Tyler Hayes’ debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse was recently published by Angry Robot Books. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask what has gone into making The Imaginary Corpsecome to life, and hear about the other exciting projects he’s working on.
I was so excited to get my hands on a copy of The Imaginary Corpse. For those who haven’t read it yet, can you give me the one line pitch?
A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.
Is The Imaginary Corpse the first book you wrote?
The Imaginary Corpse is my fourth novel, but the only one I plan to publish in anything like its current form, so in a way it’s my “first.”
Before Corpse, I tended to write fairly grim urban fantasy; I was heavily influenced by Philip K. Dick, Tim Powers, and Neil Gaiman, by which I mean I was trying to write exactly like them. After a series of breakthroughs, including a pro author calling me out on trying too hard to be Neil Gaiman, I started writing what would now be termed hopepunk. The eventual result of that experimentation was The Imaginary Corpse, and lo and behold, here we are. The earlier novels I may repurpose some ideas from eventually, but they would be in a very different, much less nihilistic form.
How did you capture the first words for The Imaginary Corpse?
The honest answer is “by avoiding work.” I was at a business conference that I wasn’t finding particularly enlightening, so I took this beautiful, fresh, unused notepad I had been given in my goodie bag, and starting to scribble ideas for a book that was based on a childhood game of Let’s Pretend, “Stuffed Animal Detective Agency.” I don’t remember anything about the conference, but I had something like twenty pages of notes by the time it ended.
I knew I wanted Tippy to be my main character, but that day was when I came up with the idea of giving it a Velveteen Rabbit vibe—ideas and imaginary friends that no-one wanted anymore, but had been loved enough to be real. From that spooled out the structure of the Imagination, the Stillreal, the serial killer plot…it all just kind of fell into place. Sometime in the next few weeks I wrote the first words of the first draft, and it was all downhill from there.
Do you have a time of day that’s a sweet spot for words?
Morning is my ideal wordsing time; the day hasn’t heated up yet, and I can get myself into the zone, get a solid bout of writing out of the way, and still have the afternoon and evening to take care of what needs doing. Plus, I get to write immediately after breakfast, my favorite meal of the day.
If I can’t get in morning writing time, nighttime, after dinner, is the best time for me. Instead of feeling like I have the whole day to get things done after I write, I feel like everything is done, and I can just focus. I get less writing time in on the days I have to write in the evenings, though.
Any advice for novice writers?
One: Write what you want to write, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone. (Perpetuating stereotypes counts as hurting.)
Two: Finish your draft before you try to edit it; don’t let yourself get hung up polishing the doorknobs when you haven’t finished building the house.
Three: Become friends with other writers if you can; it’s a lonely job, and you’re going to want both critique partners and a support network.
Four: Don’t forget to stretch while you’re writing, especially your back and your arms.
Let’s talk about Tyler.
What makes you sit down at the computer/notepad and start writing? What motivates you?
The writing itself is the motivating factor. I enjoy the act of writing, both drafting and revising. I feel antsy when I don’t get a chance to do it for too long, and relieved and satisfied when I do.
Of course, I do have those days where I’d rather eat live fire ants than write one word. When that happens, I have a few rituals I use to get myself started, mostly involving cleaning the house, and then when I’m in the zone, I tell myself I only have to spend 30 minutes on whatever it is I’m working on that day.
There are also times I can tell it’s worse than just normal don’t-wannas, and I am not going to have a good writing session. If that’s the case, I give myself permission to take the day off. Also, I always take two days off from writing per week to avoid burning out.
What is your process? One manuscript at a time? Fifteen plates spinning? Pencils only? Walls of index cards and yarn? Three computer screens?
I tend to have two projects going at once: one that’s still in zero-drafting and research, and one that’s either being drafted or in revisions. Occasionally I go up to three, like when The Imaginary Corpse was in edits at Angry Robot. One thing is always my priority, though -- usually whatever’s on an external deadline, but sometimes I have to self-impose a deadline to make sure I keep on task.
I type almost exclusively; even when I need to jot notes my first grab is my phone, not a notebook. I keep a notebook on hand just in case -- what if the phone is dead, or I’m somewhere that using my phone would be frowned upon? -- but it’s my tertiary mode of note-taking and I almost never write actual prose in it.
