really cool and also ends up limiting your shots in a way where it’s getting overused and obvious, if that makes sense?

Anyway, these are all just… review points, and again, I really want to understand the fiddlier bits, ostensibly for my own understanding of how stories work. And ultimately what I come away with is–

I’m left thinking about stakes.

Er, not the thing you use to dispatch vampires or put up tents.

I mean, the storytelling component.

To define our terms a bit, I’d define stakes as what can be won or lost in a story. And I know ‘won or lost’ are loaded, gameified terms here, but I think they’re appropriate — there is, in a good story, a narrative wager. We know that there’s something on the table for the characters, right? They have a problem. They want something. They need something. They fear something. The story has put one or likely many obstacles in the way of them achieving their goals, often with difficult or impossible choices, and these goals, these choices, line up our stakes quite neatly. The stakes represent a question: what will be gained, and what will be lost, in dealing with this problem, in characters pursuing their goals? The story is there to play it all out.

In Fury Road, we understand the stakes, particularly for Furiosa and the women she is freeing from Immortan Joe’s citadel harem. Survival. Escape. Freedom. And the promise of a better place to go. (For Max it’s less clear, but still writ: the stakes for him are survival, at first, but eventually, redemption. I argue here in an older post that Max is the main character, but Furiosa is the protagonist of that first film of theirs.) The stakes are why the characters care, and then, by proxy, why we care, as well. In more mythic modes of storytelling, we want the heroes to get what they want and the villains to get what they deserve. In less mythic modes, we might be less emotionally settled on what we want, given moral or social complications — but we still know what’s on the table when the stakes are clear. Doubly so when they are simple — less “taxation of trade routes” and more “free the princess.” Simple works: love, hate, revenge, greed, whatever.

I think Furiosa has a problem with its stakes.

And herein, we’re going to get a little spoilerish.

So, be advised.





I think this ‘problem with the story’s stakes’ is embodied best by the scene where the war rig is churning along, piloted by a guy who has barely been introduced. (The other Praetorian — I think his name is Jack? I am honestly not sure. I liked him! But he’s just sort of, boop, there he is, new guy, and now he’s important I guess?) And then the rig is attacked by what I think were fragments of Dementus’ biker gang (again, more unclear shit). Some of them, from the sky! In that scene, we eventually see that Furiosa is… present. Why she’s present, I’m not sure? I think she’s maybe planning on stealing the rig? Or escaping in general? Again, very unclear. Either way, the scene is exciting, well-shot, with some real clever shit going on, but I didn’t really know why it was happening, or more to the point, why we were seeing it.

Like, in Fury Road, we have scenes where… similar-ish desert randos attack the rig, but the stakes are established that the rig has to escape, and it has left the path, having gone rogue. It is vital that they make it through and that the desert motorbike randos don’t take the rig down. In Furiosa, this similar scene is just… I think the rig going back and forth from the Citadel to Gastown. Right? It’s a routine run, run by the routine praetorian, and Furiosa is present for Reasons Unclear. The stakes are muddy. Is she trying to escape? Is she trying to take the rig or get off of it? Is she looking to get revenge against Dementus? The stakes for Jack are just he’s trying to do Immortan Joe’s business, which, okay, fine, but who cares? Immortan Joe is a creepy rapist cult leader, we’re not super into supporting his motivations, and further, his motivations in this scene seem to just be “deliver food, get gas, don’t die.” It’s a day on the job, which represent low stakes for us, the viewer. Then the stakes get muddier because Furiosa… doesn’t escape, doesn’t take over the war rig, and just settles into… a job? So, a scene that should feel vital and exciting just felt kind of confusing.

(A later scene that takes place at the Bullet Farm, where Jack and Furiosa are separated, works much better, because we’ve bought into the stakes — however specious it started — of their relationship. There, the action transcends action — which is really the point of action sequences. Too many films treat them like a reward in and of themselves but they are not. The action that takes place must represent the battle over the stakes. It’s also why I’d argue that the John Wick films get weaker and weaker with every iteration — the first film, the stakes are fucking crystalline in their clarity. But then every other movie pushes the stakes further and further out in favor of longer and longer scenes of relentless, video-game-level gunplay.)

