- Josh Hayes: First, thanks for taking the time to talk and welcome!
- JH: What motivated you to start writing?
My senior year, I received a certificate from the National Creative Society naming me a “Mentor of Poetry, Prose, and Performance”. After I left school, I sort of fell out of the writing habit. I did retail and food service for a few years trying to make some money, until I joined the Army out of desperation and moved to Alabama to drill with the 145th TTOE. I did the Army thing for a while, trying to meet what I thought everyone’s expectations were--to settle down, to hold down a job, to “fit in” with everybody else.
Then I went to Afghanistan. I’ll quote a blog post I wrote the other day:
“And I had a hell of a journey that long eight years. Cross-country drives with my then-wife to attend Army classes. My first ferry ride. More plane trips than I can count. Having to hitch-hike across Afghanistan because I couldn't get a flight out of Kandahar. Weaving through traffic in an SUV with its doors poured full of concrete. Skirting mountaintops in an open helicopter. Riding in a Spanish cargo plane as it damn near did cartwheels over my base. Watching Taliban rockets fly over my head and blow holes in our airfield.
“Regret. Regret of things not accomplished is not an emotion you want when you're staring death in the face. Unfinished business, that's what all the ghosts are into, aren't they? If I'm going to be a ghost, I want to be the kind with a full resume.”
That ‘thing not accomplished’ was my writing, and that was my second awakening as a writer.
“Opening the laptop that had seen me through four countries and a year of sand, I typed the first words of The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree and set foot on the Beam of the Wolf.”
Almost three years later, here I am with my third book.
- JH: Your Outlaw King series is, as you’ve said, homage to the epic Stephen King saga, The Dark Tower and the journey of Roland Deschain, many say it’s his magnum opus. I’m a huge Dark Tower fan, and after reading your books, I can safely say, you have done a phenomenal job bringing the same feeling of grand adventure to the world of Destin. What drove you to create this world and how did Ross and Sawyer come to be?
SH: Well, to be honest when I started it, I was attempting to write a paranormal buddy-comedy in the same vein as David Wong’s John Dies at the End. But as the manuscript progressed--and it very quickly got darker--I realized where it was going and decided to make it a full spaghetti-western fantasy like my favorite series The Dark Tower. By the end of the book, it was a straight-up homage, as I worked my way into book two it had completely taken on a life of its own.
What continues to motivate me is the drive to explore worlds, places, times, situations that didn’t exist before, and to draw people into them. I’m an explorer, I’m that guy that needs to see and experience places no living human has ever seen, to know what’s beyond the next horizon, and the next, and the next. But in this day and age, I’m not really in a culture or a financial situation that facilitates that, so I turn my fernweh inward and explore the worlds in my mind. And everyone that reads my books is part of my expedition crew!
While the story and the cast of The Outlaw King were inspired by The Dark Tower, the landscape and culture took influence from my experiences in Afghanistan. That country is literally a world apart, corner to corner, from the way people act and dress to the terrain and natural features. It’s nothing like the United States; going there was like stepping through a rift into a parallel dimension just like Destin.
I wanted to capture that otherworldliness and siphon off some of that exotic authenticity, and judging by the reactions of my fans, I’ve succeeded.
- JH: Tell us a little bit about Ten Thousand Devils.
SH: I hate to spoil anything for anyone that hasn’t read it, but the book continues the shadow-war started in the first two books and expands greatly on the lore and characterization, now including chapters starring Noreen as well as the continuation of Sawyer and Ross’s stories.
Ross and two other characters are wrenched from Destin and swept into Earth, where they continue to puzzle out the legacy left to Ross by his reclusive author father, Ed.
Meanwhile, if you’ve read book 2 you’ll know that Sawyer has been separated from the others by the antagonists and has been forced to rely on himself--and the few tools he’s managed to find--for survival. Ten Thousand Devils takes that a lot farther by showing us how the adversity of fighting the Sileni has changed the three main characters, forcing them to become stronger and understand themselves and the fantasy world around them as Ed Brigham’s epic assimilates them into its frontier culture.
- JH: The Outlaw King is a massive story. What were some of your biggest challenges during the writing process?
SH: Mostly maintaining writing momentum/focus, and remembering all the details. My brain is a giant library with stacks of things everywhere, very messy and cluttered. I’m naturally very scatterbrained, though I retain information pretty well. Dunno if it’s ADD or what, but if I have access to the internet, I cannot concentrate on writing at all. I have to run a program called Freedom that cuts off access to my wifi if I want to get any work done.