For plotting and drafting, I use a modified version of the method Rachel Aaron describes in 2k to 10k: Jot down ideas until I’m sure I have an idea that will actually make a novel, write half-page character sheets for all the major characters and a “scene map” of short descriptions of every scene in the book, then use the map as the starting point for a pre-write followed by the day’s writing.
I know you are a plotter. What compels you to pursue a plot bunny?
When I can see the other plot bunnies it’ll lead me to. Being less metaphorical: When thinking about it causes me to have other ideas that I can link to it, twists I could add, worlds I could build -- when it starts naturally accreting other Story Stuff in my head, such that I can tell there really is something behind it. That’s when I know it’s time to go ahead and follow and see where it takes me.
What’s your writing day look like? Is writing your 100% day job?
I have a copyediting job as my pays-the-bills job, so my writing day has to work around a Monday-Friday 8-5 schedule. On weekdays, my writing day is 30 minutes to an hour of work after dinner; on weekends, it’s a couple hours in the morning or evening, depending on my schedule.
In either case, the ritual is pretty much the same: I wash some dishes to get myself in the zone, maybe take a quick shower if the day was hot or I haven’t showered yet, put on my writing tanktop and my tennis elbow braces, then sit down at my desk, start up a timer in my favorite productivity app (shoutout to Forest!) and get to work. I tend to set myself incremental goals based on what I’m working on so that instead of feeling like I failed if I didn’t get all the way to my target word count or number of pages revised, I feel like I accomplished a series of things but maybe only three out of four.
I know you read widely but do you have a favorite reading genre?
Fantasy, especially contemporary fantasy, is my absolute jam: Mishell Baker’s Arcadia Project, Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children. Those are the types of authors and types of books I trend toward when I want some candy for the brain.
Would you share a favorite book series? Feel free to choose more than one!
Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children is my heart, and the series I will always read the next entry in; its melancholy, its empathy, its lyricism, I’m in love with everything about how McGuire writes this series.
If Wayward Children is my heart, Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries is my mind. I identify so strongly with Murderbot: its anxiety, its introversion, its earnest yet sarcastic view of the world.
Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is my soul. It takes the glorious high weirdness of a superhero setting and plays it absolutely straight while also investing it with an absolute truckload of heart. His fondness for superhero comics is obvious all the way through, and he never feels the need to deconstruct for the sake of deconstruction.
And reaching a little farther back, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is my ambition. It takes an absolute absurd concept and it runs with it for thousands of pages, and even after a multi-year hiatus from it, King overcame a car accident and managed to finish the series. Parts of it haven’t aged well, but it’s the only fantasy series I can remember reading twice.
Now for the bonus round, some fun Tyler facts!
What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Is this normal?
A fat-free Sicilian lemon Greek yogurt, an almond-butter Nature Valleybiscuit, and two Chef’s Cutbarbecue chicken sticks. This is pretty normal except for the chicken sticks. Usually I eat some peanut butter before I leave on my walk to the train, but today I was in too much of a rush getting out the door.
Beyond writing, can you tell me about your other loves?
Board games are the biggest one; I’m especially fond of Sentinels of the Multiverse, Spirit Island, Mansions of Madness, and Mysterium. Unsurprisingly, Stuffed Fables has been seeing a lot of table time lately, too.
My spouse and I are both hardcore Dungeons & Dragons fans -- we’re in three ongoing campaigns right now. Other tabletop RPGs have also seen some time in our lives, but none of them with the endurance and passion of D&D.
We also both love video games, mostly RPGs and adventure games. My favorites of all-time are Chrono Triggerand EarthBoundfor that first category, and The Longest Journeyand Sam & Max Hit the Road for the latter.
As you might have seen from my Instagram, I’ve been getting really deeply into cooking. This year I’ve been expanding my skill set by trying to master a new recipe a month, usually something basic I can expand on as my whims desire.
And of course, when the season is here, I’ll be watching ice hockey. (Before you ask: the San Jose Sharks.)
What are you reading/watching on TV right now?
Book-wise, I am finally caught up on my TBR pile enough to be reading The Calculating Starsby Mary Robinette Kowal, you know, that little book that just won the Hugo and the Nebula. It’s as good as all the hype suggests. Elma York makes me feel seen in ways I would not have expected from someone whose identities are so different from mine.
