You know how sometimes you’ll read a particular author and find that their cadences and word choices are creeping into your own head-voice? Or sometimes into your writing? I ask because I have spent these last few days reading a lot of Chuck Tingle, and my brain is currently a CAPSLOCK wonderland filled with buckaroos and sentient jet-skis.
The purpose, you ask? Well, aside from the sheer joy of proving love, I thought it might be a fun quest: is it possible that such an eccentric body of work could yield practical writing advice?
Is Living Corn handsome? Do Space Raptors like to invade butts?
The answer, dear readers, is yes.
Trot down below, buckaroos, to find some classic Writing Ways.
For those of you new to this world: Chuck Tingle is possibly a man in his mid-40s who lives in Billings, Montana with his son. This man is neuro-atypical, has dealt with depression and tragedy, and channels a lot of his experiences into self-published erotica. He also has a Ph.D. and practices Tae Kwon Do.
Or, Tingle might be a J.T. Leroy-esque fictional creation by a person or persons who want to use erotica to satirize current events, and along the way have also expanded the Chuck persona into a way to talk about empathy and understanding for neuro-atypical people. You can read about the different interpretations in this fantastic 2016 Vox article from the also fantastic Aja Romano if you wish. (I’m going to set that aside for this piece, because regardless of whether Chuck is real or construct, the writing advice is freaking great.)
Tingle came to greater prominence, at least within the SFF community, when he was nominated for a Hugo Award (specifically in the Best Short Story category, for Space Raptor Butt Invasion), and asked games writer Zoë Quinn to attend the ceremony in his stead. He did not win, but you can read about the whole thing in this touching essay from M. Sophia Newman on LitHub.
The romance stories, called Tinglers, tend to be about Bigfoot, myriad dinosaurs, sentient objects (e.g. Jet-Planes, Jet-Skis, Living Corn, the Gay Color Changing Dress), and, sometimes, more nebulous concepts like the linear experience of time. Until recently this cast of characters would end up in relationships with handsome men, called Hard Bucks or True Bucks, and all differences would be reconciled as the cast explored their respective “preferred pounds.” (I trust you can translate that last phrase for yourselves.) The goal of the stories was to prove love, against the predations of the devils and scoundrels, yes, but also as a strike against THE VOID (the nothingness beyond Tingle’s multiverse), the VOID CRABS that come out of THE VOID, and The Call of the Lonesome Train, which seems to be the particular ache cause by the realization of one’s own mortality. Tingle would say in interviews that he focused on men (and male dinos, sasquatches, etc.) because he felt that “ladybucks” were too often objectified already. However, over the last few months he has begun writing stories featuring ladybucks (as well as decidedly female doughnuts, jet-skis, and bicycles), bisexual relationships, polyamorous groups, and asexual romance. He’s made it clear that these stories are written with considerable feedback from readers with different sexual orientations and identies to make sure he’s getting all the details right. (He has also, as of about a month ago, been introduced to the furry community, of which he was, seemingly, unaware. So there may be a whole new world of Tinglers on the way?) Finally, just this month, he launched the Tingleverse role-playing game.
I mention all of this both to ground you in his world, and to mention that he is modeling a writing career as well as anyone I can think of. He has a very clear internet presence, he speaks his mind and is unafraid of blowback from people who disagree. The idea of the “preferred pound” has gone from just being about different acts between men to encompassing sexual orientation and life philosophies, with Tingle vociferously defending people’s rights to their pounds, stressing the importance of enthusiastic consent within the pound, and condemning those who try to restrict pounds as “scoundrels” and “devils.” But he’s also willing to admit when he doesn’t have the necessary expertise for a story, and to reach out for input and beta reads from experts. He’s spent years honing his craft, and only after establishing a world and an audience has he moved into game development and podcasting. (One can only hope there are TV specials in our collective future.) Along the way Tingle (or the person/collective behind him) has given many interviews—and while they don’t provide too many craft tips, they do talk a great deal about practice and purpose.
[Editor’s note: In addition to his erotic short stories, Chuck Tingle is now venturing into the horror genre. His first traditionally-published full-length novel, Camp Damascus, is forthcoming from Nightfire in July 2023.]
