(In a departure from my usual hijinks, I opted to act like a grown up and review/interview blogger and writer H.E. Ellis)
H.E. Ellis’ Gods of Asphalt: Book One begins like a David Lynch film—or maybe it’s Quentin Tarantino—splattered in blood with shards of bone poking through flesh. The protagonist, Sawyer Hayden, sails through the air like a ghost, like Farishta in Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, thinking all the things you might think right before you die.
If this doesn’t sound like a typical YA novel, it isn’t. And even though it’s a love story of sorts, it’s not the kind of love story you think it is. For anyone who doesn’t live in the blog world, H.E. Ellis is the active House Mother of that peculiar crowd of mental masturbators with too many hours and a laptop, encouraging aspiring authors with a page promoting their predominantly self-published efforts.
Gods of Asphalt is a story of two deadly handsome brothers-Sawyer and River—and Sawyer’s attempt to break free from his father’s dominance. It’s here, in the town of Valentine that Sawyer’s natural ability with a basketball gets him a spot on the varsity high school team—his potential ticket to a scholarship and out of Smallsville. Along the way he meets Jeb, a socially awkward teammate in dire need of Sawyer’s guidance, and through Jeb, Jeb’s sister Sarah, a dancer frustrated by her parents’ lack of encouragement to pursue her own big city dreams.
This story is about friendship, family and ultimately the sacrifices and mistakes parents make in raising their children while wrestling with their own demons. H.E. Ellis is an excellent writer and skillfully balances high school jealousies and rivalries with Sawyer’s internal conflict to understand his father’s confounding actions. Ellis has an ear for sibling rivalry and teen dynamics in her dialogue, which comes off as genuine, right down to the angst of sexual frustration and the explosive torque of too much testosterone.
In the end, the reader is rewarded with a bi-lingual romance and a resolution that answers questions hanging over the Hayden’s family secrets. There is sweetness to the story that makes you feel like you just got a hug from a grizzled biker gone weepy–and comfort in the fact that under all that bravado is the heart of an American family on the mend.
INTERVIEW WITH H.E. ELLIS:
First off, was writing this novel harder than stacking all those tires?
You might be surprised to learn how similar those two experiences were. Everyday I’d walk past that tire pile and think to myself, “I bet it would be hard to stack those. I bet not just ANYBODY could do it. I bet a person would give up as soon as it got too difficult. I bet I could not just attempt it, but finish it.” That’s essentially the same conversation I had with myself before I wrote my novel. Both involved challenging myself to do something that I never would have thought possible.
You sound like a glutton for punishment—a perfect trait for a writer. So why write this novel?
Because I wanted to tell a story about the kind of kids I grew up with. I wasn’t a privileged kid raised in suburbia, so I didn’t relate to a lot of the Judy Blume angst-ridden books I read in my teens. It wasn’t until I read THE OUTSIDERS that I even knew there were other kids like me in the world, let alone that someone found them interesting enough to write about. The combination of that one book and the past twenty years surrounded by teenage boys has cemented an inner male voice in my brain. I am not sure I could ever write from the point of view of a grown woman, oddly enough.
It must be all the testosterone around you. So what is/was your inspiration for Gods of Asphalt?
My sons and their friends inspire me to write because there aren’t a lot of books out there for teenage boys. Most boys don’t want to read about Vampire love triangles or what it’s like not to be asked to prom. That’s why I decided to write a book about the kind of boys I grew up with in the hopes that boys could relate and therefore want to read. I am happy to say that my boys and their friends are my biggest fans.
Wise kids. Please tell us about your writing process.
Alright, brace yourself because this isn’t going to make sense. I “overhear” conversations in my head that I quickly type out as the characters are speaking. As soon as I get the dialogue out onto the screen I try to make sense of it. Once I’ve got that figured out I string multiple bits of conversation together by way of inserting exposition and then I have a story. Nothing I write comes in any sort of order or has any method of applied plot. It just sort of pours out as is. I wish I could say that I employed higher education or some literary method of outlining or plotting when I wrote my novel, but I didn’t. I jumped around with dialogue and then strung it all together, cover to cover. I wouldn’t suggest it as a method to follow, but it’s the only way I know how to do it.
That does sound confusing, but it works well for you. How does blogging affect your writing?
In all the best possible ways. Blogging forces me to be succinct; it forces me to write outside my comfort zone and it forces me to meet deadlines. I suppose the only negative impact would be that it takes time away from writing another book, but there in lies the added challenge of time management. See? Tire piles are everywhere.
You just restored my faith in blogging (and stacking tires). How did you develop the character of Sawyer?
