I recently sat down to talk with Taylor Hohulin, author of Alpha.
"Taylor Hohulin is a DJ at a Christian rock radio station in Dallas. He lives in Arlington with his wife, two cats, and a dog. He is the least attractive member of the household." His words, not mine.
Crystal: Please tell us about your latest book.
Taylor: Alpha is a quirky sci-fi action story with a little romantic comedy thrown in here and there - kind of like if Isaac Asimov and Nicholas Sparks co-wrote a book, and then Wes Anderson got the movie rights. Alpha is about the worst robotic soldier in the history of the universe. He falls in love with his mechanic and ends up getting on the bad side of the most dangerous man on the planet. There's a lot of over-the-top action, some awkward robot/human romance, and a robot who sells parts of his body as scrap metal so he can pay homeless guys to give him back rubs. So basically, there's something for everyone.
Crystal: How do we find out about you and your books?
Taylor: My Goodreads page is http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7136484.Taylor_Hohulin, and that's a good place to keep up-to-date on what's going on for me, book-wise.
I also maintain a semi-regular blog about stuff that has nothing to do with my book at http://tayhoho.wordpress.com/
And I'll add just about anyone who doesn't try to send me viruses on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taylor.hohulin
And then there's Twitter. I don't usually follow back, but if stuff happens with the book, I'll be posting on there: https://twitter.com/tayhoho
Crystal: When did you first think about writing and what prompted you to submit your first ms?
Taylor: I've written stories here and there since I was pretty young. Remember FanFiction.Net? I was all over that sucker, and then on FictionPress when they gave original stories their own site. I think I was in high school when I finally decided I wanted to publish a book, but I didn't start working on Alpha until after I graduated from college. I was having a conversation with my wife before we got married about different dreams we had, and I mentioned to her I'd always wanted to write a book. She, being the great motivator she is, said something to the effect of, "Well, you have Word on your computer. It's not like there's anything stopping you." At the time, most of my writing was songwriting - not a lot of prose. I had the beginning ideas forAlpha rolling around in my head, but I was thinking about turning the whole thing into a concept album. There were going to be pirate robots and ninjas, and the whole thing was going to be this bizarre musical mashup of Ke$ha, Depeche Mode, and Aqua (you know, the Barbie Girl band). In hindsight, it's probably best that particular idea never panned out. Anyway, I started Alpha the day we got back from our honeymoon and finished it roughly two years later.
Crystal: What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?
Taylor: Writing IS how I relax! Nothing like some chill folk music and a cup of coffee while hammering out a scene. I'm also a big fan of working out. I played a lot of sports in high school, and I'm still a bit of a gym rat. I'm not as obsessive as I used to be, but I definitely love getting in there and throwing around some weights. Other favorites include Netflix marathons with my wife and trying to keep up with all the new music coming out.
Crystal: What truly motivates you in general? In your writing?
Taylor: My wife is a huge motivator in just about everything. This is a huge cliche, but she just makes me want to be a better man. I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't managed to trick her into thinking I was husband material. Outside of that, my writing motivation comes from fellow writers. I'm a member of a couple writing groups on Facebook, and when you see other guys talking about slaving away over their manuscripts while yours has been collecting dust, it helps put a little fire back in your belly.
Crystal: Do you feel humour is important in science fiction and why?
Taylor: I don't think there are any hard, fast rules in writing, so it really depends on the story. Alpha needed a healthy dose of humor, because if I'd taken it seriously, I don't think anyone else would. I really like the underlying story, but I don't think I could write a serious story about a defective robot falling in love with his mechanic and saving the Military from its best soldier without sounding really dorky. Maybe someone else could, but I needed humor to make some of the more off-the-wall aspects of the story more acceptable. I remember looking to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a lot. It's a really compelling story with a sympathetic lead, but without humor, I don't think that would have come through as much. It's about a supervillain auditioning for a promotion while trying to win the heart of the girl at his laundromat, for crying out loud...By the way, if you haven't seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog yet, go watch it now. It's less than an hour long, but it's fantastic.
Crystal: Would you like to write a different genre than you do now, or sub-genre?
Taylor: I've always wanted to write a really good ghost story. Ghost stories have the potential to be really cool puzzles with a lot of symbolism and layers, and that's always been intriguing to me. I just need to come up with the right idea. For now, I do plan on staying within the broad speculative fiction umbrella - the less likely a story is to have happened, the more likely I'll be to write it.
Crystal: Please tell us about yourself (family, hobbies, education, etc.)