I’ll start with this reddit AMA from a few years back, and an interview with Tingle on Nothing in the Rulebook. His answers reveal a consistent approach to the writing life that mirrored the habits of authors who are, possibly, even more well-known than our favorite erotica author.
Asked about a typical writing day, Tingle replies:
yes average day is getting up and having two BIG PLATES of spaghetti then washing them down with some chocolate milk then i get out of bed and meditate to be a healthy man. so when i am meditating i think ‘what kind of tingler would prove love today?’. if nothing comes then i will maybe trot around the house or go to the park or maybe walk to the coffee shop with my son jon before he goes to work. if i have a good idea i will just write and write until it is all done and then I will have son jon edit it and then post it online.
OK, so to translate this a bit out of Tingle-speak, we have a recommendation that you fuel your writing with carbs (and also an unlikely alliance with Haruki Murakami’s spaghetti-loving ways) with a bit of a boost of sugar. Once the body is taken care of, you have to pay attention to the mind through a very interesting meditation practice—he specifically says that he ponders how to be “a healthy man” but that he achieves this by thinking about how to write in a way that proves love. Just as writers from Flannery O’Connor to David Mitchell to N.K. Jemisin to Chuck Wendig have used their books to explore different belief systems and ethical concerns, Tingle’s writing practice and his moral and intellectual life are one. His writing is undoubtedly a creative outlet, but he also sees it as an opportunity to think about how life should be lived.
Asked how he prefers to write, Tingle takes a page from the Book of Truman Capote, saying that when he isn’t at a desk his writing happens “laying in bed now that i have a BIG TIME LAPTOP (this is gift from son jon)…” Capote also chose to write his meticulous first drafts in bed, telling The Paris Review: “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.” Of course, Tingle prefers chocolate milk to coffee, because just as you have your own preferred trot, you’ll also develop your own best writing practices as you go.
Responding to one “ladybuck writing books for teenbucks,” Dr. Tingle gives solid advice for those who want to capture readers’ imaginations without the aid of hot-billionaire-jetplane-on-man action:
well as a writer you are doing something SO SPECIAL AND IMPORTANT and i think most important thing is not to think ‘how can i make this like a tingler’ but HOW CAN I MAKE THIS LIKE ME. your way is so important because nobody else has it and that unique way can make the love you prove so much more potent. so i would say to answer question look inside of yourself and think about how your writing can PROVE LOVE. if it proves love then all teenbucks will enjoy it i am sure of that because love is true and it is undeniable
This is a somewhat meta point, but I think the most important element of writing, more than figuring out whether your character is a Billionaire T-Rex or the Socioeconomic Implications of Britain Leaving the European Union, is finding your voice as a writer. Next time you sit down to write, take a moment to scream at yourself: “HOW CAN I MAKE THIS LIKE ME.” Scream it with love. I’m guessing the pages you produce after that will be stronger than the ones before. Figure out what’s most important to you, how you like to talk to people, how you feel most comfortable communicating, and then lean into that classic way.
Tingle also has a deceptively simple cure for writer’s block:
when i am a writing bud i like to turn off my brain and watch the story like it is a movie, then i am just writing what is on the screen. thing is sometimes the acting buckaroos on the screen dont do what i expect THEY HAVE THEIR OWN WAY. i have found best way to fix writers block is to just let them do what they want because a lot of the time they will know what happens next much better than i do even though im am the writing buckaroo!
And maybe you’ve asked yourself if it’s even worth it to write at all? After all, why spend hours trying to pour your soul out onto a page when you don’t even know if anyone wants to read it? But have you considered that writing might be a good way to Prove Love Across All Timelines?
top advice for all writing buckaroos is to WRITE WITH LOVE. this is the most important way of all because you can always tell when an author knows that love is real. even if it is a scary story or a sad story if you write with INTENT of love it will show through and reading bucks will be drawn to your way this is just the nature of the tingleverse and any layer even the upper layers like this one
See? Chuck Tingle thinks you can write. So go write.
