Before our move north, Kyle started work on a Western/Horror hybrid novel about a triggerman trapped in a dangerous town in a blizzard who finds himself stalked by five of his mortal enemies, and with only four bullets to defend himself. It was my pleasure to hear early chapters during Wednesday writers' group meetings, the occasional Sunday party, or at the Friday night literary salons held at our former apartment with friends and food. Kyle finished Four Bullets after our move (while also penning new novels, novellas, and short stories at an admirable pace), and the novel found a home at Sinister Grin Press. It was my pleasure to sit down and talk with Kyle about Drake Travis, the shadowy lead in Four Bullets, his process, and what he's got in store for the future.
I love your novel. Bold, unapologetic, beautifully written. What’s the genesis behind your original idea for Four Bullets?
Thank you very much! Four Bullets is a source of pride and pain for me. Pride, because, it is my debut novel, obviously. Pain, because it took me so damn long to complete! The seed of the idea that became Four Bullets actually started as a dream, as clichéd as that sounds, it is true. The dream, which I scribbled down on some piece of paper I’d been using to capture story prompts and ideas (I now use my Idea Notebook), was quite removed from the end product of the story. In the dream, it took place in a desert, kind of like any Western town you’ve seen in the countless movies/TV shows that have come before. And, in the dream, the story played out as one long action sequence, so, all I knew was that the protagonist was released from a jail cell, given a gun with four bullets and told to head out into the town square and defeat five people. I thought the idea was cool enough that I decided I would turn that into a short story. This was fairly early on in what I am considering my ‘professional’ writing career, meaning, I was writing with the expressed goal of being published, so I was fairly green. When I sat to write the story, I fully intended to make it as close to that dream as I possibly could. However, when I sat down to outline -- I used to outline ALL my works, not just novels -- I rolled my eyes at how clichéd it was. A Western in the desert? Really original. The hero saving the day? Played out. So, I made the decision to change the setting from the summer and the desert to the dead of winter in the middle of a blizzard. It was that simple really. Coming to create Drake Travis, the Devil’s Claw, Captain Marsden and the rest of the cast, was trickier. I realized that making the protagonist the hero of the story was boring to me. All I could think of was Dudley Do-Right and I nearly abandoned the story altogether. I then remembered, of all things, reading a story arc in Action Comics, where the protagonist was Lex Luthor, and not Superman. He was still the evil guy you’d expect, yet, he was written in such a way where he got to do all the villainous things, and still be the one you were rooting for! I took that principle and decided to apply it to Four Bullets, and, thus, Drake Travis came to be. So, kiddies, if you ever wanted to know how to write a villain as your protagonist, there is your answer. Surround him or her with people that SEEM much worse by comparison. They may NOT be worse, but your audience just needs to think they are, otherwise, they won’t stay onboard with you as you make your character do terrible things. Anyways, it quickly became apparent that a short story wouldn’t be able to cover everything I wanted to say, so Four Bullets became a novella, and was COMPLETED as one, actually, until I went over it again and realized that I STILL had more to say, and had to add more in. The entire process of writing took longer than I feel it should’ve, but it taught me a lot of about writing longer pieces and outlining and editing that I use to this day.
In Drake Travis, you’ve created a hell of a protagonist. Not necessarily a hero. A flawed man with blood on his hands. And you clearly had a great deal of fun writing for him. When Hollywood casts Drake, who do you want in the role?