Sawyer is the cemented “inner male voice” that I spoke of earlier. I like to think that Sawyer is a blank slate version of most teenage boys; both confident and confused, both obsessed with sex and surprised by love. What’s really interesting to me was that as I developed other characters I could see the influence people in my life had on their fictional personalities. I will tell you that Sawyer is no one in my life. He exists entirely to himself in my head. In fact, I cried for three days straight after I finished my book because it felt to me like Sawyer had died. I can’t explain how that could be possible, but it was. Then I thought about J.K. Rowling, and how someone once asked her if she was sad that she is the only person in the world who couldn’t experience the wonder of reading HARRY POTTER. I remembered her answering, “Never, because Harry belongs to me.” I get the truth of that statement now.
The book is actually quite demure when it comes to the sex. Was this a calculated move?
It was a calculated move because to me sex is subjective. I wanted the reader to identify with Sawyer’s feelings toward his first time which is why I intentionally didn’t describe in detail the act itself. I think the reader’s imagination could do a better job than I ever could. It’s also why I left the song that corresponds to the specific chapter where he loses his virginity blank. I wanted the reader to fill in the blank with the song they felt was appropriate. I had a song in mind that I had initially included but I later removed it.
Ah, the songs that start each chapter! Perfect for the movie series—speaking of which, will the next book be a sequel?
Yes, Book Two (clever, I know) is River’s story and it effectively ends the series. Book Three is a pre-quel set between 1965 and 1995 that tells Gus’s story and Book Four is a retelling of Book One from Raphael’s point of view. There is also a Book Five that is a separate storyline dealing with Jeb and all his Jeb-like shenanigans.
Wow. Sounds like a ton of hard work. What are your plans to market and distribute Gods of Asphalt? Have you done any book signings?
I’ve done very little to market my book up to this point, but that is about to change. I’ve spent a great deal of time recently putting together author’s pages on Amazon and Goodreads as well as creating a separate blog that is focused on my book series alone. I will continue to write my Heellis blog, but I intend to leave that more as an “author’s” blog that I’ll also use as a showcase for other books outside the Young Adult genre, of which there are many to come.
What advice do you have for other writers?
I think the best advice I could give would be to suggest what NOT to do, and that is this:
Don’t write with your head up your ass.
I will use someone we’ll call “Chuck” as an example. Chuck decided one day that he would become a writer. He bought a brand new computer and a fancy new writing desk. He subscribed to all the right magazines and spent a whole lot of time and money printing up business cards that read “Chuck the Writer.” Chuck even went so far as to write his acceptance speech for his Pulitzer Prize in Literature before he put pen to paper on a novel. To this day Chuck has never written a thing. I have met a lot of people like Chuck in the five years since I seriously started writing, believe it or not. Don’t be Chuck. Be honest with yourself about why you write. If it’s for the accolades, give up now. Because for every person who loves what you write there will be someone who will tear it to pieces just…because. It took twenty years for Stephen King to become Stephen King, and even he would tell you that he could have written CARRIE better.
If you’re writing for the money, you’re delusional. I’ve invested over five years of my life writing easily a thousand words a day and I’ve barely made a dime. That same time spent in a classroom would have earned me a Master’s Degree. The financial return on that investment would blow anything I make in the form of a writing career out of the water.
The point I am trying to make is this; write because you love to, because to do anything else feels like death. Because if you won a billion dollars in the lottery and never had to work another day in your life you’d still write. But above all else; write to write, not to be read.
It’s good to get a healthy dose of reality once in awhile. I read that only 5% of all books published sell more than 500 copies, so I agree you’ve got to love writing for writing’s sake. Speaking of which, do you have any other writing projects or books in the works?
MANY. A few are collaborations I can’t yet talk about. One is a novel outside of THE GODS OF ASPHALT series that is all about the music scene in the early to late seventies, set in Great Britain. Some are children’s books. I’m a busy girl.
Hell yes, HEllis! So who are your favorite writers—who really inspires you?
I suppose I could conjure up a list to include James Elroy or Chuck Bukowski, but they only begin to scratch the surface of my favorite writers. Everything I have ever read has influenced me in one way or another. As far as who inspires me I’d have to say teenage writers, hands down. Nothing in the world makes me want to step up my game as a writer than to read what I am sure I know, as seen through the eyes of the next generation. It’s a surprise every time.
NOTE: For my followers, thanks for allowing me this departure. I want to add this disclaimer: H.E. Ellis and Gods of Asphalt are not associated or distributed by bestbathroombooks and I receive no financial compensation for the sale of her books. This in no way diminishes my admiration for her or her continued contributions to the literary and blogging world.