During Tingle’s appearance on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast, host Sarah Wendell asked if he had advice for aspiring writers, and he dove straight into the heart of what writing is FOR.
Tingle: Oh, well, I am, I feel the, the way of most writers, if you’re writing a story you’re probably all ready to prove love […] I think the best advice is, you know, when you make anything, you make it with love, and even if it’s a, a scary story like a Stephen King, which, you know, is a dark clown man coming out of the drain—
Tingle: —to claw. You know, he’s going to kind of come get you, but then you think, well, that maybe I have a fun time with my friends around the spooky fire listening to that story, and then we got spooked, and we got real scared and the whole night proved love, so it’s all about the intent of the story and if you’re writing for love, or sometimes bad, bad men, sometimes they are devils and they write to prove meanness and fear of, fear of all things, so, and they, they will fail in the end because they do not write with love.
Later in the conversation, Wendell presented Tingle with a question from a listener:
Sarah: So for you, it’s the idea of the event that comes first, ‘cause one of my other questions was from Kendal about what happens first for you, the plot or the title of the book? And for you it sounds like it’s really the subject that comes first.
Tingle: Yes. The subject is, I think, well, what makes me feel weird today?
And Dr. Tingle was quick to remind aspiring writers to embrace the act of writing itself, rather than trying to create a masterpiece right our of the gate:
…what is the goal? Is the goal to be perfect, or is the goal to capture a moment of buds? And I think that it is to capture a moment of buds. I don’t want it to be perfect.
In one of his most recent interviews, Tingle discussed the making of the Tingleverse RPG project with at Thoughty. Most interesting to me was the way he used a new medium to confront a particularly dark part of the Tingleverse, the Lonesome Train:
i think i enjoyed being able to talk on the lonesome train as this is very important to me and i have a lot of anxiety on its way and its call. so anytime i get to prove love is real by speaking about it and making it into a force that I CAN HANDLE by putting it into a game is very good. DEEP DANG DOWN i think this makes me feel better but in broader sense i think this is a way of the artistic bud to take issues that we have and to turn them into something that you can process through a game or a story or a song and then reflect on these issues in way that MAKES SENSE TO YOU. so i would say talkin on the lonesome train felt very nice in this context and other times it can be a difficult way.
even the worlds greatest author gets anxious sometimes. thats okay
— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) September 15, 2019
And, what is possibly the greatest tweet in the history of that accursed platform:
you can be worlds greatest author too i believe in you
— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) August 28, 2019
It’s the pair of these that sum up the point of Tingle for me. Our lives are beset on all sides by voices telling us that we’re not good enough. You apply for jobs and never hear back, you send stories out and get rejected, you create art and no one understands it, your thesis advisor ghosts you, your second cousin’s emotionally distant, you get the idea. Even here on Tor.com, I can post pieces and be proud of them and then one negative comment makes me question my decision to write at all. (Not always, I tend to have a thick skin—but there are many, many days when everything seems futile.) Which is where I find Chuck Tingle so revolutionary.
Having spent the last few days with Tingle’s voice in my head, the only way I can describe the experience is that it feels like the sun has come out after days of rain. To have a voice that is relentlessly upbeat and positive, telling me I can do anything I try to, and that my best efforts will be enough? It’s like my brain was just, I don’t know, pressure washed?
Tingle acknowledges the call of the Lonesome Train. He confronts the reality that devils and scoundrels abound. But when given an opportunity to talk about his work, he does that by talking about proving love. Proving love is, in fact, the center of his artistic practice—and this is key, because while love may be real across all timelines, it still has to be proved. This is his real work, and this is why he has to be so ebullient. He can’t let the Void Crabs get him down, because then the devils win.
Plenty of us want to create art. We feel drawn to it, we enjoy it, it makes us happy. But beyond that, why do you write? What is the purpose of your painting? What do you hope to express through your choreography? Tingle reminds us that we should give serious thought to the Why of our work, and that once we’ve figured that out, we should set ourselves to CAPSLOCK and ignore the clicking of the crabs at our heels.
Originally published September 2019.