Taylor: I grew up in Arlington, Texas, and went to college at John Brown University in Arkansas, where I got my degree in Broadcasting. I met my wife there, too, and we got married a couple weeks after I graduated. We moved back to Arlington a little over a year ago when I got a job at a nonprofit radio station in Dallas. I'm working full time as a DJ/webmaster right now, and I feel guilty that I scored a job where I spend half my day sitting in a room listening to music and talking about whatever strikes my fancy. Aside from writing, I don't have a lot of hobbies. I've played drums for various bands over the years, but I haven't had the time to actually sit down and work on my chops since I was in high school.
Fill in the blank favorites:
Taylor: All of them. I have an awful sweet tooth.
Taylor: Siloam Springs was the name of the town where I went to college in Arkansas. It had a lot of cool places, and a really picturesque downtown. Honestly, I'm not much of a place person so long as the right people are there.
Taylor: Fall. That's football season! And that's when the weather is best here in Texas.
Type of hero/heroine?
Taylor: The super kind. Batman is awesome.
Crystal: Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book?
Taylor: I tend to go back and forth between Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, but I think I lean towards King more often. Besides writing some fantastic books, he just seems like a really nice, down-to-earth guy. I'd love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him, or maybe hop on the drums and jam with the all-writer band he plays in.
Stephen King's It is probably my favorite book ever. A lot of folks just think of the movie and dismiss it as cheap horror about a clown who eats people, but the book is so much more than that. Yes, it's got some incredibly creepy parts, but at its heart, it's a story about growing up and friendship and getting past childhood insecurities. It has some of my favorite Stephen King characters, and, even though it was like a million pages long, I always wished I could get a few more books with those guys. Man, now I want to re-read it! It's been a while. Supposedly, they're working on adapting it to film again, and I really hope they nail it this time. Tim Curry was pretty good in the TV movie, but you needed to have read the book to fully appreciate it. At the very least, it doesn't seem so out of left field when Pennywise suddenly turns into a spider-thing at the end. I don't think that's a spoiler. Sorry if it is.
Crystal: Which comes first, the story, the characters or the setting?
Taylor: Depends on the genre, I think. I'm a story guy. I like high-concept, unique stories. I do think what makes a book stand out, after nailing the story, is really compelling characters. They all work hand in hand, I guess, but I'm more likely to forgive lacking characters and a bland setting if there's a great story.
Crystal: What are the elements of a great romance for you?
Taylor: I like romances that don't make it look so gosh-darned easy. Real love doesn't ignite, face difficulties, and then resolve everything in 70,000 words. Real love takes a lot of hard work and weathers the times when neither party "feels" in love. I think that kind of love is so much more powerful than the kind that's this sort of feeling that two mostly perfect people get and then somehow sustain effortlessly.
Crystal: What is the hardest part of writing/the easiest for you?
Taylor: The hardest part is getting started writing. For me, writing always feels like pushing a car in neutral over the top of a hill. At the start, you feel like you're just completely stuck, but once you get going, the hardest part is keeping up. The easiest part of writing is daydreaming about Wes Anderson stumbling across the novel and deciding to adapt it to a big-budget movie and thinking about how me and Bill Murray would probably turn into best friends while I hung out on set with him and Owen Wilson. I don't mean to brag, but I've always been a natural at that part.
Crystal: Have you experienced writer's block---> If so, how did you work through it?
Taylor: Every day I feel like I have writer's block. It really helps for me to have an outline of where the story is going. I always know what I have to write next. I tell myself I just have to get something on the page, no matter how bad it is, and then I can come back and make it pretty when it's time for revisions.
Crystal: What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?
Taylor: I love coming back to certain scenes and still being moved by them, even after I've read them hundreds of times. There are a couple spots in Alpha that I can still come back to and completely forget all the self-doubt, the furious deleting and editing, and the band-aids over clumsy writing.
Crystal: If you weren't writing, what would you be doing?
Taylor: My life probably wouldn't look that different. Maybe I'd fill that extra free time with drumming, or maybe I'd get back into songwriting. Whatever the case, I'd still be working in radio. It's a great day job.
Crystal: Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?
Taylor: Don't let the fear of not being perfect keep you from writing. It's easy for me to look at masters of the craft and think, "I'll never be that good. Why even bother?" But the thing is, most of those guys started out as amateurs writing clunky prose. The only way you're going to get better at writing is by writing. So be willing to sit down and write the worst novel of all time. Then be willing to figure out what went wrong and sit down again, and this time write a novel that's a little better. The worst reason not to try something creative is because you don't think you're good enough to pull it off. If you keep using that excuse, you'll never be good enough to pull anything off. That's probably the best advice for any sort of creative person I've ever heard. It drives my philosophy for anything creative.