An Open Book
Bucks County novelist Chuck Wendig keeps breaking new ground in fiction and strives to help others do the same.
by Melissa D. Sullivan

Bestselling horror writer Chuck Wendig has had many writing jobs in his time, including storytelling for role-playing games, comics, television, and film. On one writing job—his very first, in fact—he wrecked a van … but more on that later.

A Bucks County native, Wendig has written fiction since 1997, but his reputation as a novelist reached a new height in 2019 with his pandemic thriller novel Wanderers. Called a “career-defining epic” on the scale of Stephen King’s The Stand, Wanderers was recommended as one of the year’s best reads by NPR, The Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly.
Despite his newfound fame, Wending happily types away in a shed only recently freed of mowers. He has not one but two new books coming out in 2023. A frequent guest of the Doylestown Bookshop, he also pens a free newsletter called terribleminds, where no topic—the future of artificial intelligence in art, for example, or the best variety of heirloom apples—is off limits.
We spoke with Wendig about his contrarian views on writing advice, his latest horror book set in an alternate version of Bucks County, and the aftermath of crashing a van while on assignment.
So how did you end up crashing a van on a writing job?

My first job out of college was in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I worked for the [Independent] Cash Registers Dealers Association, an organization of cash-register dealers, which is as exciting as it sounds. They had a newspaper, which, again, is exciting as it sounds, and they hired me to quote unquote, be a writer for that. I found myself doing a lot of things like filing and moving boxes. Then one day they told me that these cash-register luminaries of the cash-register-dealer world were coming to Charlotte, and it was my job to drive them around and give them a tour. Ironically, I’m not from Charlotte, and I didn’t know a lot about Charlotte. Certainly not enough to give anybody a tour. They set me up with a van. When I heard van, I felt like, “I’ve driven a van before.” But when I got to the parking garage, it wasn’t really a van; it was one of those huge minibuses. I thought: Well, OK, this will be fine; we’ll figure it out. It didn’t occur to me that you couldn’t just leave the garage the normal way. I went out through the normal exit and lodged it like it was a piece of cholesterol in an artery. I rolled down the window and climbed out. I found a payphone, and I called my boss and said, “Hey, I quit. I left the keys in the van. It’s lodged in this spot. So, good luck with that.”
You’ve got a bunch of titles coming out in 2023. The first is Gentle Writing Advice: How to Be a Writer Without Destroying Yourself, due out in June. What’s your favorite advice from that book?
I think some of the favorite advice is where I discuss a lot of the writing advice that you hear: Write what you know; show, don’t tell; you have to write every day. There’s literally a whole chapter taking those old writing chestnuts, roasting them over an open the fire, and challenging them at every step of the way. Even I’ve said, “Self-doubt can kill a writer.” But I then I thought: Maybe self-doubt has some value. Let’s figure out what the value of self-doubt is to a certain point. What is it giving you, what is it helping you do? The book is a very contrarian take on a lot of the writing advice that’s out there.
You have another book coming out in September 2023, Black River Orchard, set in an alternate Bucks County. Tell me about that one.
It’s about an orchard that grows apples that people become obsessed with, and it makes them confident and beautiful and powerful—maybe at a certain point too confident and too powerful. From this apple, grows this certain narcissistic, self-serving cult.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I am not a professional photographer, but I do enjoy it. I could see a world where I do that, though I know, like with writing and all the other creative pursuits, it gets harder and harder to survive. Maybe a bookseller, because I’d still probably be connected to books. I used to work for a local library. So maybe I’d still be there.
So, very lucrative careers.
Very lucrative careers! So, oddly, thank God I’m a writer. Usually, I wouldn’t say that, but, boy, that’s true!
Photo courtesy of Chuck Wendig
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, April 2023.