I was introduced to Jason Halstead through Twitter and, since that time, I've been in sporadic communication with him, especially after reading his sci-fi/fantasy story, Wanted.
In fact, he reminds me a little of my brother because he has a tendency to make me laugh. He can be foolish which breaks up a lot of stress in life, due to various pressures involving work, lack of time and so on. Add finding time to spend with family and trying to write and promote books and, there you have it: another person who requires at least 36 hours in a given day, another person who will never receive it. Sorry, Jason.
Anyway, I did get the opportunity to catch up with him, asking a few questions to get to know a little more about what goes on inside his head - the inner workings of his heart and soul. Allow me to share what I've learned with you.
Budden: What does being an author mean to you?
Jason: Swinging for the fence on the first question: I like it!
Being an author means writing my own rules. It’s about being self-employed but more than that, it’s about having to be responsible, disciplined and self-reliant. Whose fault is it if I fail – my own. I’m not dependent upon the auto industry to keep a plant open. I’m not subject to the whims of senior execs looking to trim headcount. I’m taking my own future into my own hands.
From a personal side, being an author means being able to share little pieces of myself with the world in hopes that it helps others. That help can come in the form of entertainment or perhaps by giving somebody a chance to learn how somebody else tackled a situation.
A few years ago when I got serious about this writing thing, I wrote up an essay entitled, “Why I Want to Write.” I wrote it for myself and forced absolute honesty out of myself. The answers within certainly didn’t involve getting rich quick, or rich at all. Nonetheless, it helped me to set my goals and proper mindset to make sure I worked hard at it. The work never stops, but every e-mail I get or review I read from somebody who enjoyed my books releases a stream of happy chemicals into my brain. It’s almost like I’m a literary exhibitionist!
Budden: When did you first realize that you wanted to write and publish a book? How old/young were you at the time?
Jason: I think I was nine years old when I had that, “Ah ha!” moment. I’d just finished the largest book in the world (as far as I was concerned): The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It was 709 pages long and a pretty significant undertaking for me. When I finished it I loved the story, even though a few of the characters irked me (more power to Mr. Brooks for making them so real). I also realized I wanted to do something like that – write a book that had an impact on someone else like that one had on me.
Of course I had no idea how to do it, or that it would take so long for me to learn the necessary skills to do so! The innocence of youth…
Budden: From its inception, how long did it take you to write and publish your first book? Was the experience mostly rewarding or filled with varying levels of frustration?
Jason: My first book and my first published book are two entirely separate animals. In fact there were several books that shall forever remain in obscurity – some even lost to the trials of time.
My first published book was Voidhawk, and it is a special animal. I first wrote it in a series of novelettes ranging from 12,000 to 20,000 words (a few were longer, but not by much). My intent was to make them episodic for a quicker read. I put them online (not published, just available) and got some great reviews on them, including a few suggestions that I should publish them. I did nothing of the sort.
I learned about the Amazon Break Through Novel award and reconsidered. I went through and joined the first ten stories into a single one but decided that I wouldn’t use it – there was no typical setup to the book as far as a plot. Each chapter had one, but overall it felt like I was really reaching for it. So instead I pumped out a book in a few weeks called Wanted. It never made it past the pitch stage (a 300 character or less blurb about the book). Nobody ever read the book, but I was out.
I’d done all this work on Voidhawk, so why not throw it out there and see what happened? What happened was I was shot down by a handful of agents and publishing agencies…until one accepted it. I then met an editor who was assigned to me and she raked me over the coals and taught me how to write. It was painful and messy, but we both survived and the book came out a lot better for it.
I submitted Wanted and it was grabbed up instantly. I’d also been working on another idea that hit me. I called it Dark Earth and it, too, was snatched up. From there, publishing suddenly seemed like a piece of cake.
Budden: If you have published multiple titles, which book is your favorite and why? If you can't decide on one favorite, that's OK; break the rules and give us two or three.
Jason: I love all my books, and whenever I go back to do some continuity research and re-read parts of them I find reasons to love them all over again. Or deep shame if I find a typo – that prompts a hasty fix and resubmission of the text to my various e-book retailers.
I think my best book to date is The Lost Girls. Is it my favorite…yes, but so are the others. I’ve been told that Dark Earth made some readers cry (in a good way), and I know I dug deep in myself to explore the emotions a father would face having his child put in such danger through circumstance. Ice Princess, the sequel to Wanted, deals with some related emotional baggage and earns high marks from me because of it.
