WonderCon 2024: Interview with the Legendary Chuck Tingle

a tall white man with a pink suit stands, wearing a pink bag over his head with the words 'Love is Real' on it and sunglasses
Chuck Tingle. Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton.

Sit back, buckaroos and ladybucks! At WonderCon, I was given the chance to interview the legendary Chuck Tingle. (I’m still in shock.)

If you’re not familiar with Chuck Tingle, you are missing out. Primarily a writer of niche gay erotica stories such as I’m Gay For My Living Billionaire Jet Plane and Glazed By The Gay Living Donuts, Tingle found himself the center of public attention in 2016 when his short story “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” was nominated for a Hugo Award as a protest against the increase in diversity in the awards.

Primarily self-publishing through Amazon, Tingle has recently started publishing horror through more ‘traditional’ means. (He’s quick to correct you if you call it ‘more serious’, however.) I managed to get 30 minutes with the man, so sit back and enjoy. I tried to keep his answers as intact as possible, to honor his way of communicating.

One of the many things Tingle is known for is his quick turnaround, sometimes getting things out the same day as the event he is reacting to. I asked him how he was able to do it. “Honestly, it’s being on the autism spectrum,” Tingle said. “I think that a lot of it has to do with why I write as much as I do: my hyperfocus. A lot of different buckaroos who are artistic have different types of what they really focus on. And for me, it has always been art and art analysis, but also creating. And so I just am in a constant state of creation and in a constant state of writing. And I think the question of, how do you do it kind of implies that it’s difficult for me to do when I would say it’s really my natural state. It’s a sort of a utilitarian thing where, you know, some folks say, ‘Oh, I write for me, and it’s hard work to get out this thing.’ Some say I write for my audience. I just kind of write because it’s what I do. It’s like my state of being like a shark that has to keep swimming. I always write: it is my baseline. So you do that enough, and you’re gonna get some books finished, you know?”

As a writer myself, I am always curious how writers keep from getting burned out. For Tingle especially, with the books being as niche as they are, I had to ask how he keeps things fresh. “Like I said, it’s my natural state,” Tingle said. “So it takes a lot for me to get burned out, because it’s just the way that I operate. But when that happens, I genuinely like to switch from one art form to the next maybe.”

He’s quick to clarify. “I look at creation in a pretty broad sense. It could be a painting or a photograph. But you create by going on a walk in the park, you know? You create by making yourself lunch.” Tingle continued, “And so if I’m creating in one way a lot, I think it helps to jump around. And I also think that with writing specifically, understanding that creating something great, creating a piece of art like a great novel, has just as much to do with putting words on a page, as it does, you know, with what happened on the way to your office, what happened the night before. What you were thinking about, what you dreamed. All these things that seemed like distractions are actually a very important part of the process. So, it’s almost as if writer’s block doesn’t really exist if you consider the fact that not writing is just as important as writing a lot of the time.”

Not Pounded By The Physical Manifestation Of Someone Else's Doubt In My Place On The Autism Spectrum Because Denying Someone's Personal Journey And Identity Like That Is Incredibly Rude So No Thanks book cover

As someone on the autism spectrum myself, I was curious as to why he decided to go public about his autism. “I was diagnosed like early 20s, which is pretty late, you know? Most buckaroos, it’s when they’re children,” Tingle said. “And now, you know, what happens is kind of later and later, I think, is the awareness spreads. But when I was diagnosed, I thought it was so cool. I was really excited to be autistic because most of my heroes were autistic. David Byrne is on the spectrum. And so I just thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’m a member of this really cool club.’ And it was very joyful for me.”

Tingle is quick to continue, “Upon reading about it later on, I realized that that’s really not the reaction that a lot of buckaroos have. I think it’s really hard on a lot of buckaroos. They see this as a really bad, tragic thing. And it should be said, it is a hard thing for many Buckeroos. But for me, it never was. And so, for a long time, I thought, ‘Well, I shouldn’t add my voice to this conversation, because my autism has never hindered me in any way, it’s only been an advantage. And I love it so much. So, you know, I’m going to make room for the more tragic stories.’

“And what I realized over time is that it is a spectrum. It is important to talk about all the different versions of this experience. And to let buckaroos know that, you know, there are different kinds of autistic stories. And so when I looked at David Byrne and thought, ‘That’s a hero, it’s cool to be autistic.’ I thought, you know, I have this platform, autism is a big part of my art process. I should talk about it more so that young buckaroos can see Chuck and think, ‘Wow, I was just diagnosed with autism, look at all these cool heroes that I have that are also on the spectrum.’ So that’s really why I start talking about it more.”

