L.A. Jacob (00:00:10): Welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I am your host, L.A. Jacob. Today’s interview will be with Jay Hartlove, author of the Goddess Rising series, Mermaid Steel and his newest novel, The Insane God.
Coming from our sponsors this month, from the Dragon Gem Series comes Possession is Nine-Tenths by J. Dark. In the audio collection this month is the first Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy story, The Stargazer Gift Shop.
The Insane God by Jay Hartlove. A meteorite fragment cures a teenaged trans girl’s schizophrenia but leaves her with visions of ancient warring gods. Can she and her brother stop the spread of global disaster? The Insane God from Jay Hartlove is available now in hardcover, trade paperback, and digital editions. For more information, visit https://waterdragonpublishing.com/product/insane-god/.
Hello and welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I am your host, L.A. Jacob, and I have with me today Jay Hartlove. He’s published The Goddess Rising Series, Mermaid Steel, and a new book, The Insane God, which has just been released. Hi Jay. Welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe.
Jay Hartlove (00:02:26): Hi, thank you for having me.
L.A. Jacob (00:02:28): So what is your most recent book about, The Insane God?
Jay Hartlove (00:02:31): The Insane God is a science fiction thriller. It is, let me just read you the back blurb cover. This is a book about meteorites falling to earth and changing peoples’ behavior. Our protagonist is a transgender girl who’s recently just getting out of the mental hospital and her schizophrenia was cured by wearing a fragment of one of these meteors. And so these, these meteorite fragments have great power over people’s mentalities.
And she gets visions instead of her schizophrenia. She, those are pretty much replaced by these visions of these ancient gods. We’ve got quite a bit of danger. It is a thriller, it’s science fiction. We go in, I explore planetary science, I explore schizophrenic and mental illness science. There was a lot of science in this, but it is definitely a thriller. It’s an ever-escalating danger, uh, situation from page one. It’s gonna be fun. It was a lot of fun to write. I actually got an endorsement from, uh, David Brynn, who’s the author of The Postman and Earth. He said it’s a, a mystery, a terror, intervention and the Power of love. Yeah, we’re off and running. I’m very excited about it.
L.A. Jacob (00:03:41): Why did you decide to include a transgender protagonist?
Jay Hartlove (00:03:45): Well, this was a story about change. It’s about unwanted change. These meteorites fall to earth and start changing peoples’ behaviors and, and all of the terrible things and great things that happen as a result of that. And it just occurred to me that the best place for protagonist to be is someone who has been living with a lot of change in their life. And so, this transgender girl was the perfect person to tell the story. And, and the more I got into it, the more I realized how correct she was for this.
Like I said, I go into a lot of modern psychology thinking. There’s a lot of what’s called radical acceptance, which is important in dealing with mental illness. And she is the poster child for that because she was assigned the wrong gender at birth and has had to live with schizophrenia for a lot of her formative years. And now she’s having to deal with the almost supernatural effects that these meteorites have on people. You know, there’s all sorts of powers that come with these visions that she has. So, she’s all about change. There’s this whole Lovecraftian notion of there being forces beyond our understanding things, monstrous things out in space, things that can affect our minds and take away our sense of identity and rob us of our humanity. That that’s something that’s always been fascinating to me. And this one came together.
L.A. Jacob (00:05:08): Now is this going to be part of a series or is this a standalone?
Jay Hartlove (00:05:13): At moment, this is a standalone. The story does wrap up. The world has changed by what happens in this story and I could continue on. You had mentioned earlier Mermaid Steel, my fantasy romance, is also a standalone, but there’s a whole lot of world building going on there too. I mean it’s, you know, there’s plenty of room for a sequel. I just haven’t been inspired as to what those sequels will look like yet. When I read a piece of fiction, I like things to work out because, dammit, things don’t work out like that in real life. Right?
L.A. Jacob (00:05:43): Being that you’ve written series and standalones, you’re finding standalones to be a lot more satisfying to write.
Jay Hartlove (00:05:53): You’re right on target that these books were written as standalone. I mean that you can read each of the books in my trilogy as standalone books, the story is within the wrap up there is a larger overarching story that happens. The right characters telling the story. And I’m gonna reverse engineer all the breadcrumbs that you leave during the story to make sure that you really can’t wrap it up at the end. Then you wrap it up at the end. So, it’s part of the process. The Insane God is a whole separate, stress free, this is my quarantine exercise of just sitting down and telling a story that I wanted to tell. So mechanically, I think this story is much more interesting. It doesn’t just, you know, have that one pyramid of build the conflict, solve the conflict. There’s a whole lot more going on.
