Me: You’re stranded on an island with one of your characters from the story. Who are they and why did you pick them?
Taylor: Ha! Of all the books to be asked this question…
I deliberately filled Tar with a bunch of not-so-nice characters. One of the things I wanted to do (aside from tell a fun cyberpunk horror story) was to explore the things we do in the name of preserving our own safety. I have a lot of characters sacrificing things like trust and goodwill and human relationship on the altar of safety. But the safer these characters are, the less human they become – and in some cases, I mean that literally.
All that to say this: There’s slim pickings for good island company in Tar, but I’d probably go with Krystal. She’s Brendan’s childhood best friend and the best mechanic in Newhaven. As the book’s moral compass, she sees the good in everyone and wants to help wherever she can.
Me: I checked out your article on how to finish NaNoWriMo and you mention how writing often requires us to push through. I think this is a concept that touches every form of creative expression – what helps you discipline yourself to do that?”
Taylor: My career as a radio DJ has actually helped me with this a lot. The thing about hosting a morning show every day is that you have to constantly force yourself to be creative, even when you don’t feel like it. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that creativity comes in waves. It’s fun when the tide is high. Creating content is easier than breathing. All you have to do is ride the wave, and you’re churning out great hour of radio after great hour of radio.
But there are also low times – times when you can’t come up with an idea, no matter how hard you try. But you still have a show to do, even if the well is bone-dry. So you put in the work, even when you don’t feel like it, because your shift is going to start, whether you like it or not, and you can only talk about the weather so many times in a shift.
The cool thing is that you end up being better for those hard days. You’ve spent all this low-tide time practicing, so when the next wave comes – and believe me, it’ll come – you can handle it even better than the last one.
Doing a radio show, I have no choice but to keep going when the tide gets low. With books, I could leave a manuscript sitting forever, just waiting to get swept away in the high tide of inspiration. But the more I see how the waves of creativity work for Taylor Hohulin the radio personality, the more I trust them to work similarly for Taylor Hohulin the author.
Me: What inspired you to write TAR?
Taylor: My books usually start with a quick thought of what I want to write, and then I just start asking questions about that thought. With Tar, the thought was, “I want a wizard with a shotgun to go on a road trip.” It just sounded cool, and like a lot of fun to read and write. From there, I asked questions like, “Why would a wizard need a shotgun in the first place?” I came up with an answer, asked more questions about that answer, and slowly but surely ended up with the book I’m releasing on November 27.
Me: Okay, elevator pitch TAR to me.
Taylor: Tar is like if Blade Runner and The Walking Dead had a baby, and then they allowed The Dresden Files to babysit every now and then.
Me: I see you’re quite the accomplished self-publisher! What made you decide to go the self-publishing route instead of the traditional publishing route?
Taylor: It wasn’t the original plan. With my first book, I tried to go the traditional route, but I didn’t find a whole lot of interest in my weird science-fiction/action-adventure/romantic-comedy. Eventually, I self-published Alpha, and while I didn’t have a big publisher to edit my book, create a cool cover, book my interview on The Late Show, and get Wes Anderson to adapt it to an incredibly successful movie (hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big), I did really enjoy the process. I had complete control over my story, and at the end of the day, I got to do what I wanted to do: Tell my story, and share it with other people. More and more, I’m finding self-publishing is the best fit for me. Sure, there are some resources I miss out on, but the freedom I gain is absolutely worth the trade.
Me: Outlining. Fan or nah?
Taylor: Fan. It’s too easy for me to get lost in the weeds if I don’t have a bird’s-eye view of the plot. I usually have the whole book outlined scene by scene before I even write the first word.
Me: I understand you’re also a full time radio DJ – did any song lyrics, references, or ideas make it into your manuscript?
Taylor: Not on the radio or music side of things, though I do like to write “playlist” blogs when I’m promoting a new book – just choosing three songs that I really like and that also reflect the themes of the book. I’d love to write a science fiction or horror novel set at a radio station someday, but I need a good idea first.
That said, I work in Christian radio, and the Christian part definitely appears in my work from time to time. I try not to get preachy about it, and I try to make it feel as natural as possible. There are probably spots it works better than others, but it’s a dimension of my work that’s really important to me.
Me: Okay – super controversial question: ideal number of beta readers?
Taylor: I say the more the merrier. As you get more perspectives, you get a better picture of how your book will be received. I think some people get worried about having too many cooks in the kitchen, but that’s when you have to remind yourself that you’re the author, and beta reader feedback is not the same as your editor saying “this needs to change if you want to publish this thing.” If the majority of your readers have an issue with a plot point, you should probably address it, but sometimes you have to be okay with not pleasing everyone. For me, I want to make a book that I love as much as possible, and sometimes that means ignoring beta feedback.
Me: So the TPC audience is comprised of creatives of a variety of mediums. However, the task of finishing a large project is stranger to none of them. As someone with experience, what does your month-by-month breakdown of focus look like to hit your year/year-and-a-half benchmark?
Taylor: The key for me is setting consistent and achievable daily goals. When I’m working through a rough draft, 500 words a day is something I can knock out in 30-45 focused minutes, and still a fast enough pace to knock out a 100,000-word rough draft in 7-8 months.
Once I finish a rough draft, I set it aside and start outlining for my next book. Part of that outlining is all about investing in the next project, so as soon as I finish the current one, I can jump right into the next thing without missing a beat. But the other part of it is just to let the current project “cool down.” I need to fall out of love with whatever it is I’ve written so I can edit more objectively. If I know more or less what I want to do, I can outline a new book in 3-4 weeks, which has been the perfect amount of cool-down time.
Once I’ve outlined my next book, I jump back to the current project and start editing. I try to go through in focused passes: One is specifically for fixing story and continuity issues, another is for making sure the sentences are clean and well-written, that kind of stuff. The temptation with edits to me is to sit down and feel like I have to make everything perfect all in one go, and that’s overwhelming. But if I break it into bite-sized chunks and take each one down as I go through, it feels a lot more manageable and I stay a lot more focused.
Edits take me roughly 6 months, depending on how rough my rough draft is. After that, it’s all the publication side of things – ordering cover art, setting up whatever promotions I’m going to use, formatting the interior…basically a mad dash to publication.
Me: What do you do with creative lies that plague every creative? Things like ‘this is garbage’, ‘no one is going to read this’, ‘no one cares’, ‘you’re alone…’ etc.?
Taylor: For me, it comes to reminding myself of past experiences. Tar is the fifth book I’ve written, and I’ve also got a couple short stories, as well as a nice pile of blogs. The more I create, and the more I finish creating, the easier it gets to ignore those lies. Every book I’ve written has had a phase where I felt like I was writing absolute garbage. But every book I’ve written has also had a phase where I came back to the garbage and realized it was actually really good, or that with a few tweaks, it could be great. I’ve learned I can fix garbage, and I’ve learned it’s okay to not feel great about what I’m writing. The more I go through that, the more I can point to those experiences every time I hear those creative lies. It’s a way of presenting cold-hard evidence to my inner critic.
Me: What software goes into your process? Scrivener? Word? Google docs? Solitaire? Fortnite?
Taylor: No Fortnite for me. I’m so bad at those kinds of games. I write in Scrivener, edit in ProWritingAid, and format in a combination of Word and Kindle Create.
Tar is set to release on November 27, 2018.