Human Nature has some outstanding performances in it as well. It explores humanity at its weakest and reminds us all that, at times when things seem the worst, it’s important for us to be at our strongest.
And the Voidhawk series has (arguably) my favorite character – a good-for-nothing son of a bitch named Rosh. Through the books he endures a great many changes and is learning to be less of a thug and more of a decent person, even though the price of those lessons is unbearable.
I hate to extend this question any more but, to me, it’s not about the books; it’s about the characters. I write about people and when they’re done with their story I call it a book – or in some cases multiple books (e.g. the crew of the Voidhawk; The heroine of The Lost Girls, Traitor, Wolfgirl, and eventually Black Widow; and the characters in my Vitalis series).
Budden: Who has been a major source of inspiration for you as a writer/author?
Jason: My readers are the number one source of inspiration. Getting feedback is outstanding! It’s a drug without any harmful side effects, even if the feedback is a criticism. The bad stuff is a lesson waiting to be learned on how to improve, after all!
As far as individuals that inspired me, I have to say Selena Kitt was one. I knew Selena when she wrote smut on Literotica and had a minimal return on her work. To let the cat out of the bag, I never could get into anything she wrote. It might have been her chosen genres or it might have been her style – regardless it wasn’t for me. But I thought if she can do this and get by, then I’ve got to be able to be successful at writing! Then Selena was in the right place at the right time and hit it big. That turned the flame underneath me into a roaring inferno driving me to succeed.
Another inspirational person is Michael Hicks. I stumbled across him on Twitter and started talking to him. He’s an author of the successful series, In Her Name. So successful in fact, that he was able to leave his job and pursue writing full time. We chat on almost a daily basis and even help one another out. I’m nowhere near his level yet but he’s helped to inspire me to get there.
And, of course, I have to give honorary nods to James Patterson, R.A. Heinlein, Robert E. Howard, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Raymond Feist, Michael Crichton, and probably numerous other authors over the years who have inspired me.
Budden: What is your ultimate dream, in terms of being a writer/author?
Jason: To never stop writing! I’d like to make it my full time profession so I can focus on it and make my product that much better. I’ve been making leaps and bounds in that direction lately, but I still have so very far to go until I feel comfortable taking the leap.
Budden: What is one of your favourite quotes? It can be from a book you wrote or something you heard throughout your life. If you did not write it, please cite the source, if possible.
Jason: “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
That’s my favorite, but virtually any quotes assigned to Nietzsche work well for me.
“We can do as we will but we cannot will as we will.” – Arthur Schoepenhauer
This is another one I hold near to me – it means that we have the freedom to do whatever we want, but we can only want what we are able to understand or comprehend. To me that means I should always be seeking new experiences and to broaden my horizons so I have a larger set of options to select my “want” from.
Budden: Tell us a little about your life. What does an average day look like?
Jason (in point form) - Wake up at 6 am, get ready for the day job. Check the latest emails/tweets/book results
- At work before 7:30. Spend the day running an IT department at a tier 1 auto supplier.
- Home between 4 and 5 at night. Typically, change and head in to the gym with the family (3 – 4 nights a week, on off days we just try to relax a little).
- Back home between 6 and 7, eat dinner.
- Spend more time with family until we put the kids to bed (8 or a little later)
- Get to work writing/editing/checking book results and modifying my current sales tactics as necessary
- Go to bed around 11 or 12.
Budden: What are three of your favourite hobbies?
Jason: Lifting weights - I spent time as a competitive powerlifter until a mishap while training ended my competitive career – now I just do it for fun and I’m still trying to get back the strength I had before the ‘incident’.
Saltwater aquariums – Yes, plural, I have two of them. One is a typical reef tank and the other is a smaller tank that had some seahorses in it. They didn’t survive the Thanksgiving vacation we took, so we’re looking to set that aquarium up with something a little more hardy.
Writing! If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t spend so much time doing it.
Budden's closing thoughts: Jason, I'm glad we were introduced through Twitter. It's been a pleasure getting to know you (the little I have, so far) and, please, keep your sense of humor. You never know when you might make someone's day. I look forward to reading other books you've written in the future. Keep on keeping on and, before long, you just might be able to take the leap you so desire - to become a full-time writer.