The stakes in Furiosa are unclear in the long run — the only stakes we absolutely know are on the table is that she wants to get back home, that she’ll do anything to get back to the green place, but then, she mostly doesn’t try? There are opportunities she doesn’t take, and though we might assume she chooses not to take them in order to get revenge, she also doesn’t seem driven to get revenge against Dementus until the very end of the film. (And he meets a fascinatingly brutal end, though one that only comes after quite a lot of talking.) We can guess at the stakes and interpret some things, and that’s okay, and can work — but here the more we have to guess, the weaker the stakes become, and the weaker the stakes become, the less we (meaning, me, to be clear) care about what’s happening on-screen.

If the stakes are crystalline, many narrative sins can be forgotten.

When the stakes are unclear, we are at persistent risk of… let’s call it detaching emotionally from the story in front of us. We uncouple from it, like two train cars, one speeding ahead, one drifting behind.

Even the simplest of stakes — we do not want this character to die — are fucked by the story being a prequel. We know she doesn’t die. We know she loses an arm, and so we await that data point in the narrative, but we know she lives because… she’s in the next fucking movie, bro. We don’t know Jack will bite it, but we also know he’s not around anymore, so we can make a guess. Immortan Joe? In the next film. Dementus? Not in the next film. So for us, the stakes are mostly, “okay, how do the things we already know line up and occur,” and they happen in ways that are mostly expected. And even for the side characters, we can guess at their journey’s end pretty easily.

As a storyteller, the best thing you can do is know the stakes on the table — the bigger story stakes for the world at large, yes, but most importantly, the individual stakes for each character in that world. Know them, then communicate them however you must to your reader-slash-audience. You can get away with pretty much anything if we a) enjoy hanging out with the characters and b) know what’s on the table to be won or lost for them.

(Note here when I say “enjoy hanging out with,” that’s not the same as “like.” We don’t like Tony Soprano, per se, but we kinda enjoy hanging out with him, yeah? We want to live with him to see what happens.)

So, that’s it.

Zero in on the stakes.

What matters to these characters, and how can the story put that all in peril?

And also holy shit let’s stop making prequels, can we? Imagine if this film had taken Furiosa’s story forward, instead of backward? Holy shit, at the end of Fury Road she took over the citadel. Insert Dementus into that situation — hell, you could even make it so she knows him and he is, in fact, the one who killed her mother — and now she’s got this Human Chaos Bomb Wasteland Surfer Cult Leader Fucko to contend with, trying to figure out how to counter him before he blows up the stability she only just managed to secure?

Ah well. ANYWAY THAT’S IT, THAT’S THE POST. Nothing I say here should be construed as gospel truth, and all of it should be taken with a shotgun blast of rock salt. These are merely my opinions, and they may be foolish.

Okay! Love you! Bye!

(and p.s. there is certainly a larger discussion of Why The Box Office Is Weak Tea These Days, but that’s for a whole other post)

(p.p.s. buy my books or I die, and if you like writing books, Damn Fine Story or Gentle Writing Advice might tickle your glands)

Evil Apples For A Mere Buck Ninety-Nine

If you were like, “Gosh, I really would love to read about how EVIL APPLES infect a small town in Pennsylvania and the orchard from whence they came spawns an EVIL APPLE CULT,” but you were also like, “All I have in my pocket are these ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE PENNIES,” then gosh wow, do I have a deal for you. Simply go to any of the ELECTRIC BOOKMONGER websites, shove your pennies into your computer, and yell at it: GIVE ME BLACK RIVER ORCHARD, YOU FUCKING ROBOT PIECE OF SHIT, I HAVE GIVEN YOU MY GOLD, NOW GIVE ME NIGHTMARES. And it’ll work.

I mean, probably. Some approximation of that.

What I’m saying is, the e-book is on sale for $1.99

So, if you want that, go grabby grabby:

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Apple

And if you’re like, “But Chuck, that is too cheap,” I will say, hey, no, go get it at that price, it’s fine, just make sure to tell your friends about the book, and please, for the love of the APPLE GOD, leave a review somewhere.

(Also, Blackbirds still looks like it’s $2.99.)

Also, an update to the post the other day —

Here, then, are the dates for September’s mini-tour with Kevin and Delilah, whereupon Kevin celebrates the launch of his newest, Candle & Crow —

Oct. 1: Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL.
Oct. 2: Boswell Books in Milwaukee, WI
Oct. 3: Madison, WI, tbd
Oct. 4: Minneapolis, MN, tbd, but probably B&N?