Tingle has been publishing since 2014, so I asked him what has changed in the past ten years for him and his work. “So everything that I do is in layers of metaphor,” Tingle said. “And then there’s all the truth. There’s a lot of mystery about my way: who I am, but also the facts of my life. And whenever I talk about it, or post something, you know, it is all true. And the example I like to use is, if I posted online that I pet a cat today, I might have pet a dog, but there’s still kind of something there.

“But I think that when I first started creating things, and making my art public and making myself public, the layers of metaphor were really, really thick. I needed that at the time to kind of understand myself, what I was doing, what I was creating. Sometimes the art knows before you know. And so over time, I have started to strip away those layers. I think that if you listen to a very old interview with me or read one, and you listen to this interview now you will think there’s similarities, but there’s kind of an evolution of how much of myself I’m willing to show without the layers of metaphor.

“And so I think the biggest change is that: coming to terms with myself, understanding my identity. I used to talk a lot about not understanding my identity, and I think I really do now. So I just kind of think that I understand myself more. And I also see this whole thing, as someone on the autism spectrum, there’s not always a relation to chronic pain, but I do have chronic pain that is helped by expressing myself like this. And I realized the more layers I strip away that the better it is for my pain as well. So I just think I’ve evolved to be more and more and more of myself without the metaphor.”

Slammed In The Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination book cover

As I mentioned, Tingle became an unexpected political advocate in 2016 – and he has since championed many a cause. I asked whether it was something he set out to do originally. “All art is political in some way, I believe,” Tingle said. “I think that in the very early days, I wasn’t as direct with the politics as far as this is a Tingler about this specific political event that is happening this weekend or something like that. But from inception, the expression of Tinglers is a political piece. Because it is about queer rights.

“You don’t hear this so much anymore, but back in the day, conservatives had this sort of slippery slope dang baloney argument about ‘if we let gay people get married then what’s next? You gotta marry a tree? Are you going to marry a dang dinosaur?’ And I think that I always heard those arguments and I always thought why not? What would be wrong with someone marrying whoever, whatever, how many different people, different combinations. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, as long as you’re talking about consenting adults, the world would be a much better place if you took this conservative nightmare to the extreme, it would actually probably be more of a utopia.

“And so the Tingleverse in general, is kind of that conservative nightmare realized in that actually, it would be a really beautiful place full of love, and acceptance. And so, from the very first story, it is an unusual combination of lovers. But you realize if you read the book, ‘Oh, actually, that’s a really wholesome, beautiful, wonderful place that conservatives seem to just be terrified of.'”

I turned the conversation to his latest book, the horror novel Bury Your Gays. If you’re not familiar, ‘bury your gays’ is a trope in media that, as TV Tropes says, “the presentation of deaths of LGBT characters where these characters are nominally able to be viewed as more expendable than their heterosexual counterparts. In this way, the death is treated as exceptional in its circumstances. In aggregate, queer characters are more likely to die than straight characters.”

I asked Tingle where he got the idea and what he was trying to accomplish with the book. “I think that something that is very interesting to me, even back with the Tinglers is a rejection of the separation of high and low-tier art,” Tingle said. “I think it’s all the same and I think that this is another one you could write a whole dang thesis paper on. But I really do not like when hoity-toity buckaroos look down their nose at low-brow stuff.

Bury Your Gays book cover

“I think you see that a lot in the idea of fandom, that it is lesser art in these different ways. And you go to a convention like this, and it’s clearly affecting so many buckaroos. So I think honestly, Bury Your Gays is a love letter to fandom. It’s a love letter to the idea of a creator and an audience not necessarily being separate, but a sort of wheel that is always spinning: where you create, it influences, someone else creates, it influences, and the cycle and how that cycle can really make the world a better place and help deal with trauma. And it’s kind of just me pounding a big sign into the ground saying fandom is a real and important and meaningful thing. And it really isn’t something that I just it shouldn’t be looked down on.”

And speaking of the difference between high and low art and people looking down on it, I brought up that that could be said about erotica itself. He talked about the similarities between erotica and horror. “There’s taboo genres: horror and erotica have a lot in common in that way. Horror generally has a lot of violence or transgression in that way, and erotica transgressive sexually,” Tingle said. “For some reason, my art has always pushed towards that transgressive subject matter. But what’s interesting is, you know, if you talk about transgressive literature, a lot of the time a lot of that stuff is seen as very dark and upsetting, kind of by definition.

