Interview With an Author: Chuck Tingle

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Chuck Tingle and his latest novel, Camp Damascus
Author Chuck Tingle and his latest novel, Camp Damascus. Photo of author: Sam Rand

Chuck Tingle is a mysterious force of energy behind sunglasses and a pink mask. He is also an anonymous author of romance, horror, and fantasy. Chuck was born in Home of Truth, Utah, and now splits time between Billings, Montana and Los Angeles, California. Chuck writes to prove love is real, because love is the most important tool we have when resisting the endless cosmic void. Not everything people say about Chuck is true, but the important parts are. His latest novel is Camp Damascus and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Camp Damascus?

i love way of GENRE and one of my favorite things to do is deconstructing genre conventions. so when im thinkin up dang ideas this is often my entry point, just looking at a trope and then finding new angle on it. at same time i have MESSAGES i want to send or feelings i need to get out.

right now scoundrels are attacking the queer community, and i have feelings about that, and something happened where the FEELING met the IDEA and it all clicked into place and then like an electric shock i think ‘wow thats a real spark of the infinite. that proves love is real. thats worth writing a book about.’ if i am going to take time to write a full novel its gotta be both, the technical idea and the emotional drive colliding in this cosmic, powerful way. id say my novel ideas take about three or four months for that spark to light, and thats hardest part of the process. once the spark comes then actually WRITING the book is pretty dang easy.

Are Rose, Willow, Saul, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

camp Damascus is a book about how stories are LAYERED and can be interpreted in different ways for different agendas, so wanted to make the book have its own allegories in this way.

there are three layers, the literal, the biblical, and the fairytale, and there are aspects of each character that align with each of these layers. i do not want to give TOO dang much away because i think part of the fun with a layered story is unraveling these metaphors yourself, but since it is right there in the name i will say that saul is obviously based on biblical saul on the road to damascus, and willow is another very notable bible character.

then on the fairytale layer EVERY character has a counterpart not just the main ones. i think my favorite of that layer is WILLOW because when you realize who she represents it is a fun ‘WOW’ moment. there is a reason that her camera is described as having a steady clicking rhythm and why she represents nature in many ways. it also has to do with her last name and her coffee mug, but that is all i will say about that.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

going to traditional publishing a buckaroo might be wary of the BIG TIMERS tearing apart your story, but buds at nightfire had NOTHING to cut away, which was very nice to hear. my editor there, kelly, is a WONDERFUL BUCKAROO and she had some ideas about a few things to add, not take away. fortunately all her suggestions were great so i put them in and eventually one added scene ended up replacing another that wasnt working for old chuck. originally there was a scene involving a large church MULTI LEVEL MARKETING group, but i changed it to a one on one scene with similar multi level marketing themes and i think having it be one on one amplifies the tension a lot.

Saul is a fan of heavy metal music. Are you also a fan heavy metal or do you favor another type/genre of music? Do you have a favorite artist or band?

oh yes i am a HUGE fan of heavy music. in fact, amazing band name of THE LOCUST let chuck use a song i really like in book trailer for camp Damascus, which was so great. as far as metal goes chucks top band is pretty dang easy, thats right im talkin about MESHUGGAH buckaroo lets trot. so dang good. but if we are talkin on my favorite artist overall across any genre that would be bruce Hornsby.

There seem to be several references to Peter Pan in Camp Damascus. If I’m correct about these references, are you a fan of Peter Pan? Do you have a favorite Peter Pan pastiche? Favorite television or motion picture adaptation/interpretation? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this one and if that is the case, please don’t. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)?

(this is very good question but lets skip because i do not want to give too much away after talkin about who willow represents in earlier question)

Are you a fan of the Horror genre? What are some of your favorite authors, novels, films and/or filmmakers?

horror is definitely my favorite genre. i have always loved way of transgressive art and exploring genres that use taboo things as tools. this is why i write romance and erotica, which involves sex, and horror, which involves violence. these genres, along with comedy, are typically maligned and seen as lower class by some folks because they deal with reactions of the body. erotica creates arousal, horror creates fear, and comedy creates laughter, but this is exactly why i like them. they are instinctual, and because of this i think there is a visceral honesty to all of them.

anyway as far as horror goes i have a LOT of buckaroos i really look up to. junji ito is a big favorite of chuck. clive barker. richard matheson. stephen king obviously. but honestly i get very little inspiration from books and reading, i draw a lot more from music and film and visual art. so if we are talkin film i would say buds like ari aster, takashi mike, robert eggers, wes craven, david lynch, and right now my number one is jordan peele i am pretty dang obsessed with his work.

