Author Talks: Ned Hayes, Part Two

Ned Hayes, author of the historical novel Sinful Folk and Coeur d’Alene Waters in BookLikes Author Talks session reveals how his writing process looks like and gives some advice for aspiring writers. He also shows us his writing and reading spots and shares several books that won his heart. You can also follow Ned Hayes on BookLikes, he blogs at Ned Hayes Writing.

If you missed the first part of the interview, go here: Author Talks: Ned Hayes, Part One.

Ned Hayes isn’t the only name you’re writing under, isn’t it?

Right! I write historical novels and literary fiction under my own name – Ned Hayes, but I write and publish horror and SF and fantastic fiction under the name Nicholas Hallum.

Does with a new pen name bring a new voice to your writing?  (On your site, you state that Nicholas Hallum writes dark fantasy, horror and science-fiction.)

I don’t write under a pseudonym because I feel that fantasy, supernatural or horror writing is any “lesser” of a form of writing than my “straight” novels. After all, look at Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or the wonderful writing of Ursula Le Guin and the contemporary supernatural fiction of Tim Powers. All of these writers produce marvelous literary fiction, that happens to contain fantastic or otherworldly elements: and all expose the big questions that fiction is designed to ask: questions about storytelling, truth, human consequences and the possibilities of redemption and finding meaning.

I write under the name “Nicholas Hallum” merely so that my readers will be able to easily distinguish between my historical novels and literary novels and my more genre-focused SF and fantasy works.

Can you reveal to our readers what are you working on right now?

Interestingly enough, for the first time in my writing life, I am working on pieces under both my “straight” name – Ned Hayes – as well as my nom de plume of Nicholas Hallum. I’m working on a sequel to SINFUL FOLK called GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHT. This second book in a planned medieval trilogy also features Mear and some of the other characters we encountered in SINFUL FOLK. This novel focuses around the events of the Peasant Revolt of 1381, and Mear’s role in this historic event.

The other book I’m working on is called WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS, and it is a long and complicated novel by Nicholas Hallum that jumps back and forth in time to cover supernatural events surrounding tall buildings, and how sorcerous elements were part of a vast conspiracy orchestrated by Dick Cheney in the early years of this century. I’ve been told by early readers that WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS is really a supernatural secret history of 9-11 and the War on Terror, and that it’s highly entertaining.

So I’m still writing “historical fiction” – but now I’m writing books about older history (the 14th century), as well as history that is only a few years past, and is still controversial. That recent history has been tricky to negotiate!

Writing in both voices is a lot of fun, and I hope my readers enjoy both books.

Can you tell us something about your writing process? 

When I have an initial inspiration, the story ideas come pouring out of me in a rush and I have to get them expressed by the closest means available. Ideally, I have a writing notebook near at hand, and I write my ideas down furiously, filling entire notebooks very quickly with my scrawled handwriting. But I don’t always have a notebook near at hand, and sometimes I’m doing other things when inspiration strikes. So at times, I’ve sent myself a 45 minute voice memo, recorded while I’m driving in a car. I’ve also written down a story idea on store receipts, old envelopes, work papers, and even written in the margins and the backs of books that I’m currently reading.

The idea, as any writer would tell you, is the easiest part. Once I have the idea expressed on paper as an initial outline or sketch, then I have to actually do the writing. My “real” writing is done between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. every morning. I wake up early, make coffee, and get to writing, by longhand in a notebook. Most of my best writing happens in my notebook. I’m happy to report that many writers I admire – artists as diverse as John Updike, Harper Lee, Richard Adams and J.K. Rowling – all write their first drafts by hand.

And that’s the second easiest part. Once I have a good bit hand-written, I get it all into the computer, and begin writing a second and third draft on the computer. And sometimes I get distracted by online research (all stored in Evernote) and technical considerations like how to organize my file structure (all stored in Dropbox). But usually I persevere, and I get to write many more drafts on the computer. I begin sharing drafts at about the third or fourth version, with my early readers and my writing group, and solicit their feedback. And I keep revising.

SINFUL FOLK was re-written and revised extensively about 17 times. My previous novel endured two complete re-writes, major character and plot surgery, as well as over 24 revised drafts.

Sometime around there, I start working with a professional editor – either through my publisher or on my own – and eventually, my publisher takes over the reins of the revision process, shepherds me through working with a copyeditor and proofreader, and in the end, the book appears! And even then the process isn’t over, because readers and reviewers continue to provide critique and reaction, helping my writing to improve!

I firmly believe that writing is best for me when it is not an isolated activity – except in the early phases – and so I profoundly rely upon my amazing community of early readers, my editors and all my readers to help me create the best stories I can tell.

So I am grateful to any reader who cares enough to write a review, negative or positive: a review mean they cared, which is the most I can hope for.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

It is hard to keep writing each and every day: it is easier to just let it go and do something else that isn’t as challenging or as mind-bending. Yet in his early book on the writing craft, Danse Macabre, Stephen King says that if you write just one page a day — 300 words or so — at the end of one year you’ll have a novel. And that has really helped to keep me going — just add another 300 words today, and soon, you’ll have a complete novel. Just keep writing!

The other piece of advice I have is to listen to your early readers and to your editors, fellow writers, and the bookish community. They will tell you what is working in your writing, and what is not working: listen to them!

Do you read books from the same genre as yours or do you like to switch between literary genres?

I read books in every single genre I can find, and I recommend this practice to every serious reader and writer. If you don’t read everything out there, you have no context for what you are doing. Reading other work provides you with grist for your mill, inspiration for your daily life, and models to follow when you need to see how to do something.

When I’m writing in a particular genre though, I try to read mostly in other genres, so I’m not too much influenced by one particular author or book while I’m writing.

What books won your heart? Which titles would you recommend?

One of my favorite books continues to be the classic WATERSHIP DOWN, by Richard Adams. If you haven’t read this book, I think you should! The other book that I think should be on every serious reader’s list is the new and amazing JONATHON STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, by Susanne Clarke. She is such a genius at evoking the era of Jane Austen, and adding a touch of magic to a very old form.

Also, I love the following books: Maxine Hong Kingston’s THE WOMAN WARRIOR, Zora Neale Thurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, and Annie Dillard’s PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK.

If you’re in the mood for something more complicated in terms of plot, I’d recommend Tim Power’s best-vampire-novel-ever THE STRESS OF HER REGARD, Neal Stephenson’s strange monks-as-mathematician’s story ANANTHEM and Pete Dexter’s powerful and destructive National Book Award winning novel PARIS TROUT.

For light entertainment, Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy is a new favorite in fantasy. I’ve also really been enjoying NEXUS, the award-nominated new SF novel by Ramez Naam, and Frank Zafiro’s tense and exciting crime and cops novel AT THEIR OWN GAME.



What’s your favorite writing and reading spot?

My favorite reading spot is actually the treehouse in the woods behind our house, with the leaves of the trees catching the sunlight and the afternoon breezes all around me.

But my writing spot is different.

As I write this, I am so fortunate to have a beautiful view of my backyard cherry tree in bloom and the woods behind my house — and I can see the treehouse. My desk is right by my window, and often I get to see deer in our backyard and my children playing in the woods. This is a wonderful writing spot. But I must say that my favorite writing time is actually on a train as the sun is rising, writing through the early morning. I have a blog post on how I wrote the first draft of SINFUL FOLK on the train. That post can be found here:

Thank you, Ned Hayes. It was a real pleasure.

A literary update from
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