Then: Hey! Look! Mary Robinette Kowal was kind enough to host a silly doof like me over at her site where I discuss My Favorite Bit of Mockingbird. (Hint: it’s about how authors scare themselves.)
And: I was the featured author at LitStack! In this interview, I talk about things like: sperm! angels! bears riding panthers! death! minions! time travel! Also: learn the truth about Hiram’s Fibertangle!
The Eloquent Page says: “I think we may have to start collectively fearing this author. I mean, I can only assume that Mr. Wendig has made some sort of Faustian deal with the Dark Gods. Perhaps his books, and their addictive crack-like quality, are only the first step in some far more diabolical scheme? It appears that the dark side doesn’t only offer cookies, they also have Chuck Wendig. Mockingbird is a darker-than-dark adult flavored urban fantasy that will mess with your head in the best of ways.”
Notes from the Belfry adds: “A sequel that’s as good as the first, possibly better, Mockingbird also significantly ups both character development and the creep-factor, with Miriam facing a truly insidious and deeply disturbing adversary.” And then they kindly slap it with a five out of five.
Of Blackbirds, the Murder by the Book blog says: “Miriam Black is the most troubled, sexiest, spookiest clarivoyant you’d ever hope to meet in a novel.” Also: “This author can flat out write.” Woo!
Staring down the barrel of a “next in the series” is some tricky shit, hoss. You can feel the Sword of Expectations dangling above your head, held there by a little length of underwear elastic, the blade bobbing and swaying and ever-ready to fall. People who read the first one have certain parameters in mind. You want to deliver on the promises made in the first book but you want to exceed them, punching and kicking the walls of your self-built box so you can deliver something bigger, stranger, different without being too different, the same without being too much the same.
This book is that, for me — it takes Miriam, throws her into a more active role regarding her dread psychic ability of touching people and seeing how and when they’re going to die. She’s been trying for the last year to live a normal life and, well, that’s like dressing up a wolverine in a chef’s coat and hoping he’ll cook you dinner instead of biting your face. But Miriam finds herself on a slippery slope that starts with a teacher suffering from powerful hypochondria and ends with a serial killer of young girls. Miriam must race against the clock and her own worst instincts to solve murders before they happen, lest these girls die. In the first book, it was all about Miriam deciding if she even wanted to tackle fate one last time to save the life of Louis. In the second book, she’s armed with one more rule. She knows how to divert the waters of fate, and that means throwing into the stream one big motherfucking rock.
But can she do that? Will she? Is that really who she is, and if so, what the hell does that mean?
With the second book you want to take the questions asked in the first and bring them forward. You’ve answered some of those questions but in fiction, answers just breed more questions. That’s what a second book must really become: the natural evolution of our Q&A regarding the character and her story.
So, in Mockingbird it’s a question of, who is Miriam Black? What does she want to become? Can she try to live a normal life? (Short answer: no.) Is she a drifter? A thief? A problem-solver? A killer?
Not Everybody Knows It’s The Second In A Series
Some people are just going to pick the book up, blissfully unaware that there exists a “book one.” And so there’s another tricksy part of the “next in the series” equation — you want to write for all the people who read the first one, but you also want to give enough in the book that it stands on its own. (Ideally, Mockingbird does. I hope?) You want to make it so reading the first book isn’t a chore, isn’t a necessity, but instead offers the reward of backtracking through a story. You find this in television, or in comics — jump in late, you get the pleasure of one day starting at the beginning to see how everything got to be the way it is.
But you also can’t write only for those people.
It’s a balance. It’s the “episodic” versus “serialized” thing — some books, shows, comics get that right.
Many do not.
It’s a tightrope walk.
The Outline’s The Thing
The first book took me way too many years to write.
The sequel took me 30 days.
And it’s longer. Mockingbird is a bigger book — bigger in all ways. Page count. Character. Plot.
I attribute the swiftness of the writing to a couple things.