Camp Damascus would make a marvelous film or series. If you were able to cast the production of Camp Damascus, who would your dream cast be?

thank you for saying this I AGREE and i would say that my writing style is very intentionally cinematic. i definitely plot my novels like you would plot a feature and think of set pieces and story elements in a very FILM oriented way. i pace my writing as though you are watching a movie. i think there are quite a few options for casting the three main characters but if i was pressed today i would say my WILD, MONEY IS NO OBJECT HIGH-FLYIN DREAM CAST would be jenna ortega for WILLOW, mason gooding for SAUL, and bella ramsey for ROSE. paul giamatti would be a great DR. SMITH. pastor bend would have to be very charming and hip and seem kind of friendly but be able to create a layer just below that is scary. maybe lee pace for pastor bend off the top of my dang head.

Do you believe in demons (either as spiritual beings or as being from another dimension)? Do you have a favorite novel, movie, or television series involving demons?

well i am agnostic so personally i do not have any religious beliefs, but when you consider all the infinite timelines floating around out there i think theres bound to be some strange things lurking. favorite piece of media that involves demons is probably movie EVENT HORIZON which i think has some common threads with camp Damascus.

What do you think it is about Horror that draws you, as an author, and/or readers to these types of stories?

way of horror is a cathartic genre. its a journey through something grueling that tests our boundaries because we arrive on the other side STILL ALIVE AND KICKING, so while others have argued that horror is a celebration of death i would say it is actually a celebration of life. in the text of horror stories there is often a cathartic turn for the characters, which is a journey i enjoy, but just as often there is no turn and things end badly. however in these ‘bad ending’ stories the catharsis still comes because even with a tragic fate in a book, we are still safe and sound as readers. so i think it is a very important genre in this way.

also if you look at it in a PRIMAL sense, as in why someone might tell as story back when we were cave buckaroos, horror was likely the first genre with stories saying ‘dont go into that cave with the dangerous bears at night and here is why’

What’s currently on your nightstand?

there is erotica and romance graphic novel series called smutpeddler, which is very queer and very creative, and i have been enjoying that a lot. it is anthology series with a lot of different stories about robots or monsters or ghosts but also sometimes just nice love stories. it is VERY explicit so giant warning to anyone considering checking these graphic novels out, we are talkin about real hardcore pounds, but if you like my own erotica writing you might also enjoy these. smutpeddler explores a lot of similar themes that i explore with my tinglers so it has been a fun read.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

no because while there are writers i enjoy and appreciate, at the core of my trot i am just not very influenced by authors. YES I KNOW THIS IS INTERVIEW FOR LIBRARY but let me remind you libraries are also great places to check out music and films. anyway i am influenced by creators and artists IN GENERAL but usually these artists are in other mediums. if we are talkin five in ANY ARTFORM my list would be: david byrne, andy kaufman, andy Warhol, jordan peele, and david lynch.

You’ve independently published a lot of work prior to Camp Damascus, which is your first novel published by a traditional publisher. Were the publishing experiences markedly different? What have you learned/experienced during the process of getting this novel published that you would like to share?

biggest difference between self publishing and traditional publishing is definitely the time it takes to get from idea to published book. this is very important for my self published erotica since i am usually commenting on news of the day or some current event, and because of this i like to write a story and have it out for the publish on the next dang day. meanwhile traditional publishing has a cycle that can take dang YEARS to get out there.

all that said i think a lot of the issues i write about in queer community are SYSTEMATIC ISSUES of discrimination and oppression and hate. so even if it feels like i am referencing a very current event that happened this dang week, i think that familiar feeling is more a reflection of the fact that our community has been fighting back against the scoundrels and devils for decades in various ways that only kind of shift their form. if you look at conservative rhetoric against homosexuals in the past, and the way the right talks about trans buckaroos now, it is pretty easy to see they are just filling in dang MAD LIBS TALKING POINTS with the same stale playbook.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

first novel chuck ever remembers reading for myself was THE HOBBIT. that was long before i even understood what was going on just kinda slowly worked my way through it even though i was barely old enough to read. was a good experience though i have very strong memories of this journey

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

yes my own

Is there a book you've faked reading?