“While there’s a time and a place for that, I don’t think it has to be that way. I think these transgressive things: there’s a version of talking about these things that can be uplifting and fulfilling and affirming. And so that is kind of an interest to me. I mean, I think a lot of my erotica does that. And I think a lot of my horror does that. These are genres that already have kind of a twist on the cultural norm. And I think that what I have somehow managed to do, I guess, is twist it again. I found another rung of the ratchet of the twist. And now I’m kind of on this other side that ends up being kind of wholesome in a way, I guess.”

We talked a bit more about his going through self-publishing for his erotica. “I really liked self-publishing, because you put in all this love into a piece of art,” Tingle said. “What’s nice about self-published shorts is you can do that and know that it will eventually be finished. You know, you can write a screenplay and you can sell it, and it’ll never get made. You can write a book and try to get it published and it’ll never get made, but with self-publishing, you can just finish that project. That’s actually my favorite thing about it is their complete pieces of this published art that you kind of don’t need to go through any other channels to do. So it’s pretty fulfilling in that way. And very free.”

Tingle is self-proclaimed as the World’s Greatest Author. I asked if, with that in mind, he was still surprised by the reaction he’s gotten from fans. “Well, it depends,” Tingle said. “I mean, I will say the title of World’s Greatest Author is always, shockingly, appreciated in the sense that many buckaroos repeat it. No one ever seems to question it, which is kind of nice, because I think honestly, I, you know, I do truly believe I am the world’s greatest author. But I also believe that there’s a lot of room at the top and we are all the world’s greatest author. If you’re working on a book right now, you’ve never published and you’re struggling, I promise you are also the world’s greatest author. We are all sitting in first place atop this very high mountain. And so I don’t really have to explain or push back on that very much, which generally feels pretty nice, actually.”

Not Pounded By The Physical Manifestation Of Chuck Tingle’s Traditional Publishing Deal Because He Writes About More Than Just Pounding However If This Book Was About Pounding That Would Be Okay Too Because There’s Nothing Wrong With Sexuality In Art book cover

We continued talking about his fans. “It is interesting in that the only kind of not-positive thing about this entire process is that because I have such a unique way about me, I have such a unique presentation when I trot up to buckaroos, I’m wearing – as right now – a mask. I have a unique way of speaking. And what I write just is, by definition, unusual – it is not the usual output of a lot of authors. And because of that, a lot of folks who are not familiar with me, tend to think that I’m joking, or that it’s a bit or a character. So I think it’s been an interesting long journey to be accepted.”

Tingle went on. “But it also never really bothered me, because I also am realistic enough to realize, you know, I do have a strange presentation. So I have a lot of deference from buckaroos who see this and then think, ‘Oh, that’s not real.’ But you know, we start talking about it as a sort of negative thing, but it is a positive. It’s actually very fulfilling and moving to think that over time, you know, if you have an unusual way like this long enough, the timeline really does start to work around you. At first that’s gonna break you down, and buckaroos are gonna say you can’t do that. But on a long enough timeline, the timeline does bend, and it’s like putting a big rock in the stream: all of a sudden, you know, it’s not pushing you over anymore. It’s the timeline itself is going around you and you’re taking your stance.”

Tingle’s catchphrase is ‘Love is real.’ As the interview drew to a close, I asked if I could get a ‘love is real’ and I got a heartfelt response. “Oh, my gosh, not only can you get to love is real, I’m gonna say this to all the readers: every moment of every day that you wake up and exist on this timeline, you are facing thousands and thousands of choices. Those choices brought you here. And while that kind of can make you seem very small, or feel very small, it actually makes you incredibly, incredibly powerful. It gives you the power to literally create universes with every single thing that you do.

“And with that power, you can choose to prove love, and to put a little more love out onto this timeline. Whether that is calling a bud you haven’t talked to and checking in on them; whether that is then paying for the groceries in front of you when someone runs out of out of money; whether that is a donation to charity or as simple as just looking up and doing a little self love and saying, ‘Okay, today’s a beautiful day today.’ These are all things that you can do to create entire universes. So please remember that, don’t get down on yourself, and know that you are powerful. And we’re gonna change this timeline together. That proves love and love is real.”

You can preorder Bury Your Gays and learn more about Chuck Tingle on his website.

Author: Angie Fiedler Sutton

Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, podcaster, and all-round fangirl geek. She has been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others.

She also produces her own podcast, Contents May Vary, where she interviews geeky people about geeky things. You can see all her work (and social media channels) at angiefsutton.com.

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