One of those things is THE BLUE METH.
Wait, no, I mean — one of those things is the outline. I’ve long said that I am a pantser by heart but a plotter by necessity and this book is proof of that. I scrawled an incomprehensible-to-anyone-but-me roadmap of the novel from Point A to Point Holy Fuck What’s Wrong With You, and man, having that map was so freeing. I didn’t have to follow it every day, but on most days I merely had to look at the map and say, “Here’s where I am, and here’s where I need to go,” and boom, the day of writing was easy-breezy. Given that I don’t write fiction on weekends, that means I was pretty easily churning out 3-4k words a day.
For me, outlines are like vitamins. Nobody wants to take ’em.
But when I do, I feel better. So, I do.
Know Thy Character
The other thing I attribute the ease of writing this book is THE BLUE M… er, sorry, is “knowing thy character.” Miriam Black, for better or for worse, is a character who has roosted in the eaves of my brain-barn. She’s up there. I can’t get her out, not with a shock-rod and a catch-pole. She’s sitting there, smoking and cursing at me and telling me all the inventive ways people suck the pipe.
My characters don’t always take up permanent real estate inside my mind. Some do. Others don’t. (Atlanta Burns has, for instance.) But she has. I always know which way Miriam will jump. The things she says — which are usually horrible — pour out without any effort. I know things about her and her life that may one day show up in books — or maybe they don’t.
But knowing her through and through makes her very, very easy to write.
Which is probably a bad thing, in retrospect.
Softening Hard Edges, Sharpening Round Corners
I continue to submit that likability is not a meaningful trait in fiction. We must like spending time with the character, but that doesn’t mean we need to like them personally. I don’t need to get a beer with my president or my protagonist. That being said, you do want to advance a character somewhat, to evolve her story and her persona, and for Miriam that was a two-fold path.
First, I wanted to make her more understandable. More sympathetic by dint of her being wholly active and in control of her destiny (in a book where, quite literally, few can say the same thing). In this book Miriam isn’t just serving her own selfish whims — though those are, erm, still there — but she’s actively trying to change something she has no right or reason to change. She’s trying to help save girls who will one day be murdered. Girls she doesn’t much like. (Girls who remind Miriam of Miriam, truth be told.)
But I also wanted to take that sympathy and turn it on its ear. A “more active Miriam” is fucking scary. Because a determined Miriam is no longer a bear trap you step into, but rather, a bullet coming at your face.
So, on one hand, I’m softening Miriam.
On the other hand, I’m just softening the metal so she can be turned into a sharper blade.
Serial Killers Are People, Too
This book features a serial killer. I’ll say no more about the plot details of that — because it gets a little twisty, as the identity of said killer is an OMG QUESTION MARK THE RIDDLER’S BEEN HERE OH NOES. What I will say is, the serial killer is deeply fucked. The killer does things that freaked me out. And I wrote it. It came from my own head.
And yet, I always know that the danger of a serial killer is that they’re woefully redundant and that the horrible things that they do are meaningless (and even cartoonish) if done poorly.
You have to remember that serial killers are people, too.
They come from somewhere. They have mothers and fathers and people they love.
They likely have some super-tangled brain-wires, but they’re still people. They have an agenda. They’re not just killing because they like pain and death and blah blah blah. That may be true in real life, but in fiction, you need more. You need meat on dem bones, and that was my goal here: to make the serial killer, well, not sympathetic, but to put in place a plan, a plot, a scary-ass WTF motive.
How To Get Twisty
Twists, man. Another thing that can go dreadfully wrong in a story.
Mockingbird has a couple notable twists in it.