Ah, the question every writer asks him/herself about their stories! It’s certainly a fun one to ponder, that is for sure. Physically speaking, Drake Travis is rather unassuming. I essentially modeled his physique after my own, in that, he’s your average height and fairly lean. Not exactly the kind of person you think of when it comes to gunfights and action, which was my point. There is an actor, of whom, I actually never considered would make a good Drake until fairly recently and now that he’s in my head, I can see Drake as being anyone but. That guy is named Ben Foster. You’ve most likely seen him in many films, but the one that really, really stands out, at least for me, is 30 Days of Night, based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. The movie itself, is all right; good, but doesn’t quite reach the heights that the concept allows for. Ben Foster is only in two or three scenes and, in those scenes, completely steals the entire movie. He makes a lot of interesting choices in his acting and I feel he’s got the look, but the depth of his craft to ‘get’ who Drake really is. On paper, Drake Travis is just a psychopathic killer. The ultimate bad guy. In reality, he’s so much more. I don’t consider him to be evil, because I don’t consider him to truly be human. Earlier drafts of Four Bullets had Drake with a lot more humorous things to say, but I cut a bulk of them because I wanted to really strip him down and see how it played, and, I think it played out quite well.
You know I’m a fan of your work. Where can readers read your short fiction?
The easiest place to track down my stuff is to go to my website: www.kylerader.net. I’ve got a section for all my published works there, and, I’ve even got a couple of freebies I created exclusively for the site up as well! So, hit me up over there and leave me some love.
Would you share with readers the story of your Idea Notebook? I’m always so impressed to see you flipping through that monstrosity!
Before I got serious about writing, if I had an idea, I’d scrawl it down (FYI: I have the WORST penmanship. It’s embarrassing!) on any random piece of paper I could find. In fact, I wrote down an idea for a short story two years ago on the back of a receipt from a brewery and I still have it! (story should be coming out soon, too!). As one can imagine, this becomes problematic from an organizational standpoint. While some people enjoy chaos, and even thrive in it, it simply wasn’t cutting it for me. So, I went out and bought a three-subject notebook and began to transfer some of the more prominent ideas into it; I also shoved some of the random scraps inside of the pages as well. I started using this notebook to not only capture new ideas for stories, but to outline them as well. In fact, the first outline of Four Bullets currently exists inside Idea Notebook Number One, I’ve a second one that I’ve been using for the capture of new ideas, a beautiful, one-of-a-kind one made for me by the uber-awesome Judi Calhoun (NAME DROP!!) I’ve toyed with exactly HOW I log things into the notebook over the years, but my main entry is really just to write down a sentence or two that describes the idea I’ve had. Most times, I am lucky enough to even come up with the title of the story along with the idea, so that will go in as well. For example, that story I mentioned that I wrote on the receipt? I came up with the title at the same time as the idea because it was taken directly from something my wife said at the time I wrote it. She was speaking about how, when she was a child, they’d buy honey from this old man who lived at the top of this windy hill down in South Carolina. ‘Let’s go see the honey-man!’, is what she said, and that is what the story is named. FYI, if you’re looking for a quaint story with a happy ending, you won’t find it in that one.
You often juggle numerous novel projects. What are you presently working on, and what are your writing plans for 2017?
Writing hasn’t been coming as easy to your old pal as of late. Been a bit distracted by life, the day job, and all that comes along with it. Lately, it kind of feels like pulling teeth when I sit down to get some of my REAL work in, yet, I press on. Even if its only two hundred words in a couple hours of work, that is still two hundred words down in my story that weren’t there before! I’m planning on an ambitious 2017. I’m currently at work on four novels, and am putting the finishing touches on a fifth, which my goal is to begin submitting for consideration early next year. I have this desire in me to be able to stop the daily grind of corporate work and write for a living, and, because of that, I’m taking on so, so much more than I used to, writing-wise. It’s a double-edged sword, of course, because that very ambition pushes down on me too hard, as it is lately, I think, and then I become far too hard on myself and get in a mind-set where I am counter-productive and am not getting ANYTHING done! I’ve also a novella that I am shopping around, which I hope to land a home for shortly! Fans of Four Bullets may not recognize these stories, as they range from transgressive comedy all the way to crime fiction, but, the same bold, unapologetic style that I have is still present, of that I can guarantee! I’m very punk rock/heavy metal when it comes to my writing, at least, in attitude, anyway.