I should start by telling you that I am an unapologetic fanboy for terribleminds, the website and blog of novelist, screenwriter, and game designer Chuck Wendig.

I don’t remember when I first found terribleminds — it was at least four or so years ago. I only think that, because that is about when I was in the re-write stages a novel-length(ish) work called The Holler Night. I was struggling (as I still do). And what drew me to Chuck and his website was his dead-on advice for writers. (Find the Pen Monkey stuff on the website and read it. All of it. Trust me, navigate away from here and go do that.)

I came for the writing advice. But I stayed for Chuck’s Friday flash fiction challenges. (You can still find a lot of my stories I submitted in the links of his challenges here, under Stories.)

When he’s not offering up the kind of writing advice you need to read, or hosting a flash fiction challenge that makes you want to write, he’s tweeting. Spare me the lectures about Twitter being a hate-filled cesspool of political bile and overplayed GIFs and go follow him @ChuckWendig.

I think the final part I must offer up here as a sort of caveat is that Chuck is the father of a young child. I’ve got two children of my own (meaning I am a father, not that I went out and acquired two children and keep them in the basement or something… they’re my offspring, so it’s cool. It’s cool). Look, I’m not saying I have half, or even any, of the talent of a guy like Chuck Wendig, but I do feel a particular connection to a someone who dedicates his life to writing and also talks about the pleasures and challenges of raising a kid.

On to Miriam Black, my new favorite character in a book. I finished Blackbirds, the first in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I would try to crank out a review of a book I’ve just read that night, or the next day. But this one I wanted to digest a little bit. I’m not sure why, I just did.

And the big conclusion I came to is: this book was fun. I am sorry to say it has been awhile since I’ve read a book that really compels you from chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph, word to word.

Blackbirds does. And I can’t wait to pick up the next in the series (Mockingbird).

Don’t get me wrong: Blackbirds is wildly violent, wickedly chaotic, like those old wooden roller-coasters that rip you this way and that, make you call a chiropractor when you wobble off.

I like Miriam herself. But I also recognize that I like her even though I’m not really supposed to like her. She is sort of one of the good guys without being a nice girl. She is the exact kind of person I hope my daughter does not become.

(Yes she retains that sort of moral core of a good guy. And she’s come about it in a way that values struggle, which is something I would want for my son and my daughter. I don’t want pain for them, and certainly not to be burdened with the kind of curse Miriam has to carry, but this idea that you have to fight to find the right direction is okay with me. Our struggles define us. The struggle is certainly what defines Miriam Black, and Chuck paints it with bright neon colors and a really, really broad brush.)

And yet I like Miriam. Perhaps it’s her resilience. Chuck puts her through some pretty dark shit. Then again, maybe it’s just that she smokes and drinks and cusses really, really well.

When I was a kid, I was all in for the old Don Pendleton stuff, Mack Bolan, the Phoenix Force series. All of it. It was gritty, almost ridiculously so. To wit:

The Executioner flung himself to the side of the roadway, finger tight around the Heckler & Koch’s trigger. Fired from inside the plastic suitcase, the gun spewed out a blaze of death that ripped through the fifty yards separating Bolan from the truck so quickly that the killers behind the hood died before they had a chance to shoot. The diminutive 4.7mm rounds drilled through metal, mangled pipes and hoses and wiring, and cored through human flesh. A cloud of blood sprayed through the air as the hardmen fell.

[ASIDE: Is it weird that I excerpt from a Mack Bolan novel and not the book which I am supposed to be writing about? Probably, but I mean, come on… “a cloud of blood sprayed through the air…”]

I also loved Stephen King (still love), and still vividly remember getting a stack of his books from a neighbor. I spent that summer being terrified by CujoSalem’s LotThe TalismanCarrie, The Long Walk and a few others.

I’ve got John D. MacDonald‘s Travis McGee sitting on my nightstand right now.

A detective story, horror, and action-adventure.

I never used to think you could — or should — mash-up genres. But why the hell not? Chuck has done this masterfully with Blackbirds. A little from action-adventure, a little more from crime fiction, and a healthy dash of sci-fi.

Or maybe — maybe? — genre matters a little less if you have a good story to tell.

Chuck Wendig has a damn good story to tell in Blackbirds. Hope you go pick it up.

By the way, I wanted to read Blackbirds from the easy perspective of a guy who likes these kinds of gritty books, not a guy who writes stories (a writer, is what I should say here, right?). But I couldn’t help it. Throughout the reading of Blackbirds, I heard that voice in my head asking Could you do this? 

Sure. I think so.

You know, recognizing that I need to pour a lot more into my characters, recognizing that it’s going to take time, effort, and probably a lot of referring to Chuck’s (and other’s) writing advice, I could do it. For sure.

Go get Blackbirds.