I love stories where what you end up with is not what you started out with. Well then in this one, in The Insane God, the reader could guess at the very front end, shit happens. A lot of change comes down. And the 16-year-old girl guesses, she has no idea. And everybody else in the story doubts it ‘cause it’s so outrageous. It’s like honest to God, really, Gods in space and meteorites is like this can’t possibly be true. And the reader then gets to side with her because the reader’s thinking, well maybe she’s right, as she finds out during the course of the story that her guess was correct. It turns out to be much worse than anybody would hope for. ‘Cause this is like, well be careful what you ask for because yeah, your guess was right and it’s really, really bad. So, I have a lot of fun with the information feed.
L.A. Jacob (00:07:29): It seems to me that you seem to have overarching themes in each of your books.
Jay Hartlove (00:07:34): I do. Thank you. If you’re gonna spend two years of your life or 10 years of your life writing a book, then it should be about something. There’s a place for popcorn, maybe you’re still hungry. Right. My writing time is very precious to me. I want them to be about something. Mermaid Steel is actually is a race relations story. Uh, my village of mermaids off the coast are about to go to war with the village of humans on land. And it’s because of racial tensions. I could have had a bad guy. It wasn’t, it was systemic and going on for a hundred years. And our lovers have to, they fall in love, and they realize you’re just people. One of you happens to live underwater and one of you happens to live on land, but we’re all just people. And then they have to convince their villages of this.
For them, I just feel so sorry for these characters. I had to have everything not work, everything was different. And then of course they fall in love, and they try to have sex and I leave the lights on and point out that that doesn’t work either because one of them is a dolphin and one of ’em is a human. So, nothing is working for these people. And so that’s all uphill for them, right? And so, for them to overcome all of that is a real triumph. So, by the end of the book, the reader hopefully is very pleased that they managed to pull it off and they managed to overcome all of this.
L.A. Jacob (00:08:48): Do you find that presently mental health is the thing to write about?
Jay Hartlove (00:08:55): I don’t know if it’s a thing to write about, but it certainly is something that people are having to live with. The pandemic shut down everybody’s social life and adults who already have friends and already have a social life could survive that on Facebook or Instagram or whatever. You know, you’re 15, 16, 17 years old and your social life is huge in your life, and you just cannot see your friends anymore. And the only time you, any you see anything on school is you’re looking at your teacher’s face on Zoom.
This can be devastating. How do you hold it together? And you know, you know what it’s like to have friends around you all the time and then suddenly that’s yanked away from you. But then again, you know, we also screwed up the world and the job market is wrecked and people are having radical ideas about what it looks like to go back to work. It’s not a great time for peoples’ mental health. I didn’t write about it because of that. I made sure to include that in the story because my story’s about change. Can’t write about change in the 21st century without addressing the fact that mental health is a concern. I wasn’t trying to be, you know, popular.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:57): How do you think your publishing experience was? If you wanna compare it to the other one that you had?
Jay Hartlove (00:10:04): Well, not just that, but where I started off originally, ‘cause I was originally writing back in the 1980s. Even back then, you needed to go get an agent. And the agent would then know who to talk to in the publishing industry and get you on that boat. And even back then when it was, I had no idea how easy it was, and I probably should have pursued it more vigorously at the time, but I didn’t. And that then closed up because then we had all through the nineties and the early two thousands, we had this wave of acquisitions where the big publishers gobbled up the small publishers and then pushed the slush pile off of their associate editors back onto the agents. So now agents read the slush pile and agents have their reputation at risk if they pitch something to a publisher and it’s not gonna be a winner.
So the risk got moved around and now it’s really hard to find an agent. And in fact, agents will take you for one book that they know they can sell and then you come along and write something different. ’Cause that’s what I’ve been doing, right? I’m not writing all science fiction or all fantasy, right? And so, I’d be kind of a nightmare for an agent because you know, they may think they know who to talk to to sell mermaid steel and they’ll go talk to their connections in the romance industry and get that sold. But then I’ll come out with a science fiction novel like this one, and they’re like, I don’t know anybody in science fiction, I can’t help you. And they fire you for that and you have to go find another agent all over again. And I know people that this has happened.
So getting into quote unquote big publishing is a matter of gatekeepers. And you gotta get the agent who then has to get you the editor who then gets you onto the lists and then, and big publishers will throw a lot of money at a book launch. And at the end of the day, you end up making about 5 cents a copy on your books. They sell a lot of books, but then after two weeks your old news and so you’ve made your money. So, they give you an advance and then you earn against the advance. And if you’re lucky it plays out, but you’ve burned through it in the first month and you’re yesterday’s news at that point, your back listed. So, all of this motion and all of these people involved, this whole village of people that you get involved and years of setting it all up and begging and pleading and getting your agents and then the editors and down the line all for a payoff that lasts a couple of months and then it’s done, onto the next book.