After that’s done I’ve got designs on reading Half-Off Ragnarok, the third book in the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire; I’ve been a bit stressed (in a good way) leading up to the launch of the book and I find Verity Price’s brand of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-adjacent weirdness comforting.
TV-wise, we’re between shows at the moment -- we just finished the second season of Mindhunter (which we loved) and the final season of iZombie (which we didn’t). Mindhunter perfectly hits the balance between two things I love: true crime, and human beings trying to figure out how to do their best while still coping with their own flaws and damage. iZombie was a show we adored in its first few seasons -- I’m a sucker for the “supernatural detective” shtick -- and that we happily followed into its political allegory phase, but that I just did not think stuck the landing on Season Five. It tried too hard to be two shows and so was good at neither of them.
Actually, speaking of our love of Dungeons & Dragons, we have an episode of Critical Role waiting for us as I write this...I never thought I’d say that I spend 3-4 hours a week watching someone else play D&D, but I love it, it’s just so fun and caring and wholesome.
The last movie I saw was -- pull from the Wayback Machine -- The Abyss, which I had never seen before. As a kid there were a lot of restrictions on what I could and could not watch as far as movies went (mostly caused by our house only having one VCR when I was growing up), so my spouse has been trying to help me broaden my cinematic horizons. I absolutely adored that movie, surprising, I think, no-one who has met me.
Here’s a free travel voucher and a magical time slowing watch. You can go anywhere on Earth and get back before anyone misses you. Where are you going, and why?
Trinity College, the Long Room. I was only there once, in my late teens, and I was on a family trip and so bound to an itinerary on top of being an anxious kid who was having trouble sitting still. I really want to go back as an adult with my brain in order to just soak in the sheer love of books for a little while.
Nonalcoholic: a cappucino.
Alcoholic: Whisk(e)y, served a variety of ways depending on if I’m going Irish, Scotch, or bourbon.
I will also accept the union of these two drinks in an Irish coffee if I’m feeling like celebrating something.
I need to know one thing about you that will make me remember you. Go.
Whenever I have to appear in public I wish I had a big pro wrestling-style entrance, with pyrotechnics and theme music and everything.
Dead person you’d like to dig up and reanimate for an hour? Well, you wouldn’t have to do the digging.
Shirley Jackson. I’d love to get an hour to sit with her and talk about the craft.
One last question before I let you get back to work. Would you share a crazy or funny childhood memory without having to think about it. The first thing that pops into your head. Go.
In elementary school, I usually hiked to school with some local kids, and once we came across a motorcycle parked against a hedge abutting a house. I had been imagining having some kind of secret spy base with my hiking companions, and so I noted how cool the motorcycle looked and then said “Hey, let’s steal it!” without remembering that, uh, I was in reality instead of my imagination. From out of the hedge, I heard an adult’s voice say “You aren’t gonna steal it,” and saw a big hand reaching through the branches for me. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I did shriek “We were just playin’!” before sprinting toward the school as fast as I could go. I got flak about that from my friends for the rest of the day. I hope whoever the bike’s owner was got a chuckle out of it.
Pssst. Secret Bonus Question. What are you writing now? Please tease us!
I am deep into revisions on a contemporary fantasy we’re pitching as Winter Tide meets Monday Night Raw. I’ve also got a sort of Critical Role-meets-Six Wakes dungeon-crawl fantasy in my back pocket that I plan to work on when I have the time for it, but which I don’t anticipate having time for until 2020.
Stay in touch with Tyler!
Tyler's Website: tyler-hayes.com
Read The Imaginary Corpse:
More about Tyler Hayes:
Tyler is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern California, and a Social Justice Bard specializing in the College of Comfort. He writes stories he hopes will show people that not only are they not alone in this terrifying world, but we might just make things better. His fiction has appeared online in Anotherealm,Nossa Morte, and The Edge of Propinquity, and in print in anthologies from Alliteration Ink, Graveside Tales, and Aetherwatch. Tyler’s debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse, is coming from Angry Robot Books in fall 2019.
Tyler would also love to play Sentinels of the Multiverse with you if you're interested.