Here’s the thing – Chuck Wendig is a good friend and runs a crazy-good blog dispensing authorial advice honed from his own experience as a full-time writer. He also grills fellow writers about their work, but when it comes to his own material – well, he can’t exactly interview himself, can he?
So today I’m pleased to turn my blog over to Chuck, to answer ten questions on his new book, The Blue Blazes, which is out today in the UK. I was lucky enough to read it earlier this year, and I absolutely loved it – I think it’s Chuck’s best book yet, and I’m glad we’re going to get some further adventures of Mookie Pearl.
Without further ado…
1. Tell us about yourself: who the hell are you?
I’m a strapping young beardsman with a taste for adventure and a penchant toward deviant pornography. I run a monkey rodeo with a family of three centaurs. I love beer, whiskey, and artisanal honey made from rare corpseflowers. I once killed a man in Reno not so much to watch him die but because he had a taco and I wanted that taco.
Above all else, I am a liar. Which I translate into writing novels and my penmonkey blog, terribleminds.com.
2. Give us the 140-character story pitch
Mookie Pearl and his rebellious daughter stand at the crux between the criminal underworld and the mythic and monstrous underworld.
Or, even shorter:
MAN AND GIRL DO CRAZY OCCULT DRUGS AND PUNCH MONSTERS BELOW THE STREETS OF MANHATTAN.
Or, even shorter:
MAN EATS MEAT, FIGHTS HELL
3. Where does this story come from?
Stories have a curious lineage, don’t they? This one starts when I was a wee kid doing things a wee kid isn’t supposed to do – they say, “Don’t look at the sun,” and the first thing the kid does is look at the sun.
I used to press my thumbs against my closed eyes to see the firework shows behind the darkened lids – blue streamers and curtains of light – and then one time I did it and hallucinated a lion on our front lawn. I still see the lion clear as day in my mind: reclining and queenly as if having just fed.
From there the seed planted that has been spawning vines and flowers ever since: the idea of having an unseen world that is only revealed upon performing some task – and in this case, it’s what happens when you do the mystical drug known as Cerulean, AKA, “The Blue Blazes.”
The impetus to actually write this book comes from being asked to join an anthology called The New Hero, Volume I – Robin Laws said he wanted stories about iconic heroes who did not change themselves but instead changed the world, and from there, the story of Mookie was born. That anthology features Mookie’s first appearance, telling the story of how his daughter dupes him into clearing out a nest of goblins so she can take over the Blue trade in that part of town.
But I wanted Mookie to change (I find characters who change more interesting than those that don’t), and so I set out to continue his story.
Hence, The Blue Blazes was born, where Mookie continues to fight the Great Below beneath his feet while also trying to fend of attacks from his own daughter while still hoping to make peace with her.
4. How is this a story only you could have written?
I have a special love for damaged characters who, at a cursory glance, you should pretty much hate. I liken it to being a stunt plane pilot where you take the plane and plunge it toward the earth as the onlookers look on—dive, dive, dive—and just as they think, Well, this is it, it’s over, no way he can pull out of this, you suddenly jack back on the stick and the plane shoots up out of the deadfall and flies back up into clear blue skies.
I like doing that with the characters – you think, oh, no way I can get behind a character like this. But then (ENGAGE NEW METAPHOR: “Fishing”) you yank back on the rod-and-reel and set the hook. Wait, weren’t we talking about planes? I must be high on a mystical drug. Like, say, the Blue Blazes. Or the Red Rage! Or the Golden Gate, or the Green Grave, or the Violet Void…
5. What was the hardest thing about writing THE BLUE BLAZES?
Well, doing all those mystical drugs was tricky. Especially since mystical drugs don’t exist, so I was basically like, mixing cocktails of drain cleaner, floor sweepings, gunpowder, and hobo blood to get the right effect.
NO I KID, I KID. I don’t do drugs, and neither should you, kids. Stay in school.
The hardest thing for me was that this book was very, very worldbuildy. Lots going on: street gangs and crime families and hell-born monsters given over to an infernal subterranean hierarchy. It’s got strange drugs. It’s got charcuterie. It’s got Manhattan in all its sewage and splendor. So, lots of research, lots of worldbuilding, and in ways I’d never done before. The trick was to not let the worldbuilding be the story driver – the world I built had to serve the story I wanted to tell, not vice versa. It’s tempting to come up with hundreds of awesome things and just cram them into the book but that only clogs the pipes.
To give a sense of how worldbuildy the book gets, some folks have said it’s like a conglomeration of Goodfellas, Lovecraft, and the D&D Monster Manual.
Which is not entirely inaccurate.
6. What did you learn writing THE BLUE BLAZES?
That I could actually write a big honking fantasy epic. Most of my books before this were fairly lean and mean – 70,000 word prison shivs. This was a different book for me, much more of a long, slow crash of a sledgehammer.
7. What do you love about THE BLUE BLAZES?
I love that the book has a lot to chew on. I love that people are telling me that they not only love the characters (a couple folks have told me the ending got them weepy! Score), but that they’d love to play a pen-and-paper RPG or a video game in this setting. I like that it feels inhabited. And layered. And – pun intended, given Mookie’s predilection toward artisanal butchery – meaty.
8. What would you do differently next time?
I would drink less drain cleaner. Because now I pretty much have to have all my food fed to me intravenously. Turns out, the warnings on those bottles actually mean something. I thought it meant like, for kids? Nope. For adults, too.
Also, I would take it more slowly. I wrote this 100k beast in like, two months – and I don’t think that harms the book, to be clear, but it certainly harms me in that my brain feels like it’s a lager that’s about to foam over. In a perfect world I’d get a few more months with it just to savor the taste.
9. Give us your favourite paragraph from the story
I’ll break my own rules and cheat a little bit – I’m fond of the very opening of the book in terms of describing Mookie Pearl, the protagonist of the book:
This, then, is Mookie Pearl.
He’s a high wall of flesh stuffed into a white wife-beater stained with brown (once red), a man whose big bones are wreathed in fat and gristle and muscle and sealed tight in a final layer of scar-tissue skin. At the top of his ox-yoke shoulders sits a head like a wrecking ball with black eyes and shorn scalp and a mouth full of teeth that look like white pebbles fished from a dark river. He’s got hands that could break a horse’s neck. He’s got Frankenstein feet and a Godzilla hunch.
He’s built like a brick shithouse made of a hundred smaller brick shithouses.
Mookie the Mook. Mookie the Meat-Man. Mookie the Monster.
Butcher. Bruiser. Breaker of legs. Some legs human. Most not.
10. What’s next for you as a storyteller?
I’m an insanely busy little penmonkey – I’ve written three books so far this year, and have miles to go before I sleep. (Though I do have some time to take a breather, now.)
Next up for me is my first official foray into young adult fiction – the first book of my Heartland trilogy, Under the Empyrean Sky. It’s the sunniest dustbowl dystopia you ever did see, a world where the Heartlanders toil in endless miles of blood-thirsty corn (no, really), where young Cael McAvoy finds a secret garden and loses the love of his life and has to decide what to do about both. It’s got hover-boats and a secret hobo cabal and “piss-blizzards” (aka pollen drifts) and lording over it all are the masters of the sky, the Empyrean in their giant flotillas.
John Hornor Jacobs suggested that it’s a mash-up of Star Wars and The Grapes of Wrath, and I like that suggestion just fine.