I met Tyler Hayes in March at FogCon, when we were on a panel together. The subject was “Things I Wish I Knew when I was a Debut Author.” After he described his first novel, I was excited to hear more about it.
Tyler Hayes is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern California. 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 in anthologies from Alliteration Ink, Graveside Tales, and Aetherwatch.
Tyler would also love to play Sentinels of the Multiverse with you, if you’re interested.
His synopsis of The Imaginary Corpse:
A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.
Most ideas fade away when we’re done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from?
Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl’s imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. When her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they’re too Real to disappear. Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas – until Tippy runs into The Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently. Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there’s nothing left but imaginary corpses.
Did something in the real world inspire The Imaginary Corpse?
Tippy is actually modeled after one of my childhood stuffed animals. He was a part of a running Let’s Pretend game my father and I played that we called Stuffed Animal Detectives. Tippy wasn’t the main character by any stretch, but by far his role in my life has been the most enduring. I actually still have the original Tippy — you can see pictures of him on my website.
The other major thing informing the book is trauma. I’ve got PTSD and an anxiety disorder, and in therapy, I’ve been confronting what everyday experiences have been, in essence, poisoned by my trauma, no longer fun or enjoyable because my mind links them with pain. I mixed that concept up with the concept of imaginary friends, and I thought, what happens to ideas that we cherish, but become inextricably linked with trauma and tragedy? What if the Velveteen Rabbit were loved until he became Real, just like the famous quote from the book, but then got abandoned because his owner couldn’t stand to look at him anymore?
That brought me to the idea for the Stillreal. I thought, if I’m going to talk about creatures of the imagination, why not talk about Tippy and the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency? The mix of stuffed animals of different types and shapes and aesthetics helped inform the sort of mixed-genre approach to the Stillreal. From there, it was just riding out the brainstorm to the end.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
Fairly late in the book, there’s a segment where Tippy and his cohort of unwanted ideas have to explain the concept of the Stillreal to a new arrival, someone they’ve narrowly saved from being a victim of the serial killer who’s been hunting ideas. The new denizen of the Stillreal is, of course, having an absolute pedal-to-the-metal freakout about this, and it falls to Tippy and company to try to explain and help her calm down before she hurts herself or someone else.
I love this scene because it cuts to the heart of what the book is about: it’s not high-action, but it’s dynamic; it’s about emotions and trauma, but also about friendship and healing. At root, the solution to the problem is to be kind.
What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?
Would you believe this is the first book I ever outlined?
The skeleton of The Imaginary Corpse started during a business conference. I didn’t feel like I was getting much out of the meeting, so I started idly noodling at writing ideas. After an eight-hour day of noodling and pretending to listen to breakout sessions, I had mapped out what would become the backbone of the novel: Tippy, the Stillreal, the idea of a serial killer plot, Friends warping how Ideas look the longer they’re around each other, etc.
This book was also the first time I used what has become my standard methodology for writing my novels: brainstorm until it feels ready to go, scene map to be sure I don’t have high-level plot holes, rough draft to make it so the book exists, and then tuck in with the editing saws. That, plus how excited I was about the idea, made it possibly the easiest-flowing book I have ever written.
The hardest part was revisions, even more so than on other projects. As a beta-reader said, this setting is full of darlings — every single character and place is something I was excited to get to write. I don’t subscribe to the theory that you have to kill your darlings as a matter of necessity, but with this book it was inevitable. Any time I had to admit a scene or a character or a setting was superfluous, it was like pulling teeth to admit they had to go.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of The Imaginary Corpse?
Seeing how many readers have stated, openly on social media, that The Imaginary Corpse made them cry and also made them feel comforted. That was exactly the feeling I was going for with the book — not that it was never dark or tough or painful, but that it was a safe place to have those kinds of emotions and a place where empathy is rewarded. In this world of all worlds, I feel like that makes the book a success.
What do you have planned next?
I’m currently finishing up revisions on a potential sequel to The Imaginary Corpse. I’ve also got beta-readers looking at a contemporary fantasy about professional wrestling that I wrote while The Imaginary Corpse was going through edits. I’ve started plotting and world-building for a novel that I’m pitching as Six Wakes meets Critical Role, a sort of love letter to Dungeons & Dragons that is, like Corpse and the pro wrestling novel, intended as a standalone with series potential. I haven’t planned past that, but I have a few more ideas brewing. I’m excited to see what happens next.
You can follow Tyler’s work and upcoming appearances at tyler-hayes.com
Pick up your own copy of The Imaginary Corpse on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2HmBBkJ