I’m always wary of doing that and yet, at the same time, I fucking love doing that. Twists are great. Fiction works best when you can subvert the expectations of the reader. When you can show them something they didn’t expect but on retrospect, should have. Right? That last part is key. You’ve set up the pieces and shown them what is a kind of narrative optical llusion that things seem like they’ll turn right but all along you’ve been showing them why the story needs to turn left. Tricks don’t work when they come flying out of nowhere (“Oh no! The serial killer is the monkey butler! Though we’ve never seen nor heard of a monkey butler before! I guess I just have to take it on good faith! Damn you, monkey butler!”).
It’s a lot of fun hijacking the reader’s brain.
Twists are a part of that, I think. Small twists and big twists.
Three Things I Want To Do With Fiction
First, I want to make you feel something. Emotion. I want you invested. I want you happy and sad, hurt and healed. I don’t mean in the larger scope — I don’t expect to be gut-punching you five years after you put the book down. But I do want, whilst caught in the throes of reading, for you to feel something. Anything at all. (Er, anything except the urge to throw the book in the toilet where you will then urinate upon it.)
Second, I want you to think. For me, these two books break my noodle in certain ways — soon as you start getting into lofty notions like fate and free will, I get excited. My gears start turning immediately. And I want your gears to turn, too. Mockingbird I think ups the ante a bit by incorporating bits about poetry and mythology into the story. More grist for the thought mill.
Third, I want to shock and surprise you. I don’t mean “shock” as in “gross you out” — though that’s one viable option. I like stories that surprise, that do things I’d never expect. I think a good story takes risks. It fucks with your head a little; it presents you with two doors and then goes out a window, instead. My favorite fiction has always surprised me. So I aim to do the same.
Something Is Wrong With Me
That’s the last thing I learned.
Something isn’t right with my noggin.
But that’s okay.
Because I’m hoping something isn’t right with your noggin, either, for reading the book and — hopefully! — liking it. I think writers are all a little goofy in the head, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Hopefully you’ll check out Mockingbird today (and if you’re looking for an incentive to check out Blackbirds, it’s under five bucks for your Kindlemaschine). If you do check out either book, I hope you dig it and that it’s a book worthy of you telling a friend or three or maybe writing a review. We authors live and die by your recommendations and your love of the books you read, so for that, thank you.
At the very least, I’d sure like it if you spread the word.
Because I loved writing this book and I hope people love reading it.
You can read the first 50+ pages of Mockingbird here, for free:
But, if you’re a bonafide bonded-and-licensed Wendigo Hunter and you’re looking for me specifically, well, then, here’s your best bets for tracking me down this upcoming weekend in Chicago:
I arrive in an ornithopter whose wings are formed from the skin of the Mighty Humbaba!
“The New Pulp” panel with me, Adam Christopher, and Stephen Blackmoore. Ideally, we’ll be drinking. Or talking about drinking. 10:30am to noon, McCormick.
Mockingbird launch and book signing with fellow Angry Robot book-launchers Gwenda Bond, Kim Curran, and Adam Christopher. Starting at 7pm, The Book Cellar. They sell beer at this bookstore. Repeat: they sell beer at this bookstore. Also, it’s located in a neighborhood appropriately called “Ravenswood.” KISMET, MOTHERFUCKERS.
Not much going on. Find me! Maybe we’ll do an impromptu unofficial “kaffeeklatsch,” whatever that is. I think it involves espresso and artificially intelligent Rube Goldberg devices.
Reading! In which I read something! 10am – 10:30am, DuSable.
Signing! In which I devalue (Er, “autograph”) your books! Or your boobs (lady- and man-boobs)! I’ll sign anything! A puppy! A handgun! Whatever! 10:30am – noon, Autograph Tables.
I flee the city on a horse made of fire!
Your best bets for communicating with me is via Twitter (@ChuckWendig). I’ll also be rooming with Stephen Blackmoore, which is frightening as I’m told he’s bringing one of his many clown outfits. If you find me and I’m shivering and there’s a little smudge of greasepaint on my cheek or chin, just do me the service of quietly wiping it away with a moistened thumb. Say nothing. Just nod and hold me.
