The Big Idea: Chuck Wendig

When Chuck Wendig is not drinking Febreeze smoothies or arguing with people about their burrito choices, he writes books! For example: Thunderbird, the newest entry in his Miriam Black series. In today’s Big Idea, Chuck talks about what it took to extend the series into new territory… and how the real world might have caught up with it along the way.


I’ll preface this by saying: I had no idea what was coming.

Two years ago, I wrote the fourth book in my Miriam Black series: Thunderbird. In it, Miriam seeks to end the curse that causes her see how people are going to die, but that path cuts straight through a right-wing militia nesting in Arizona.

It’s a militia, but it’s also a cult of personality, run in part by a charismatic man and his psychic wife. They have visions of an America in ruins, left so in part by those “others” who come across the border or from overseas. They also distrust their own government—these people are paranoid, driven by visions of a new world order or state-sponsored super-flu or other forms of impossible control. They want to break it all down. Blow it all up. They want to heal the divide by eradicating the other side in a civil war that proves their version of justice. They have weapons. They have bombs. They’re going to kill people to—in their minds—save people. And then they have visions of taking over the government that they destroy.

The book comes out this week, and suddenly it seems hopelessly naive. It now seems like a thing less out of fiction – or, at least, less a thing at the fringes and the margins – and is now a very real infection slithering right to the heart of American life and discourse. It’s gone off the pages. It’s gone off the rails. Here we are, in thrall to a cult of personality who sees enemies everywhere, who imagines threats that aren’t real, who seems to distrust the government even as it takes it over. It’s a group that claims that it wants to heal the divide, but its mechanism to do so again seems to be to create unity by destroying those would disagree.

Well, shit.

At the time, I thought, I’m going to talk about this thing, this sickness forming in the roots of the tree, and I was stupid enough to think that’s where it would stay. Trapped in those pages like a prisoner behind paper walls. But here we are. The big idea, the bad idea, has taken over. It’s escaped the prison. It’s gone beyond just the roots—it’s in the trunk of the tree and in the soil around us. I didn’t think the ideas I put forth in the book would become mainstream, in a way. I didn’t know we would climb so high only to fall back so far, so fast, to a broken world.

The Miriam books have always posited a broken world, of course. The characters contained within – save maybe one or two – are never really good people, they’re all just varying shades of bad. Some are bad because they are made that way, some are bad because it serves them. Some are bad because they’re as broken as the world around them, some are bad because they want to break the world further. There’s bad, then there’s real bad, and sometimes, there’s downright motherfucking evil.

I try to look at the book now, long after I wrote it, as it’s coming out onto bookshelves in a world whose own special horrors have exceeded the story’s own in many ways, and now I’m forced to find a different big idea contained within, one that maybe seeks to find hope in the hellmouth. And I’m forced to look at Miriam herself, because though she’s by no means a good person, she still tries to be better. Her capacity to do the right thing when surrounded by wrong is something noble. Her drive to be better even when she knows she’s easily one of the worst people in the room gives me a weird kind of hope. And the fact that even in all the darkness, the book still lets in rays of light—grimy light, light that flickers, but still light that clarifies and chases away shadows—well, I find that hopeful, too.

And sure, it’s just a book. It’s just a story. But like I said, sometimes the things inside books find a way outside the books. Sometimes they were never really the realm of fiction. Sometimes stories know things and tell us things even before we’re really aware of them. So that’s what I’m hoping is happening here. Maybe Thunderbird is showing us not only the reality of the darkness, but also that there’s a way through, too, toward the light. Maybe the big idea is that no matter how bad it gets, we can always make it better.


Thunderbird: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

8 Comments on “The Big Idea: Chuck Wendig”

  1. First of all, Chucks is NOT arguing about your “burrito choices”. He is rightly–righteously–accusing you of Abominations against Cuisine! Those things you call burritos are at best wraps and by most any stretch of the imagination, horrid offenses against defenseless taste buds and innocent tortillas!

    On the other hand, I may have to check out Mr. Wendig’s series in whole! Thanks for the Big Idea!

    Also, I’m sure Wil Wheaton will be willing to testify to your crimes against gastronomy! Just ask him…

  2. I was going to say that essay was weirdly optimistic for Chuck, but thinking about it he’s actually generally optimistic. He is just and extraordinarily pessimistic optimist :-). I just read his first book, which is about a vampire in a zombie apocalypse. In my opinion, the story has some structural issues, but it was still an entertaining read and, at its heart, it’s an optimistic book even while featuring an asshole as a protagonist and a litany of broken people as supporting characters.

  3. I’m feeling rather dark today because the cult of personality figurehead unnamed in your assessment, Chuck, is being praised for behaving presidential last night. Low bar, I guess.

    Your book sounds engaging — I look forward to reading it!

  4. Burrito, you say? Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your food box.

  5. “The book comes out this week, and suddenly it seems hopelessly naive. ”

    There was a movie called “Enemy of the State” starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman about a CIA guy who is using his position to spy on Americans and politicians for his own power.

    At the time, it seemed somewhat edgey. But that was 1998. Since 9/11 and the massive abuses of the Patriot Act, it seems… quaint.

    I think Trump has shown that all of America is hopelessly naive. Dems for thinking Hillary couldnt lose. And Republicans for thinking Trump is a good idea. And then Dems again for putting the same people who lost the election in charge of the party atain, thinking more of the same is somehow a good idea.

  6. The Big Idea and the recent Twitter nonsense has led me to add the series to my “To Read” list. I’m not sure which had the most influence….

%d bloggers like this: