Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

January 12, 2012

Reviews – 500 Ways to be a Better Writer, Shotgun Gravy

Filed under: reviewage,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:11 pm

A friend of mine [1] recently accused me of having a serious man-crush on for writer Chuck Wendig, the writer behind terribleminds.com. It’s not a remotely unfair accusation. Sure, what initially attracted me was the creative profanity and take-no-shit writing advice columns, both of which are as well-crafted, inspirational, useful in everyday life and batshit insane as you will see anywhere. I’ve dabbled in his weekly writing challenges, though many’s the time I haven’t been able to convert the spark of an idea into a full story of even modest length. And I’ve bought, devoured and evangelised both his fiction and non-fiction works, all of which I’ve enjoyed enormously.

(That’s the nominal purpose of today’s entry, by the way – after the cut are two short reviews of recent Wendig works. Both were written for the Amazon review site rather than here, so they are a touch less personal than you might otherwise expect, and contain no swearing.)

Now I am not going to assign full credit to Chuck for rekindling my writer-fires, which have lain like dormant ash more or less since my dalliance with NaNoWriMo in 2003. But he did come along at just the right time, as I was rediscovering that aspect of my inclination to write that, you know, inspires me to actually write something.

Having mainlined crystallised Wendig extract over the past six months, I’m now branching out and experimenting with other writers. The Australian Women Writers Challenge is obviously a good prompt to expand my horizons. I’m enjoying and being occasionally baffled by what Amazon recommends based on my previous purchases. When friends suggest stuff to try, I will try it (within limits. Yes, Clam, because of you there’s a caveat 🙂 ).

I have a notional plan to read a bit more non-fiction this year, though I have nothing specific in mind [2]. For experimental purposes (and because I happened to think of it at a convenient time i.e. just before the New Year), I have started tracking details on how many and what kind of books I have read. I have never done that before. the results should be interesting. I expect to discover that I consume far more fiction than I tend to remember.

Well. that was just a pure out and out ramble. After the jump-cut, two ebooks (one a collection of short, funny writing essays, the other a dark high school YA drama novella lovingly constructed of anti-Glee particles) are reviewed. Both come with my heartiest endorsement.

[1] It was Emma (aka Emmajeans), whose recently-entitled Deep and Meaningless webcomic is sweet and funny and you should really go read that instead of this.

[2] Come to think of it I have probably 20 or 30 books on various aspects of life in Medici-era Florence, randomly assembled for the purposes of researching a half-imagined fat fantasy trilogy, gathering dust on my bedroom bookshelf. I should probably knock one or two of those off the list, for one thing.

500 Ways to be a Better Writer by Chuck Wendig

The title of this book is a lie. The book contains 20 chapters, yes. Each chapter is comprised of a list of 25 discrete pieces of writing advice, certainly. But bollocks to that! There are way more than 500 useful tidbits for the working (or aspiring) writer in Chuck Wendig’s latest collection from his terribleminds.com blog.

Belligerent at times, humble at others and usually laugh-out-loud filthy, the advice in this book is suitable for anyone so insanely in love with the written word that they feel moved to string 60,000 or more of them together in a narrative. Wendig will help you make that narrative cohere. He will drive out the demons of self-doubt. He will cast down the black-eyed angels of blatant exposition and poorly-expressed theme. He will conjure the flames by which you will purify your mushy verbiage into a glittering prose blade. Brothers and sisters, he will transform your novel from a 98K weakling into a heroic three-book deal with film rights.

Okay, maybe not. He will occasionally conjure an image so physiologically, sexually or scatalogically improbable that you will turn mauve with horror. But if you can stomach a sharply-observed autoerotic asphyxiation metaphor, then you can probably stomach the news that you may not be quite ready to hit send on that submission to the Kindle store just yet, in which case ‘500 Ways’ will have done its work well.


Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig

I hesitate to label Chuck’s Wendig’s first Atlanta Burns novella as ‘young adult’, despite its trappings: tough young protagonist struggling with painful relationships, recent traumas and how her place in the world has changed. The uncompromising harshness of its characters, their language and their situations is confronting and sometimes harrowing, and Wendig holds nothing back in putting his characters through emotional and physical wringers. It’s a brutal story about violence and the consequences of escalation. Sensitive readers – and I didn’t think I was one – can expect to lose a little sleep over this one.

Atlanta Burns is an angry, traumatised teenager who returns to school having learned the very unfortunate lesson that there are some acts of extreme violence that society is prepared to forgive. She just wants to coast through and be left alone, but she finds she can’t stand by and let a schoolmate be bullied. Trouble is, when she stands up for herself, she doesn’t back down, she goes over the top. One thing leads to another. It gets nasty. Drug dealers, neo-Nazi garage bands, vicious preppies, gun nuts. Atlanta gives them all good cause to tear strips off her hide.

‘Shotgun Gravy’ is a quick yarn, told with energy, confidence and authenticity. It goes to some dark and violent places – well, it’s mostly set in high school, after all. Its star is troubled, bigoted and generally unlikeable, but Atlanta Burns compels respect and sympathy. You’re never tempted to side against her, not with the petty, vicious arseholes she sets herself against. ‘Shotgun Gravy’ is the first in a proposed series of Atlanta Burns novellas. The next one can’t come soon enough for me.


  1. Aww, that’s so sweet! A caveat just for me! 😀

    Comment by The Once and Future Dr Clam — January 12, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

  2. Mostly I was just thinking about that Mencken suggestion.

    Comment by lexifab — January 12, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

  3. […] Dog by Chuck Wendig – [1] I already reviewed ‘Shotgun Gravy’, the first novella starring bloodied-but-defiant teenage arse-kicker Atlanta Burns. So you know […]

    Pingback by More patronage for your consideration « Lexifabricographer — March 2, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  4. […] I’ve already kind of plugged the last few collections of Wendig’s writing advice blog here, here and here. I’ve recommended them all. I recommend this one too, and for all the same […]

    Pingback by Books of 2012 – February « Lexifabricographer — March 7, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

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