Sweet Crispy Ass-Crack, It’s A Book Trailer!
Book trailer for the Miriam Black series? With me reading strings upon strings of profanity extracted from the books? YOU ASK, YOU RECEIVE. Put on your helmets and tarps.
(A second trailer will be incoming in the next day or three read by the inestimable growl of Dan O’Shea.)
Holy Shitting Shitballs, It’s Mockingbird!
So. Mockingbird releases tomorrow (next week for the UK audience).
*freaks out, jumps up and down, throws chair through office window*
I’ll remind you that pre-ordering enters you into a contest by which you may win a buttload of my other books in hardcopy (deval… er, autographed). Email proof of pre-order to terribleminds at gmail dot com.
You’ve got till (now extended) 9pm tonight to get those pre-orders into me. I’ll pick tomorrow!
You can read the first 50+ pages right here, for free:
“For those nervous about sequels, pop an Ativan and take a few cleansing breaths. Mockingbird, dare I say, is even better than its predecessor, a heady feat considering the pressure of novels written in series format. Chuck Wendig delivers on the promise he established in Blackbirds. The continuing saga of Miriam Black never lags with its hairpin plot turns and freakishly ornate imagery. It is a book that, once consumed, will leave you famished for the next installment.”
“Chuck Wendig’s mind is a terrifying, twisted, fascinating thing, and thank goodness he puts this stuff down on paper for the rest of us. Darker than dark, Mockingbird will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget, so fortify your stomach and settle in, because you’re going to want to read this one in one sitting. Can’t wait for the next one!”
“Wendig carries on where he left off in Blackbirds. All the strengths which made it so fantastic return here – great pacing, taught plotting, laugh-out-loud language, and the empathy he has with his damaged protagonist. He continues to blend genres like someone who’s written 20 novels, not just two or three. This is part horror, part urban fantasy, part thriller and part mystery. All of it, however, is good.”
“Miriam is near the top of my badass list and she does it without any superpower other than her ability to touch a person and know how they die. That and she knows how to fight dirty. The last third of this book is just nonstop action-packed don’t-interrupt-me-now-I-mean-it awesome.”
“It almost made me late for work. It almost made me miss my bus. It sucks you in (and no, it’s not a pun, there are no vampires in it, which is perhaps another point in its favor) and does not let go. It is fast-paced and engrossing. It is pretty much everything I look for in a good urban fantasy book.”
It’s Monday, and Monday cares little for order. Monday is a child of chaos.
Monday is a typhoon. Monday is birdshot. Monday is broken glass.
Here, then, is just a crazy slapdash pile of things shoved into a cannon and shot into your midsection.
• Bait Dog: An Atlanta Burns Novel is available. Did I tell you that already? I did, I know. Shut up. No, you shut up. No, your blouse is ugly. Pssh. PFFT. Anyway. You can check out the buy links here, and the book will only be $2.99 until Wednesday, so, get it now. Or I’ll send Atlanta Burns to your door with her squirrel gun. Oh. Also. If you’re interested in a softcover copy of the book, lemme know in the comments, yeah?
• I made a “golden syrup” the other day. Two cups of sugar (good sugar, like demerera or turbinado) in one cup of water. Boil. Throw in the juice of one squozen lemon. Boil for five minutes. Then scrape into it the seedy figgy floral delight of one vanilla bean. Take the bean hull, shove it into a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar. Pour over own hand. Eat own hand and revel in the delight. Or, y’know, waffles and ice cream instead. WHATEVS. I don’t own you.
