A new year always brings the promise of new books, and Mount professor Jeff Hillard has added his own work to the mix. His first YA novel, Shine out of Bedlam, was published in mid-January and stands as the first in a series. Excited for the release, Hillard reminisces about the journey and inspiration behind his first novel.
“I have always written fiction—always—though I’m a poet, journalist, and essayist,” he says. As a teenager, he knew he wanted to publish a novel, and at 17, he began writing a novel in long-hand during the summer. His desire to write and “shift far more steadily into [his] fiction writing, and particularly novel writing” ignited his first spark of inspiration for Shine.
But sometimes the desire to write isn’t the only thing that motivates a writer. Wanting to create a novel that challenged him, Hillard drew upon his youth and growing up in a residentially-divided community. From his experiences, he wanted to sculpt a story and characters not commonly found in YA/Adult fiction, and he wanted to place his story in the time period of 1968, a time he believes connects to modern, 2017 culture and political happenings.
The third spark of inspiration for Shine developed from Hillard’s desire to publish independently. For his poetry books, small presses handled the majority of the process for him—they made decisions about size, formatting, appearance, etc. Hillard says he was consulted on a few things, but he mostly wrote and edited. With Shine, he got to call all the shots. Working with a small team of three or four, including Mount graphic design alum Jennifer Vogel, Hillard was the man in charge, and he was excited about all that entailed. “It is still a challenge and not always easy,” he says, “but it is very cool.”
One of the perks Hillard finds in indie publishing is the control he has over the release of his novels. “[In traditional publishing] it still takes an average of 12 to 15 months – and sometimes longer – for an author’s manuscript to be accepted and published,” Hillard says. “I can produce my books in short order, and I want them out.” With the flexibility offered by publishing his own novels, Hillard can release them as he writes them, and he says he can control cost. “I’m writing another serial novel – not a Shine book – on my website, [and] when that one is eventually all up there [on the site], I will ‘wrap it’ in book form and give it away free on Amazon….A traditional publisher likely wouldn’t let me do that.”
At the end of the day, when he’s finished publishing, Hillard finds the most rewarding aspect of his new novel is that he finished the story he wanted to tell. The road to telling that story, however, was its own challenge. In addition to being a writer, Hillard is an Associate Professor of English at the Mount, and from 2015-2016, he held the position of Writer-in-Residence at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. With many responsibilities, Hillard says it was a challenge to carve out time to write. “It’s not a question of ‘Can I write this or that?’ Of course one can. It’s a matter of getting down to it,” he says.
Once immersed in the writing process, once that precious time has been set aside for writing, the next challenge was creating the world of the novel. “The challenge is that a novelist has to balance characterization and atmosphere and tone,” Hillard says. “I had to realize where I was in the process – what did I do on page 45, for instance, and what am I doing on page 120?” In short, you have to get your story straight, and like all the best novels, Hillard says Shine contains a main plot but also multiple subplots. Some of these subplots get resolved in Shine out of Bedlam, but others are left open-ended and will feed into the sequel books. “I cherish the thought that a young person might embrace what these characters are up to in a context of 1968, which is close to ancient history for a sophomore in high school now,” Hillard says.
While pleased with the result of his work, Hillard says there are a few adjustments he would have made to the writing process, the first being the amount of time he spent researching the indie publishing industry. “I wanted to learn everything,” he says, “and perhaps I could have moved forward more quickly with the novel writing itself in 2014 rather than re-examining things again and again and again.” He also says he would have enlisted the assistance of one more editor. It took an additional 15 months to publish the novel than Hillard had anticipated. But between being a professor, fulfilling his duties as Writer-in-Residence, and researching of indie publishing, Hillard says life happens, and it doesn’t always work out the way we anticipate.
If he could give any advice to aspiring writers, it would be to make time. “One needs to make time for his or her writing,” he says. “So many stories can be told or written….Stories permeate our lives, whether we watch them or sink our reader’s imagination into them. My lasting advice would be to carve out a constant schedule of time to get down that material and to ultimately produce that work.” In short, never stop writing or doing what you love.
Jeff Hillard’s novel Shine out of Bedlam is out now as an e-book or paperback. The cover was designed by Mount alum Jennifer Vogel, ’14. Shine was Vogel’s first experience creating a book cover, but because it combined both her love of reading and graphic design, she found the challenge rewarding and exciting. “I started on this cover back in my junior year of college,” Vogel says, “and I am happy to see it out there now. [Also, having read the book] it surprised me just how well the cover ended up fitting the actual story.” Vogel says she will continue to work with Hillard to create the remaining covers of the Shine series.
You can find Jeff Hillard’s book on Amazon.com, and catch up on all the latest Jeff Hillard book news at www.jeffreyhillard.com.
And be sure to visit the Mount’s Liberal Arts major webpage to learn about the classes Hillard teaches at MSJ.