I’m sorry, that’s horrible. You spend all this time writing a book and it’s only gonna be alive on the shelves for a month because even though Amazon has no shelf space, but you are competing for the money that your big publisher’s going to throw at your book, they’re gonna throw it all in there now, try to get it onto a bestseller list and then it can continue to sell on its own from then, but they’re not gonna support it anymore. They’re done supporting it. Once they launch it, you’re then out there, you know. Remember me, I was on the bestseller list. And so, you’ve got all these authors who say, you know, I’m a USA Today bestseller. Well, you mean three books ago, you hit that list because your publisher shoved you onto it. Doesn’t mean you’re actually USA Today bestseller today, but you can kind claim that forever.
And you know, I’ve done that too. Some of these books won awards and so I always pitch myself as this award-winning author. Yeah, it’s a game you play in the publicity, but there really are three legs to this stool. There’s writing the book, there’s producing a good product, which is what the publisher really needs to do. And getting it into all the channels and getting it, you know, so that it’s easy for buyers to get at. And there was this whole third part of it, which is the marketing. And frankly, why not just hire a publicist if you’re gonna go that route? And that’s exactly what I’ve done. I have hired publicists. They’re not responsible for writing the book. They’re not responsible for making the book happen. They’re just responsible for selling the damn thing. Their specialty, that’s what they know how to do. Nobody else understands the formula as they do, let them do that job.
So for me, it’s all about small press. Small press publisher can create a good product and help you get a thing edited, get a good cover on it, get it into audiobook, hardbound, eBook, all the different formats, get it into all the channels, and then have somebody else, another expert come in and make those calls to the reviewers and the ad space and the best seller lists and all of that. Let the publicists take care of that.
The other option, of course, is to do it all yourself. All of it. And I know people who do that too, who self-publish and, and now a couple of them who actually made it work, but they actually don’t have a day job and that’s their life. And that’s what it takes. And that’s what you’ll be buying into if you self-publish. Not for me. I, I don’t wanna do that. That’s not what I want, how I wanna spend my time this way. I get to spend 20% of my time dealing with my small press publisher and my publicist and the other 80% of my time writing new books.
L.A. Jacob (00:14:51): So how can people contact you?
Jay Hartlove (00:14:54 ): Well, I put essays and clips and graphics and ideas stuff. Everything that that goes into my books, I put on my website. So, if people enjoy my books and they wanna see the behind the scenes story, there’s a lot of material on my website. My website is JayWrites.com. And I put everything up there. Uh, I try to keep up with it with news. It’s all there so that fans can come in and look and, and I have a few hundred fans who do, who actually come in and visit and see all the stuff I’ve got.
But you know, I book trailers, ads, I have a bunch of essays about the research that I did for all of these books. So there’s a lot of stuff there for fans to be able to go read and get that behind the scenes. Look, yes, I wanna share all this and learn some of these lessons the hard way. 10 years of fighting with that giant combined novel that wouldn’t go anywhere. I don’t want people to have to make those mistakes again. So, I mean, it’s, if I can share this stuff with people so they don’t have to make the same mistakes, all the better. And you can even write to me on that.
L.A. Jacob (00:15:56): Well, thank you very much for your time and I really appreciate your insights.
Jay Hartlove (00:16:02): Thank you for having me.
L.A. Jacob (00:17:07): Thanks again to our guest, Jay Hartlove.
Next month, we will have a panel of authors discussing how technical writing transitions to fiction writing.
L.A. Jacob (00:16:08): Hunter: The Unwoven Tapestry Book Two is now available with Ruben still missing and no signs of their enemy’s force. Donovan races to uncover the mysteries of blood magic while training the next generation in new seeking. Throughout it all, Ruben drowns in fear and danger, managing breaths of revelation and enlightenment that threatened to unravel everything he once understood to be true. Available in trade paperback editions, hardcover editions and digital editions from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Kindle, Kobo, Apple Books, Nook, Smashwords, and Google Play. For more information, please go to waterdragonpublishing.com/product/hunter/.
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This podcast was recorded and edited by yours truly, L.A. Jacob. Executive producer is Steven Radecki. Transcription services provided by Sleepy Fox Studio.
This month’s episode was sponsored by Paper Angel Press and its imprints, Water Dragon Publishing and Unruly Voices. You can hear our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, and most of your favorite podcast services. Visit our marketplace for more information about books that are mentioned on this podcast. Thanks very much for listening and talk to you soon.