I love it when an author merges multiple, entirely disparate genres into one, since the resulting book has the potential to take the reader down heretofore untraveled paths. This week’s featured interviewee, Aaron Michael Ritchey, did just that when he decided to combine several, apparently unrelated themes.
Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of five young adult novels and numerous pieces of short fiction. In 2012, his first novel, The Never Prayer, was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. In 2015, his second novel, Long Live the Suicide King, won the Building the Dream award for best YA novel. His epic sci-fi western series, The Juniper Wars, is available now through WordFire Press. The second book, Killdeer Winds, was on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for September of 2016. Aaron lives in Colorado with his wife and two stormy daughters.
This is how he describes Killdeer Winds:
By 2058, both the Sino-American War and the Sterility Epidemic have decimated the male population. Electricity does not function in five western states. Collectively, they are known as the Juniper. It is the most dangerous place on Earth.
Cavatica Weller and her sisters have one chance to save their family ranch—a desperate cattle drive across a violent wasteland. Having escaped from Denver, the Weller family now has to face the Juniper’s worst outlaw, the Psycho Princess.
Meanwhile, an inhuman army still dogs their every step. The mystery deepens—who is the lost boy Micaiah? Why would the richest man on Earth spend billions to find him? And will Micaiah’s secrets tear the Weller sisters apart?
Tell us about your most recent release.
The Juniper Wars Series! It’s a young adult, steampunk, biopunk, science fiction/western family drama epic about three sisters on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive. Why pick a genre when you can do all of them? It’s been described as Little House on the Prairie meets Mad Max: Fury Road. I’ll take that as a compliment.
Who or what was the inspiration behind it?
I was on my bike, cycling home, and listening to the song “Dead Run” by 16 Horsepower, which is a band that manages to combine goth and country music. And I realized I so wanted to do a western along the lines of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series. As the story formed, I realized I wanted to add some family drama. The show, Supernatural, does a great job of showing the interesting conflicts of a dysfunctional family. I put it all into a blender, hit puree, and out came The Juniper Wars. Bam.
What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?
It’s a six-book series, my friend. That’s six flippin’ books. That’s a whole lotta focus for years on end. And I had to keep it fresh. Funny, I’ve been working on the fifth and sixth book in the series, and I keep finding myself wanting to end the main character’s emotional arc. Problem is, you start ending character arcs, you end the book. If everyone is getting along, you lose that fire of conflict. Compare the last few seasons of Supernatural to the first few. The show has far less of an edge (however, season 10 did give us the high school musical episode). And so I have to keep the Weller sisters all kinds of messed up to keep it interesting. The best part of a series, though, is that I get to show how completely traumatized my characters are after facing down death time and time again. It has this weary, jaded, cynical, bruised and broken feel to it. It’s about how I feel as a novelist after nearly twenty-five years of writing books.
I honestly believe that we do not begin to fully develop as writers until we have at least a couple of decades under our belt. That’s a lot of hours and a lot of inward exploration, so I have to ask why do you write?
I write because I like stories more than I like real life. Put another way, I understand real life more because I write stories. How wonderful that I can create a world where there is poetic justice, dramatic irony, and happy endings. I can control death, illness, depravity, and love. Life is life because that whole fate business is out of our control.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I used to care what everyone thought. I’d ponder every little bit of criticism for months on end. And I’d chase edits. Now, I’m caring less and less. If you don’t like it, read something else. I imagine at some point I’ll swing the other way. I write every day. Some of it is bound to good no matter what the haters think.
What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?
Writers, especially novel writers, need to be contrary creatures. The most challenging thing about long works of fiction is that you have to keep self-doubt at bay for months, if not years. I’ve been working on The Juniper Wars Series now for seven years, and for most of that time, I had no idea if anything worked or not. Then I had people who read it, and wanted me to change a bunch of stuff I didn’t want to change. And I had to stick to my guns, sometimes literally. In the end, I snarled at the universe, saying, “This is how I’m writing it. This is the book I’m writing. If you don’t like it, I don’t care. I am doing THIS and I’M DOING IT THIS WAY!” Contrary. I had to become contrary to write books. And mildly/dangerously anti-social.
Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?
Don’t pick up my book if you don’t want to feel. I mean that. This is a warning. A lot of science fiction/fantasy writers are far more Rush than Meatloaf, which fine, but I’m like Meatloaf. I’m like Bat Out of Hell epic, and yeah, I like over-the-top emotions. My characters cry and scream and gnash their teeth in the darkness, and those are during the good times. No, really, I write from my guts. I had a critique group who criticized me saying there was too much crying in my novel. I went home, wondering if they were right. I have a wife and two stormy daughters. After about a week, I added more crying.
Good for you! Frankly, I find all-action books that don’t touch my soul are akin to drinking a can of near beer or a cup of decaf. I don’t see the point. Would you care to share something about your home life?