i have always had aversion to idea of FAKING A WAY TO LOOK SMART so when a classic book comes along that i have not read there is no part of me that thinks ‘i need to PRETEND i have read this so i look like a high class buckaroo.’ we all have our own journey through art, some of us read a lot and some of us read a little, that is okay.

fact that i am a writer who says in interviews ‘i am a professional writer and i do not read that much’ is pretty rare and probably controversial, but i would like to normalize idea that there is no CORRECT WAY to be an artist or author or the be inspired. i think this is ESPECIALLY important because i am a neurotypical buckaroo who has trouble focusing when reading and ironically can hyperfocus when i am writing.

i enjoy STORY, but story comes in many forms. sometimes story is in a movie or a painting or an audiobook. other buckaroos might read ten paperbacks a week and that is okay too, that is heckin GREAT actually, but there is no specific trot that makes you an artist so i never feel need to FAKE like i read more than i really do

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

yes the first edition of IT by stephen king with little green claw coming out of the sewer and the paper boat. on this timeline that is ICONIC cover of the 80s

Is there a book that changed your life?

chuck traveled around a lot after leaving HOME OF TRUTH just bumbled around the country on my lonesome, and sometimes bumbled around whole other timelines. it was an adventure and it brought many experiences to my young buckaroo life like i lived some kinda dang jack kerouac story.

anyway during this adventure of mine i remember sitting at donut shop in the middle of nowhere and someone had left copy of TOMMYKNOCKERS by stephen king. it was there one day, then the next day, and so eventually i took it because nobody came back for this old worn out book and i read it on my adventures.

Tommyknockers is probably one of stephen king's less popular books but personally i really like it because of MY OWN STORY BEHIND IT it and the moments of MY life that this book was just kind of hanging in the background for, and i think that lesson has stuck with me. reading is NOT JUST THE TEXT ITSELF, it is also the paratext of your own trot. it is the world around you. art does not end at the border of a canvas because it is also the story surrounding it. it is the moments you spend hitchhikin on an old dirt road across the country while a tattered copy of tommyknockers sits on the dashboard

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

well as i said i have a hard to saying anyone SHOULD do anything, but if we are making recommendations and i had ONE choice at the moment of something that really stuck with me recently it would be whole SANDMAN series by neil gaiman. reading that front to back is just a beautiful dang journey

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

the advanced dungeons and dragons second edition players handbook

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

recently id say the finale of BARRY. bill hader did such a dang good job with that show and it wrapped up in an incredible way i loved it

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

since this is the LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY im talkin to here i will specifically do my favorite los angeles day: chuck usually starts day with long hike or walk and since this is perfect day i am going to ignore distance and traffic and say a sunrise trek through malibu state park up into the hills past the creek, then i will jump across town to brunch at ALL TIME in los feliz. go to skylight books or the last bookstore because next we are trotting downtown to the BROAD museum. lunch at grand central market just take your pick of vendors, however this is my perfect day so on my perfect day i am going to say that THE FRANKENSTAND is set up at grand center even though they are usually not there. frankenstand is a horror themed vegan hot dog stand chuck really enjoys and they are sitting in front of the mystic museum in burbank a lot. after that probably trot back home and take a nap and write a bit because i LOVE TO WRITE so even the perfect day has some writing work in it. then dinner with buds as a picnic at HOLLYWOOD FOREVER with way of cinespia where they are showing the big screen adaption of CAMP DAMASCUS. starring all the buds from your previous casting question. maybe bring takeout from GOKOKU RAMEN which is vegan ramen and sushi in valley. that is my perfect los angeles day.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

timeline. i have platform when doing interviews and there is audience that will read this so i think it is great chance to talk about how everyone seeing these words has infinite choices that led them here, and there are infinite choices ahead of you. this makes you impossibly rare and unique, and it also makes you powerful.

everything we do, no matter how small it seems, will spin off into a thousand different realities, and YOU have the chance to make those realities a little better. that is incredible power and i hope when buckaroos come to these future choices today they wield this incredible might in a way that proves love is real, and adds a little bit more love to this timeline than when we got here. YOU are special and unique and YOU have this unfathomable power.

What are you working on now?

i usually do not like to talk about my art until it is finished but i will say camp Damascus. is only beginning of my trot through horror

Book cover of Camp Damascus
Camp Damascus
Tingle, Chuck