• This is a super-lovely review of the next Miriam Black book, Mockingbird. Graeme’s Fantasy Reviews gives the book 9.5/10 stars, and says of the book: “Wendig plumbs real depths of bleakness and horror to bring us the world that Miriam must negotiate. It’s a world that we all know is there and one we are secretly glad that we can put down when the book is done; no-one would want to live with what Miriam has to. The way Wendig presents it though makes for nothing short of compelling reading, a book that eclipses ‘Blackbirds’ in its determination to head to new depths for the sake of a good story. Wendig knows that his readers deserve nothing less. If you’re waiting for ‘Mockingbird’ then take it from me, you’re in for a bit of treat. If you’re not waiting for ‘Mockingbird’, well… you should be.”
• I’m closing in on the final third of Gods & Monsters: Unclean Spirits. I’ve since had one god lovingly describe the vagina of his goddess lover, and I’ve had another character describe the versatility of his penis. It’s now clear that something is wrong with me. Or oh-so-right. But probably really, really, wrong. Oh, the book’s up for pre-order and has a cover.
• The ever-lovely Dawn Nikithser of the Bookshelf Bombshells tackled the Double Dead sequel, Bad Blood, in this review, saying: “I am pretty sure that, if given the opportunity, Coburn would smack the shit out of Bill Compton with Eric Northman, puree them both into a nice slurpy snack, and then pick his teeth with the smoking shards of Edward Cullen.” Best description of Coburn ever.
• Updated Worldcon/Chicon schedule: Friday (31st), New Pulp panel at 10:30AM; Friday, a book signing at the Book Cellar with Gwenda Bond, Kim Curran, and Adam Christopher at 7pm; Sunday (2nd), a Mockingbird reading at 10AM, followed by a signing at 10:30 (lasts till noon). And for the rest of the time, I’ll be tottering around drunk and confused.
• I quite like this review of Blackbirds, in which Ivan Ewert says, “I found it to be a story of redemption, of the triumph of human effort; although that triumph is painful and hard-won.” And, “Wendig writes in car-crash prose, swift and sharp. The sentences hook you and pull you along at a breakneck clip.”
• Books I’ve read recently that you may want to read? Paul S. Kemp, The Hammer and the Blade (which made me want to run out and get wrapped up in a D&D game post-haste); Greg Rucka’s Alpha (uhh, hello, Die Hard at Disneyland?); am in the middle of the very delightful The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (supernatural spy happenings both very scary and quirkily funny). Oh, also, John Hornor’s This Dark Earth, a very literary zombie novel — though, still piled in heaps and bundles of delicious gore.
• Hey, Stephen Blackmoore’s Dead Things is up for pre-order. I read this book last year and it was one of my favorite reads. If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher — or, perhaps, of mine — then you want a copy of this book.
• New Mockingbird excerpts are releasing up at This Is How You Die, but I’ll pop the first week’s up here, below. Check ’em out, won’t you? (Features light Blackbirds spoilers.) Click to embiggenate!
• Aaaaand, finally, the Mockingbird fan-art contest has its first three entries. Remember: looking for anything at all. Fine art. Photography. Cooking. Music. Video. Craft. Graphic Design. The visuals:
First up, let me say this: Bait Dog is done. Like, done-done. Like, in the hands of backers.
Been hearing some good rumbles from folks who have already read and finished it (!):
“…it’s a gut punch. Great heroine, gripping story. I’m proud to have supported this Kickstarter!”
“Read it all in one sitting. Wow. I cried & cheered out loud.”
“Finished it last night – it was fucking great. I like your other work, but Atlanta is by far my favorite.”
I’ll be releasing this wide to the public on, I believe, August 13th.
The novel will come with Shotgun Gravy packaged into the text.
The book was hard row to hoe — Atlanta is an easy character to write and, in the technical sense, this book was easy, too. It leaped up out of me — I barely had to facilitate its birth.
But the subject matter is tough stuff. I mean, dog fights? C’mon. Eeesh. Scary.
Anyway. Hope you’ll check it out when it drops. Keep your grapes peeled.