Don’t forget too about the “get your own evil apple and bonus evil apple sticker because who doesn’t love stickers” paperback preorder promotion.


Get Your Very Own Evil Apple Variety: The Revenge

HEY THERE. I’ve had a few people ask if I could again do the “please make up an evil apple variety just for me and me alooooone” promotion when I sign books, and so, given that I’ve got the shiny scary paperback of Black River Orchard coming out in one month…

Well, I’d say it’s back.

This is the paperback:

It is, as the pretty graphic suggests, coming out 6/25.

All you gotta do is preorder a copy of it from my local bookstore, Doylestown Bookshop, by 6/24, and I will go in, sign your book, personalize it if you choose, and write inside of it a very special evil apple variety all for you. Then, I will also include a delightful evil apple sticker from the likes of Natalie Metzger, who is the very coolest. (Have you subscribed to her Patreon yet?)

Then, Doylestown Bookshop will send the book to you. In the mail, not by like, wyvern or cannon or whatever. You can get wyvern cannons out of your head, don’t you bring those parasocial expectations here.

So, again, preorder right here from Doylestown Bookshop.

Then I will sign it with an evil apple variety all your own. If you want it personalized too, please let them know in the notes when you order online, or when you call them, because that’s an option too. The phone. Because I guess people use those sometimes still? *shudder*


They’ll mail you the book.

And the sticker.

And you’ll get an evil heirloom apple variety.

AND you’ll have the cool new paperback edition of Black River Orchard, a book now nominated for both the Stoker Award and the Locus Award and also the Evil Apple Award which is an award I totally didn’t just make up, shut up your face.


Okay, what else? Let’s talk about WHERE I SHALL BE

Will I be at Vortex Books and Comics — the new Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni joint?? — on July 27th, with poety horror fiend Jessica McHugh? I will! At 1pm! Till 4pm! There will be books but also, bring your own if you want. It’s gonna be a hoot.

I will sadly not be at the Stokers, because I’ll be shortly thereafter on my way to Portugal, and it’s in the wrong direction.

Monster Movie releases 9/10, and I expect to be doing some events around then, but don’t have those on the books yet. Pre-order now! And I might be at the Milford Readers & Writers Festival here in PA, too, end of that week — more as I know that, too.

I will be at the Rocky Mountain Writers Colorado Gold conference, which sounds in part like a weed strain, but isn’t, I don’t think. That’s 9/26-9/29, and they’ve entrusted me with a keynote speech, which is always a mistake, but they made it, and I think they’re even paying me for it, the silly people.

Then then thennnnn, I get to hang out with my BFFs Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson as we tour around — we’ll be hitting Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis. I haven’t done a Midwest bit yet, so this’ll be very nice to hang out with folks there. More info as I have it, but do not forget that all three of our novella collections are back online, including the newest, Canines & Cocktails. Plus, they also have print-on-demand options, too — which Death & Honey and Three Slices have not had, as yet.

Finally, Grundy Library, in Bristol, PA, November 16, 1-3pm.


Black River Orchard, Blackbirds, And Other Bits

AHOY, FRANDOS. A bit of news! A spot of news, perhaps, in the British parlance, or even a spotted dick of news? A bubbles-and-squeak of news? Whatever. Anyway, hey, look —

Black River Orchard is up for its second award! It’s on the final list for best horror at the Locus Awards, amidst truly spectacular company. Company so good it is 100% true to say, “It’s an honor to be nominated,” because it’s like getting to hang out at a cool party I wasn’t technically invited to. I mean, the list is: Tananarive Due, Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham-Jones, T. Kingfisher, Victor LaValle, Alix Harrow, Isabel Cañas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Elizabeth Hand? What is my life that I could be counted among them?

It’s wild. I’m thrilled. I’m very glad my strange APPLE CULT SUBURBAN FOLK HORROR novel was just too weird to die, and it’s out there in the world and people seem to be liking it. (I ask here that if you liked it, spread the word, if you please. Leave a review! Yell about it! Throw it at people!)

So, thanks, Locus, and readers.


