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Welcome to the world of unicorns.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Boy's Book About Outlaws!

Today, I am very happy to be interviewing fellow Muse It Up author Mike Hays. Mike’s book is very special to me because it was the very first Muse book I read, and I’ll be honest in saying, the ending brought me to tears. Real, live, rolling down your face, hot tears. Mike?

Thanks, Suzanne. It is a pleasure to be a guest on your blog. Sorry for the tears (I don’t want to sound mean, but I’m not really sorry.). I do have to admit, though, there were a few of the key emotional scenes which made my eyes well up constructing them in my head. When the mental scene you build while driving the 45 minute commute home from work, brings a tear to the eye three nights in a row, you know you’ve come close to hitting the center of the emotional target.  

Tears aside, I must thank you for writing a great boy’s book. I have two boys, aged 10 and 12, and it can be very taxing trying to find something they will actually stick with until the end that isn’t a comic book.  I can’t begin to tell you how many books we find in the library that have girl heroines and are made for girls. There’s such a discrepancy.  

For better or worse, boy books are what I do. The story-spinning voice in my head almost always comes from a boy’s point of view. I guess it is a sign of my adult immaturity (By the way, my wife tends to subscribe to this theory). Boys need and consume their media in all forms. I believe we should work to develop in boys a love of story, whether it’s through comics, movies, magazines, short films, apps, or books, print or electronic. Sometimes the boy-friendly materials are hard to find and seem grossly outnumbered in the market, but the market reflects what the consumer is buying.

Good point, Mike. So tell us briefly, in your own words, what your book’s all about.

THE YOUNGER DAYS is an upper middle grade historical fiction set in rural southwest Missouri ten years after the Civil War and the battle for “Bloody” Kansas. The parents in the story have run from their past associations with the Border War atrocities of Quantrill’s Bushwhackers and have built a new, quiet life on their secluded farm. Their 11-year-old son, Boy, knows nothing of his parent’s past and wants nothing to do with their embarrassingly “boring” life on the farm. He wants the outlaw life of his Missouri rebel heroes, the outlaw Cole Younger and the phantom assassin William “Butcher” Bryant.
When the past returns, first in the form of old friends of his parents, Cole Younger and his brother, Jim, and, second, with a band of former Kansas guerrillas bent on vengeance, Boy’s whole world is turned upside down. He finds his idea of the glorious outlaw life is not everything it’s cracked up to be especially when the future of his family is put in mortal danger.

Yikes, the tears are starting to well up. (Wipe, wipe.) How on earth did you come up with such an idea?
I like to take facts and build stories around them. It is a mental game I call Fact-ion. Besides all the historical background researched for THE YOUNGER DAYS, the story is basically built on two facts.

First Fact

There was a family legend handed down from an old uncle of mine who grew up in the late 1800’s on a southwest Missouri farm. According to the story, the infamous outlaws Cole and Jim Younger spent the night in their barn while on the run after a bank robbery. I began to see things from a young boy’s POV, and the story of Boy Smyth began to fall in place. The Younger brothers would be the outlaw heroes of Boy, and his parents would lead an exemplary life against all rebels or outlaws. With this initial background, the story started to walk, but it was still a short story at best.

The Payoff Fact
“All from least to greatest shall know me says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” -Jeremiah 31:34.

Then through this simple Bible verse about redemption and forgiveness, the story took off. A whole back story began to grow of a secret past shared between the parents and the outlaws. A past intertwined with the atrocities of the Border War battle for “Bloody” Kansas and a past with the Border War’s gangs of ruffians, Quantrill’s Raiders from Missouri and Doc Jennison’s Redlegs from Kansas. From the point of view of Boy, who knows nothing of his family’s hidden past, the conflict arrives with a surprise visit from his heroes, the Youngers brothers and eventually the attack by a gang of former Kansas guerillas.
Faith, family, and redemption soon emerged as themes to hold the family together through the darkest of times and protect them from the evils of vengeance and hate.

Wow! Obviously there was a lot of thought that went into it.  So when can we hope to see your next book come out? I know I’m waiting impatiently. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good cry.

It is a middle grade contemporary fantasy adventure tentatively called, THE BATTLE OF WONDERLAND GARDENS.  It is based on two things I really didn’t like as a boy, visiting a retirement home, and losing to a girl in what I thought were “boy” things. Right now I am a getting all the ducks in a row and dusting off my salesman cap. 

Awesome!  And please, tell me it’s for boys!

