This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, and even just coming across the title makes me smile. Was it anywhere near as much fun to write as it was to read?
Creating characters who get themselves into ridiculously silly crime-solving adventures is immeasurable fun! Do I entertain myself? I do. My motivation to write the book was to give readers like me—LBGTQ+ fans of fast-paced whodunnits—something to crack open after a crappy day at work. A Mohawk-wearing, Porsche-driving best friend who drags you far past your comfort zone? Count me in. A literal giant and acclaimed baker (in more than one way, if you get my drift)? Yes, please! A clever-minded octogenarian with a penchant for Matlock and tea? Do you really need to ask? Of course, the action in Devil’s Chew Toy revolves around the story’s hero, Hayden McCall—part-time middle-school teacher, part-time gay-relationships blogger, and full-time pint-size, big-hearted ginger. Was this story fun to write? As Hayden would say, “One thousand percent!”
I appreciated how this book stayed clear of stereotypes when it could have easily gone that route. Each character was complex, including the beautiful go-go boy. Was this a goal of yours?
Seeing the humanity—the good, the bad, and the in-between—in people is a prerequisite to empathy. To have any hope of engaging a reader and holding their attention (better yet, to entertain them!) for 300 pages, I knew I must create characters who are likable but flawed; despicable but not entirely all bad. Quick example. A beta reader pointed out that the bartender, Hank, was too one-note. I rewrote Hank to be no less cringy, but hopefully his wistfulness about growing older—and heavier—in the midst of attractive young men makes him a scooch more relatable to some readers. Writing walking clichés is easy peasy, but offers nothing new to a reader. Not only are stereotypical characters uninteresting, they are also inaccurate. Although the story is lighthearted—and occasionally madcap—the characters still had to be relatable, which means they had to be complex.
As fun as this book is, it doesn’t shy away from some of the political issues of our day, including the treatment of Dreamers and fear of the police. Was it difficult balancing the fun with the fearful?
To my mind, there are three contexts at play in storytelling. What’s going on in the head of each character, the interaction of characters, and the environment in which all the characters live. None of those three contexts is purely good or bad. Like characters themselves, societies struggle to get it right because societies are nothing but big groups of diverse people with competing values, ideas, and motivations. While I strove to create a fun, big-hearted story with friendship at its center, I strove to also create a world that, as RuPaul might say, “served realness.”
Finally, can you share anything about future books in the Hayden & Friends series?
A draft of book two is complete! (I’m toying with titles to match the structure and spirit of Devil’s Chew Toy). Hayden and Hollister are back, along with Burley and Jerry. The next story revolves around the mysterious murder of the ringmistress of an upscale circus/magic/burlesque show called Mysterium (think a slightly risqué version of Cirque du Soleil that comes with a Michelin-starred dinner). As with Barkingham Palace in the first book, I start with a distinctive setting that I hope readers will find fresh and interesting and then inhabit that setting with quirky and surprising—along with a few sketchy—characters. If Hayden and Hollister are to solve the crime, they’ll have to learn a few new tricks. Just so happens, Mysterium is full of them.