Hey, if for some reason you haven’t checked out my very first published original novel, Blackbirds, now is your chance, as it is a mere $2.99 amongst your various electronic bookmongers. That book paid very little at the outset but just keeps on keeping on, and has ultimately been one of my most broad spectrum successful things. It launched as urban fantasy, which it really wasn’t, then was branded by its current publisher as supernatural suspense, which I suppose isn’t entirely inaccurate? I think of them as horror-crime novels, all six books. Though it’s also a weird love story? A horrifying one, but sweet, too? And it is a series, and it does complete, telling one entire tale of a woman who can see how you’re going to die when she touches you. Which makes her a less than pleasant person, and Miriam really goes through some shit, lemme tell you. Anyway! It’s not just the first book on sale, but also, the next two in the series — Mockingbird and The Cormorant, too. (In fact, I think Blackbirds is in Kindle Unlimited? Somehow? I dunno.)

Hopefully they continue to reach new readers and folks discover and rediscover these books because I love them very much. Miriam Black holds a special place in the dead bird’s nest that is my heart. (Incidentally, these books are also where I really started to take a liking to birds! I mean, I didn’t hate birds before, I wasn’t like, “Eat shit, titmouse,” giving every winged thing a swift clumsy high kick.)

BlackbirdsAmazon, Kobo, B&N, Apple, etc. Same for the next two books.

And if you like ’em, please yell about them, too. Go Tiktok them. Is that a verb? Tiktok? TIK THE TOKS. TOK THE TIKS. I am old now. Ashen and gray. Don’t you judge me.

Also if you’re looking for another great book to read, also currently on deep cut sale for $1.99 — Delilah S. Dawson’s The Violence. Was my favorite book of hers before Bloom, but then Bloom happened, because BLOOM.

What else is up? Ummm. I got edits back for my next adult novel, Staircase in the Woods, and that’s been consuming my time and my brain like a much nicer brain-worm than the one RFK Jr. had. And I turned in my now-accepted story for the End Of The World As We Know It anthology, the one that takes place in the world of Stephen King’s The Stand, one approved by THE KING HISOWNSELF, which is so neat I’m trying not to hyperventilate.

Did you read my interview in Writer’s Digest, by the way? Go for it, if not.

And in one month, Imma be in Portugal for a bit.

Just cruising around.

Eating egg tarts.

As one does.

(If you have Portugal recs, hit me with ’em.)



Here’s a picture of a new fox in our yard, btw.

M.J. Kuhn: Five Things I Learned Writing Among Thieves

In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.

For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.

Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.

1. I Am AGGRESSIVELY a Plotter

Although AMONG THIEVES is my debut, it’s not the first novel I have written. It’s actually my fifth. But it IS the first novel I wrote well, and by that I mean, the first novel I wrote using a process that actually worked for me and my writer brain.

Everyone’s writer brain is different. A lot of writers like to find the story as they go, others have a general idea of the main plot points, but kind of play it by ear for the middle parts. It turns out I am basically a fucking robot, and I need… all the details.

I always outlined my projects (with the exception my two ill-advised attempts at wholesale pantsing, which each turned into about 40k words of nonsense that went nowhere. HOW DO SOME OF YOU WIZARDS WRITE LIKE THAT?!), but AMONG THIEVES was the first time I went fucking ham with it. I had a beat-by-beat outline in an Excel spreadsheet with columns for every plot, subplot, and character arc. I interviewed each of my characters with 50+ questions, and had a 30-page OneNote doc filled with research and worldbuilding info before I even put pen to page on the actual first draft.

And the result? The easiest, cleanest first draft I have ever written.

Did I still have to edit the shit out of it? Absolutely. But man oh man, the editing process was nowhere near as overwhelming and brutal as it had been for me in the past. AMONG THIEVES was the first time I felt like the writing process went smoothly for me, and I think it’s because I finally figured out a method that worked for me. That theory was further supported when I used the same process for the sequel, THICK AS THIEVES, and it went even smoother than the first time around.

I mean, who knows how long that method will work for this fickle writer brain of mine, but it’s working now, and that’s enough for me.

2. Too-Smart Characters Are All Fun and Games… Until You Have to Write One

Who doesn’t love a smart, terrifying villain? Okay, I guess a lot of people don’t, but I am obsessed with them. When Game of Thrones was big, I constantly got shit from my friends because Littlefinger was one of my favorite characters. Obviously, I know he was objectively The Worst, but I am just a sucker for the character who is always one step ahead of the game — the one who is pulling the strings.

… And then, with AMONG THIEVES, for the first time, with Callum Clem, I had to actually try to write one of those characters.

