Brian Hagan’s background is varied and curious, starting with an interest in science and language, before moving into animation and game design. Most recently he’s been working with gemstones, and experimenting with bonsai and carnivorous plants. But of all his many hobbies and vocations, he loves telling stories above all else. His first novel, The Horrible Plan of Horace Pickle, was completed for NaNoWriMo in 2008. Brian currently lives in a notoriously haunted house in Pittsburgh with his wife, daughter, three talking cats and an adorable trio of guard rabbits.
Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
I’ve always loved being a storyteller. My favorite TV show growing up was Robotech, which has a deeper and more complex story than most cartoons of the time. I loved playing RPGs. I loved reading. I was sucked into the MYST fandom early on, which puts good storytelling on a high pedestal. By eighth grade, I remember that even my school principle had me pegged as a writer and when I eventually went to college it was to learn how to tell stories using animation and video games.
In 2008 I decided that I wanted try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The only idea for a book that I had at the time was way too complicated to take on for this challenge, so I decided to brainstorm up a new idea just a few days before NaNoWriMo started. I took 30 minutes to write down 90 story concepts, and out of those I got this sentence that would turn into the tagline of the book: “Horace Pickle hates mashed potatoes, but now he has a plan.” I had no idea who Horace Pickle was, why he hated mashed potatoes, and what his plan was… but I had 30 days to figure it out!
August, the main character. He’s somebody who steps up to do what needs done, and he uses his brain over brawn despite the physical advantages of being a super hero. Most importantly, he doesn’t let his inner doubts and personal history hold him back. I think we need more people in the world like that, and August can be a good role model in this respect.
What character from your work frightens you, makes you feel dirty to write?
Well, Horace Pickle is probably the ‘scariest’ person in the book. He’s clearly insane, I mean he wants to destroy mashed potatoes for cryin’ out loud! But, I can’t say I felt dirty writing him, I actually had a ton of fun getting into his head. I did have the impulse to wash my hands once or twice though.
Your main character walks into a bar. What happens?
August frequents a place call the Sapphire Lounge, which is a bar/jazz club. Dancing is one of the few physical activities he can do that, when done correctly, doesn’t trigger his super power and cause a mess of things. He loves to have a few drinks and swing dance for a few hours on a quiet night before leaving on another mission.
The Sapphire Lounge isn’t mentioned in The Horrible Plan of Horace Pickle, but will be making an appearance in the sequel.
When you are writing, tell me about the emotions that are running through you and what it takes to work alongside them.
I get emotionally involved in the story, which isn’t necessarily reflective of the emotions of the character. For example, a death can be beautiful to the observers despite the sadness it causes the characters. I’ve usually got some idea of what emotion I want the reader to feel, and if I succeed in invoking those emotions in myself then I’m happy.
How do you police your production? Do you have a word quota, or a page goal, maybe you work for a set amount of time? Do you place demands on yourself when you’re working? How do you meet those demands?
First drafts are kind of easy because I can set a target daily average and that’s it until the story is done being told. When it comes to editing though, it’s much more difficult. I typically will set aside certain days and/or times to trudge through editing and rewriting with some kind of deadline in mind.
A publishing house gets ahold of you and wants you to take over writing an established character. For instance, DC Comics calls you and tells you they want you to take over writing Batman. What is the dream? What established character would you love to write?
I would love to write a story with any of Terry Pratchett’s characters, but I’d feel particularly blessed to write Commander Vimes. As a character he’s evolved so much, and he’s pretty tough physically and mentally. It would be a challenge to create a story that challenges Vimes, and I’d be up for that.
Everyone has at least one specific challenge that holds him or her back. What is that challenge in your work and how do you overcome it?
My life has an element of chaos that has been difficult to reign in. Getting a handle on my ADHD and depression were the first big step, but I’m still working to control my work obligations and carve out dedicated writing time. Of course, a writer’s job is more than writing… I also have to do research, promotions, queries, booking, and travel to events. And one of these days I’ll clean my desk, too…
How did you find the time to write this book with your busy life? What ideas do you have on how others can make time in their lives?
NaNoWriMo is a godsend in this respect. It gives you a target word count, a daily goal, and a deadline. Even better, it’s an external force that you can’t just hand-wave away without repercussions. And best of all, it has a built-in support group and community. I really can’t imagine a better way to write a novel, and outside of November (NaNoWriMo month) I do my best to emulate it.
Without giving any spoilers, what is your favorite thing about this book?
It’s got a bad guy who wants to destroy mashed potatoes, how bizarre is that? But his plan is good, scary good, and I think if somebody managed to pull it off in real life it would work. No more mashed potatoes. It’s kinda freaky to think about.
If we wanted a good story—book, show or movie—one that you didn’t write, where would you send us?
This isn’t a fair question. If I was doomed to a desert island with one book of my choosing as my sole entertainment until I perish, ruling out books like “How to Build & Navigate a Boat” and “Desert Island Survival,” I might choose The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. And I would tell you and your readers to forget that the movie ever existed, put it completely out of your mind, and read it. The world it paints is even more fantastic and engrossing than could ever be done with any justice in a visual art. Your imagination is truly key to the experience, and nobody else’s imagination will do.
Let’s talk about tools. Do you have a word processor that you would tell us to use? Is there a certain computer that has become your favorite? What do you look for in a keyboard? What would you absolutely have to have if you were to sit down and write your next book?
I do most of my writing with my desktop computer and MS Word. All my other writing happens on a laptop, and I recently got the first laptop that I’m truly happy with. It’s the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. One of the online reviews included a section about its ease of use in any position (sitting in your lap, laying on the floor, upside down on the sofa…) and gave it good remarks. Thankfully it’s lived up to that review! I’ve never actually enjoyed writing on a laptop before this.
If we read your work and crave more, can we find more that you have written? Will we ever see another book by you? If we fall in love with your work, how can we find you and everything you have done?
I’m currently working on a sequel to The Horrible Plan of Horace Pickle titled The Single Deed of Emeril Battles. I’m also working on a new book that I think is going to give the post-apocalyptic zombie survival genre a long-needed breath of fresh air (seriously, zombies need airing out a lot and we haven’t been getting it). You can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/horacepickle where I post updates on my writing and news/events updates, and Twitter at www.twitter.com/windsmith. I also post to my blog at www.windsmithcity.com from time to time.
Thanks for having me!