- JH: With three books in the Outlaw King series out now, do you think there are more adventures to be told in Destin?
SH: Oh, definitely. Not only is there going to be a fourth book in the series (and possibly a fifth), but I’m also planning on writing The Fiddle and the Fire, the original seven books that Ed Brigham wrote in The Outlaw King. Fans have specifically requested that, and I’m very interested in making it happen. When I do, though, I will alter the plot to make it fresh, while still retaining many of the aspects, characters, and locations that make The Outlaw King what it is.
- JH: Craft is something that always intrigues me about writers, there are so many ways to build a story. Can you tell us about your writing process? How does the magic happen?
SH: Man. I keep notes for remembering’s sake, but most of the time I just sit down and go at it. I’m a pantser, which for the layman reader here means I “write by the seat of my pants”. I write without an outline. Y’know, I’ve tried several times to write with one, but my problem is, either I’ve already told myself the story by doing the outline and I can’t maintain enthusiasm for it, or the story starts veering way off course--and usually the deviation is better than anything I planned. So to be honest the story usually turns out better when it’s left to own devices as opposed to trying to steer it.
Sometimes I feel like I’m screwing myself by not outlining, but functionally it just doesn’t work for me. I wrote an outline for Malus Domestica, but when I started writing it all these ideas just started popping into my head as I went and I ended up with a lot more details and better plot points than the outline ever had.
Anyway, I have Freedom set to knock me offline for seven hours a day. I shut myself away with a white-noise generator or coffee-shop ambience on headphones, and start cuttin’ marble.
- JH: Who are your biggest influences?
SH: Definitely Stephen King first and foremost, and then there’s probably a little Dean Koontz and some Dan Simmons in there. I picked up a lot from the older books I read growing up, such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, A Wrinkle in Time.
I have to admit that all the anime-watching I did in my teen years affected my scene visualization too, so my action is probably a little more bombastic than your usual King style, and my dialogue can get introspective.
- JH: Are you working on any other projects?
SH: Malus Domestica, a standalone horror novel about a young woman that travels the US hunting witches and filming it for her YouTube channel.
I’m also working on a children’s book about a little girl that has to stay in her aunt’s big creepy house, where she’s poking around in the attic and finds an old magic book in a trunk. She accidentally releases a bunch of monsters and the laboratory skeleton up there comes to life, and she discovers that the skeleton is actually a pretty nice guy. She helps him go around town all night and catch all the monsters and put them back into the book.
It was originally going to be a picture book, but after some focus testing I’ve decided that the writing is too complex for that, so it’ll be more like a novella.
- JH: My website is predominantly focused on Indie fiction and publishing, what is your favorite thing about being an Indie author? And least favorite?
SH: My favorite thing would have to be the creative control and the fact that I’m not beholden to a publishing house’s schedule. I can finish a book right now and have it published in a couple of months, as opposed to having to wait 1 to 3 years to see it available. That’s just a glacial pace, and it’s unsustainable in this day and age, especially where Kindle is concerned.
My least favorite thing would have to be the lack of access to reliable publicity. Even the big names have to make the rounds these days, but at least they’ve got some kind of funded publicity machine behind them, even if it’s smaller than it used to be. Indies, on the other hand, we get all of the work to push the books.
And the difficulty is compounded by the fact that too many people don’t see us as legitimate because we don’t have agents and we’re not part of some big publisher. You’ll see names like Rothfuss and Sanderson a thousand times a day on the internet, but it’s extremely easy to get a black eye if you try to put yourself out there. The double-standard is deeply frustrating.
There are indies out there that run rings around some of the household names in writing today. Christopher Ruz is one of them--he is consistently amazing, I love everything that guy writes. And he juggles genres like nobody’s business, he’s like Santa Claus, he’s everywhere.
- JH: What’s next for you?
SH: In addition to Malus Domestica and the other stuff, I’m going to be starting book four of the Outlaw King series soon. Next summer I’m going to try to get out to Dragon*Con if anybody would like to come see me there--I’d be overjoyed to meet you. I’ll be dressed as a gunslinger.
- JH: Where can people find out more information about you and your projects?
SH: I run an infrequently-updated blog and keep all my available projects on my website at http://theusualmadman.net/
- JH: Thank you so much for your time, I look forward to reading more of your books!
SH: Thank you!