Other Stuff Stuffed With Different Stuff
New Mockingbird review from Fantasy Bytes: “The leanness of the writing that I so loved in Blackbirds is still very evident, although…in places it seems to have put on a pound or two, which works just as well. It’s more verbose than its predecessor, more descriptive and initially at least, slower paced. Again, I like this, it shows a different side to things. The switch-up between the two styles is effective, you never know what’s coming next and that’s a real bonus. You need to be ready for anything here… Miriam is as terrifyingly, captivatingly awesome as ever.”
New Mockingbird review from Adventures Fantastic: “The story didn’t go where I expected it to. I was surprised several times. Wendig has come up with a killer that is at least as scary as Hannibal Lector. There were scenes that were downright flawless in their creepiness. I doubt I’ll ever look at crows the same way again. We learn more about Miriam, and it’s kinda spooky, some of the stuff we learn. Of course, Wendig only gives us so much. He leaves plenty of questions and implications hanging, making us want more.”
Oh, and sometime this week I’ll probably start loosing new Mockingbird promos upon the world.
I’ll be signing Mockingbird in Chicago for the book’s release, there with three other kickass Angry Robot authors (Adam Christopher, Gwenda Bond, Kim Curran) at the Book Cellar on 8/31, 7pm. Details here.
Lessee. What else?
Great review of Dinocalypse Now: “If pulp heroes duking it out with psychic dinosaurs, intelligent apes, and Neanderthals from Hollow Earth doesn’t seem like your sort of thing, you’re probably not going to enjoy this book. Dinocalypse Now is the distilled essence of that sort of thing, carried off with considerable flair, and to really enjoy it I think you have to buy in.”
Here’s an, erm, ‘review’ of 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer at Amazon, which I’ve flagged as being inappropriate: “This “writer” thinks he’s funny but his sense of humor is really just plain retarded. I only made it a quarter of the way through until I couldn’t take any more. I think his volcabulary is about 100 words deep, this book does not live up to the title, spare yourself the pain and click away from this book immediately, reading it can only make one dumber and a worse writer, there are hundred’s of books on writing better than this. Repeat..stay away.” (Sorry about my ‘volcabulary.’ If only I had hundred’s of better words! Ahem. Sic.)
The Liar’s Club anthology of shorts, Liar Liar, got an audio deal with Blackstone Audio. Both Stephen Susco and I will be contributing late stories to the anthology, so, get excited.
As you’ll note here, Angry Robot failed to notice the curious blue powder I drizzled into their drinks and, as such, were bombed into such a stupor that they decided to re-up with me for another two books. I know, right? What’s wrong with them? Whatever the case, that means that you’ll see a new book from me called The Blue Blazes, and a third (!) Miriam Black book, The Cormorant.
Somewhere in the last year, seems I’ve built for myself a career as a novelist. Blackbirds, Mockingbird, Double Dead, Gods & Monsters, Dinocalypse Now, Beyond Dinocalypse, Dinocalypse Forever, Heartland Book One, Book Two, Book Three, Blue Blazes, The Cormorant, and of course, Bait Dog. It’s like I fell into a big bucket of sweet, sweet story-juice. This in addition to all the other ink I sling.
I’m going to be a busy dude.
And, again, to clarify: lucky, lucky, lucky.
As such, I feel like giving away some copies of Blackbirds.
To win, go to Twitter.
There you will play the, “Tell the world how you die” game.
Play on fear, play on fantasies, be real, be funny, be sad, whatever you want.
In a single tweet, tell the world how you think you’ll die.
Here’s the second — and very important — part.
You must use the hashtag:
Okay? Tag your tweet with that hashtag or I just plum won’t see it.
(And that hashtag will make sense only to those who have read the book.)
I will pick three winners. Three favorites.
The most favoritest will get a signed copy of the book mailed to them.
The other two will receive unsigned copies.
(All mass market paperbacks.)
Open only to those in America, if you please. (International shipping is a bear.)
I’ll accept these until 10PM EST tonight (5/17). At which point I’ll announce the winners shortly thereafter.