Now, I don’t think I’m an idiot, exactly… but a brilliant, devious, string-pulling genius, I am not.

It took a lot of trial and error, some INTENSE outlining, and a lot of research on con artists to get that brilliant asshole of a character coming across the way I wanted him to. Still, to this moment, a part of me is worried that I didn’t pull it off. Moral of the story here: writing characters who are smarter than you are is really really hard.

3. Patience is a Goddamned Virtue

Those who know me well, know that patience is far from my strong suit. Like, okay, for small things, I can be patient, like waiting for food at a restaurant or waiting in line or whatever… but when it comes to big things? Like, oh, I don’t know, realizing my lifelong dream and becoming a published author? I am constantly CHAMPING AT THE BIT. That’s why this lesson was by far the hardest one for me to learn.

I said earlier in this post that I wrote four full manuscripts before penning AMONG THIEVES. Of those, I only queried two with agents and the second one I queried actually ended up getting me signed! I signed with my first agent in 2017… but I had actually started writing AMONG THIEVES in 2016. As luck would have it, I found that agent right before deciding to shelve the project she ended up signing me for. I thought I was ready to query AMONG THIEVES back then… but I held off.

Instead, my agent and I edited the previous project for over a year, then went on submission with it. It never ended up selling, but I wouldn’t trade that year or so of my life for anything. That year of editing a project that will likely never see the light of day is why AMONG THIEVES exists in its current form.

While waiting for the parade of “no’s” on that other project to roll in, I took my editing pen back to AMONG THIEVES, using all the lessons I had learned during a year of working with a publishing industry professional on that other project. By the time that first agent of mine laid eyes on AMONG THIEVES, it was fifteen times stronger than it was when I thought it was ready to query back in 2017.

And I was rewarded for that initial patience. THIEVES sold after only two months on sub.

4. I Could Probably Con You Now… Just Kidding… Or Am I?

AMONG THIEVES, for those who don’t know, is a heist novel. All the characters are cons and, well, thieves. So, while preparing to write this novel, I read a lot of books about con men and art heists and highwaymen… you get the idea. I also read a book called “How To Cheat At Everything,” which literally gave step-by-step guides on how to run some common alleyway scams, like the game with the ball and the three cups, and instructions on how to stack a deck of cards, etc.

It was super interesting reading, honestly! At the very least, I can basically guarantee at this point, I’ll never get sucked into one of the scams I read about. At most… I could probably run a few of those scams myself now. So. Watch out.

5. How To Trust My Writer Gut

BREAKING NEWS: writing is difficult.

But honestly, being a newbie writer is especially difficult, because just as you’re trying to figure out your writing process, or your editing process, or trying to get your foot in the door with publishers or agents, you are bombarded with advice and edicts from other writers and authors. A lot of that advice is contradictory or just won’t work for you personally… so how in the hell are you supposed to know what to do?

Your brain isn’t going to know. But your writer gut will. At least, I’m learning that mine does. I guess to each their own, here!

This answer is a little bit of a cheat, because, yes, learning to trust my writer gut happened a bit through writing AMONG THIEVES and THICK AS THIEVES, but mostly this knowledge is something I’ve gained through the publishing process. When I was offered representation back in 2017, I actually received multiple offers. Of those offers, my first agent was by far the newest and youngest, with the smallest client list.

My brain tried to tell me to go with one of the “bigger” agents. But my writer gut knew they were the right agent for me, and they turned out to be the perfect agent to kick off my career with. Same for my second go-around in the query trenches, when I signed with my new agent, Laura, I felt in my gut that she was the perfect partner to help me in the next chapter of my career.

Through the editing and publication process for AMONG THIEVES, my writer gut strengthened, telling me what edits to accept and change without issue, what things to push back on and question, and what things to just slap a “STET for voice” on and stand my ground. It’s a difficult thing, navigating the world of writing and publishing, and I will not claim to be an expert — I am still a tiny baby in this industry. But I have faith that if I keep trusting my writer gut, it’ll keep pointing me in the right direction.

M.J. Kuhn is a fantasy writer by night and a mild-mannered marketing employee by day. She lives in the metro Detroit area with a very spoiled cat named Thorin Oakenshield. M. J. also cohosts the SFF Addicts podcast with Adrian M. Gibson.

MJ Kuhn: Website

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