Yes, for boys. Here is the draft pitch:
Ellis Brown is a good kid with a big problem, a rivalry that drives him to the edge of madness. His singular goal is to finally beat this rival, Alicia Swanson, at something, even the smallest of victories will do. He sets his sights on winning their summer youth theater ticket sales contest by selling to the residents of the Wonderland Gardens Retirement Community. Unfortunately, Alicia beats Ellis to the punch and sells her tickets to the residents before he arrives.

But while there, Alicia is kidnapped by a demon and Ellis must decide between helping her or walking away. The demon plans to replace its current body, that of the retirement community’s beloved owner, Ms. Donovana Lucia, with the younger Alicia. Ellis swallows his pride and shifts his goal from defeating Alicia to saving her.

With Jonsi the dog as his guide, Ellis goes on an adventure through the Wonderland Gardens to rescue Alicia and save Ms. Lucia. They recruit the talents of the oddball collection of elderly residents for help, including a curmudgeon gardener, military veterans, scientists who can’t agree on anything, and text-messaging identical twin sisters.

That sounds hilarious! I can’t wait. Now, speaking of boys, I understand you’re a dad. How many kids do you have? 

My wife, a teacher, and I have three great kids. Our oldest daughter recently graduated from college (Cum Laude!) in elementary education. Kids number two and three are boy/girl fraternal twins and are college freshman. Stories, reading, and books have always been big in our family. I honestly don’t know where I would be in my life without my wife and kids.

I hear you’re also an amazing coach. Talk about a superdad!

Whether one is a good or bad coach always depends on who you ask. The kids I coached seemed to lean toward a positive opinion of me and knew I only wanted to see their best effort. I am not actively coaching a team sport at this time, just coaching a sports training group. The time demands were becoming more than I could, or wanted to, sacrifice from my family life and my microbiologist career. I miss it. Maybe someday…

So where can we buy this book?  (links)

Well, thank you Mike. It’s been a pleasure having you on my blog. I’ll be looking forward to that next novel. Remember readers, to leave a comment for a free copy of Mike Hay’s book, The Younger Days. We’ll see if you’ll cry too.


  1. Thank you Suzanne and Mike for a wonderful, informative and fun interview. Your story sounds absolutely great and I will give it a go with my middle son, who at 14 is yet to find a book - any book - he'll read till the end. I do despair! Reading is such a wonderful experience, I can't understand how anyone can find it boring. Anyway, good luck with your next story, Mike!

    1. Thanks, Marie! Give it a shot and, hopefully, your son will like it. Remember to be patient and let him find his niche. A book which triggered my son becoming a reader in his teens was Matt Blackstone's SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE. Good luck!

  2. A subject close to my heart! I mentioned to Mike last year when he blogged about this book that family legend associated a family ancestor with the James/Youngers but that I was pretty sure it was all made-up. His response led me to the internet where I found that some was made up and some wasn't but that in fact, that ancestor did exist and did ride with the James and Youngers with Quantrell's Raiders in the Civil War, though he was killed before the war was over. Fascinating! And I'd never have known that without Mike, always thought it was a total fairy tale!

    1. Yes, if I remember right, Gail is Missouri Bushwhacker royalty, being a descendant of "Bloody" Bill Anderson. Correct, Gail?
      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. WHAT a memory! Yes sir, you remember right. And when I looked him up, there were PICTURES! And he looks just like a picture I have of my Granddaddy from 1918, thereabouts, except my Granddaddy was blond and Bloody Bill was dark-haired! But the resemblance was amazin'! Though the family always said he rode with the James Gang. They missed the part where he rode with Quantrell's Raiders (and thus the James Brothers) and got himself killed BEFORE the days of the James Gang. Though the site said that at one bank robbery, there's a rumor Jesse killed a bank teller because he thought he was the man who'd killed Bloody Bill!

  3. Marie, I'm sure your son will love this book. And Gail, I'm glad it turned out to be true too!

  4. How very interesting, you guys! And mine were boring old farmers on a homestead in Saskatchewan. Well, actually, most of them originated from Trois Rivieres in Quebec.

  5. Replies
    1. Well, it don't affect the price of tea in China, but it blew me away! I was certain it was just a family campfire story!

  6. Thanks everyone for dropping by. Mike will be getting in touch with whoever has won a copy of his book!

  7. And the winner of the eBook of THE YOUNGER DAYS is...Gail!
    But, I also want to give a copy to Marie's son, so she's a winner too!
    So, Gail and Marie, if you email me at coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com and tell me what electronic format you need, I will get those to you.
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Mike Hays