I have daughters. My daughters have big, huge, amazing souls. If my life were an X-MEN comic, my daughters would be the powerful mutants that need to be kept in a coma so they wouldn’t destroy the universe. I suggested to my wife that we keep our daughters sedated and she said we’d tried that. My daughters laughed at Benadryl, and Codeine had no effect on them. But do you know what? I’m glad I have powerful big-spirited daughters. This world needs more women warriors.
What motivates or inspires you?
I really like doing difficult things. I know, that sounds kind of dramatic and badass, and while I am very dramatic, I am not at all badass. The writing game is this impossible thing, and I like that it’s so hard. It’s the hard that makes it good. I truly believe I am destined to fail, that I will die nameless, and not one person in a million will have read anything I have written. And strangely enough, that motivates me. It’s the Alamo, baby. It’s Helm’s Deep. It’s Game of Thrones, standing on the parapets of Castle Black and looking out over the Wall at the hordes of hell. It’s a losers game. And do you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to write books until I die. And if I fail? Oh, well. “Night gathers and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.”
How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?
I call three different people and tell them what is bothering me. I tell the same story three different times. It really works. Then I go write books.
That’s a very unique and interesting approach. I must try it some time.
Now, before I give our visitors a taste of Killdeer Winds, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:
My best friend would tell you I’m a … a whole lotta work.
The one thing I cannot do without is: stories.
The one thing I would change about my life: is my angsty inner life.
My biggest peeve is: my angsty inner life.
The thing I’m most satisfied with is: Not much, but I will say, holding my published books in my very own hand, my name on the cover, my own ISBN, that rocks so very, very hard.
Yup! That definitely rocks. I’d like to thank you, Aaron, for gracing my website with your no-holds-barred replies. We’ll close with an excerpt from Killdeer Winds, followed by links where readers can purchase a copy and follow you online:
Certainly the Juniper is a dangerous place, but not because of outlaws, rustlers or stray bullets. No, the real dangers are the wind, solitude, and a drifting mind. When in doubt, I stay in my house and count my money. I never get lonely that way.
—Robert “Dob” Howerter
Colorado Courier Interview
August 3, 2057
The pain from my gunshot wounds barked like a dog on a distant neighbor’s porch. I sat on the floor of the strange room, my back against the bed. I couldn’t move. The Christmas issue of Modern Society magazine lay on my lap. The perfume of a cologne sample wafted from the glossy pages. Micaiah, cleaned and groomed, smiled at me on the cover.
But his real name wasn’t Micaiah. It was Micah Hoyt, son of the richest man on Earth. His father, Tiberius “Tibbs” Hoyt, was CEO and general jackerdan-in-charge of the American Reproduction Knowledge Initiative, otherwise known as the ARK. Tibbs Hoyt had hired an army to find his son, and we had the bullet wounds to prove it.
The foot soldiers were known as the Cuius Regios, and their commanders were the Vixx sisters, who could heal almost any wound, which sounded suspiciously like genetic engineering, however unlikely. I’d kept an eye on the popular science websites and hadn’t seen anything close to creating actual people with enhanced biology.
The idea scared me, scared me deep. How could we fight such a soulless army?
But why would Daddy Hoyt send in troops to retrieve a son who didn’t want to be found? Then again, if you give a rich man a cause, he can turn a family feud into a world war.
Before I’d gone unconscious, Micaiah had wanted to run away to protect us. Was he gone? That opened a floodgate of questions. Was Pilate still alive? Had Wren run away for good ’cause of what I’d done to her? And did my oldest sister Sharlotte still have us bound for Wendover, Nevada with our herd of nearly three thousand cattle?
First things first, I slid the magazine underneath the mattress, not sure what I would do with the information, but it felt dangerous in me. As did the pain from my gunshot wounds, barking like a dog on a distant neighbor’s porch.
I stood, moved to the window, and used my right arm to pull open the yellow curtains. My left arm throbbed as I held it to my belly. From the second story of the house, I saw our tents below—our chuckwagon dominated the front yard. Mama and I had fixed up the Chevy Workhouse II with an attachable ASI steam engine, and then found a long trailer for it to pull. We called the whole thing our chuckwagon. Next to it sat the old Ford Excelsior that had saved our lives. Cattle and horses meandered around outbuildings, barns, and hay sheds. I recognized a few of our horses—Elvis, Taylor Quick, and Bob D. Two of our best cows, Charles Goodnight and Betty Butter, stood in the strange yard, chewing cud. To my right rose a ridge of pine trees and craggy rock.
I searched the skies for the Moby Dick, the zeppelin that we’d hired to re-supply us and scout. There was no sign of it, but then Sketchy, Tech, and Peeperz might still be trying to find us after the blizzard.
Green grass pushed up from wet soil, which meant I’d been unconscious long enough for the snow to melt. Might’ve been a day. Might’ve been a week. Someone must’ve dribbled water into my mouth and then cleaned me up afterwards. Dang, but I hoped it was family that had done the work to keep me alive.
Out of the corner of my eye, something flashed in the distance—sunlight off a cast-off hunk of metal, or some bit of chrome, or a mirror, something, southeast of the house. The blinking stopped. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I had other things to worry about.
Like where I was and who owned the house.
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