Jason Halstead is a prolific writer. In the six years since publishing his first novel, he has added over 70 novel credits to his name – and that doesn’t include some 35 novels written under pen names or co-written with his wife Dawn Michelle. How does he do it?
“I write because I breathe,” says Jason Halstead. “It’s as important to me as eating, drinking, my family, and my hobby of lifting weights. It defines who I am not because I want it to, but because I have made it a core part of me.”
During the day, Jason Halstead is a regular Joe, spending 45 to 50 hours a week as a Lead Software Developer. He’s also a competition power lifter (in 2009 he set two state records in the Son-Light Powerlifting Federation of Michigan), a father, and a husband. On a typical day he gets up at 5:45 (he sleeps in until 6:30 on weekends), exercises, works, takes care of the business side of writing, and then writes a chapter or 2 500 words, whichever is less, before going to bed around 11 pm.
“There’s plenty of time in the day once I figured out what was important,” says Jason. “For example, I rarely watch television. My wife does, but I plug in headphones and keep on typing.”
Which is quite some focus to keep, day in and day out. In order to stick with his schedule he draws upon his training as a powerlifter.
“I learned lessons lifting weights that have translated into everything I do in life,” says Jason. “Lessons about not making excuses and about working hard. In the weight room the iron doesn’t care and it doesn’t tell lies. If I can’t lift it, it’s not the iron’s fault, it’s mine. I cheated along the way and didn’t do what I needed to. Maybe I tricked myself along the way – whatever, the result is the same, a failure.”
Removing Your Limits
Jason Halstead’s personal philosophy is that we are the only ones responsible for what we do and achieve. If we don’t do something it is purely our own choice.
“The only limit we have is what we impose on ourselves,” says Jason. “Remove the limits and it’s amazing what a person can do. It is possible to have a hobby, a couple of careers, and a family, and to keep them all happy and working together. It’s not something for other people, it’s something for anyone that’s willing to believe in themselves.”
This non-nonsense, no-excuses view extends to his writing: practice, learn and get better.
“You have to get better and the only way to do it is to make mistakes,” says Jason. “Embrace your mistakes and thank whoever points them out to you. Without mistakes we can’t grow and editors are the ultimate tool for helping writers improve their craft.”
Which is sound advice but not what Jason himself did when he started out. Instead, he went into writing with an ego the size of the Statue of Liberty.
Huge Ego Problems
“When I started my writing was the best in the world and I damn well knew it,” says Jason. “Nobody could write like I did and anybody that said otherwise didn’t know what they were talking about!”
This, Jason admits, was a big problem. Not being able to acknowledge his mistakes meant he did not develop his writing as rapidly as he would have liked, stalling out for long periods of time. Fortunately after having his first book, Voidhawk, picked up by Fido Publishing he ran into editor/writer J.E. Taylor.
“I imagine she donned a leather dominatrix outfit when she opened my story and wielded her red pen like a cat o nine tails,” says Jason. “Her edits and comments left me raw and aching. I wanted to fight back and argue, but she kept coming with more and more revisions. And what was worse was that she explained what was wrong with my writing and how I could make it better. I hated her… but that didn’t last. Maybe it was something akin to Stockholm Syndrome, but soon I realized just how valuable and wonderful she was. To the point that I even requested her for the sequel to Voidhawk.”
RPG:s and Practice
“I’ve been a storyteller since I could understand and use words,” says Jason. “There were many terrible short stories in junior high and high school, as well as my first attempts at novels in the later years. I won awards and the highest marks in my classes, but the truth is those stories were horrible.”
He got a taste for writing, like a number of other authors, by playing roleplaying games.
“I embraced Dungeons and Dragons at age 11,” says Jason, “and quickly rose to become game master. That segued into writing as a means of having adventures when no one else was around where the good guy won and justice prevailed, even if it was a bit vigilante.”
While fun, this didn’t exactly lead to instant success.
“I’d been submitting my work on and off over the years,” says Jason, who is now 40 years old. “Unlike most writers I’d only accumulated a handful of rejections before Fido Publishing picked me up. I’m not sure why they picked me up, but I’m thankful they did. The story needed a ton of editing, but to this day it’s been one of my most successful ones.”
The original Voidhawk novel has since grown to an eight-book series, with a ninth installment planned for later this year. However, Jason broke off collaboration with Fido, the mainstream imprint of Excessica, after a couple of books for business reasons.
“I wanted the data on how my books were doing and I wanted more control, but my requests were denied or went answered in ways that I wasn’t satisfied with,” says Jason. “These days I know that I wasn’t being mishandled, it was more a matter of the answers weren’t really available and it wasn’t explained to me in a way I could appreciate. So I left.”
In 2010 he started his own imprint, Novel Concept Publishing, which has since grown into a side business of its own.
“I figured out how to do it on my own,” says Jason, “and acquired the resources of some excellent editors and cover artists to help me on my way. That includes J.E. Taylor – she’s been an amazing partner and friend all these years. And I got what I wanted too: I become the owner of the data and the details.”
Although positive about indie publishing, Jason admits that there are challenges.
“There’s more money to be had, more control, and more flexibility. But to this day I’m still struggling with finding efficient ways to advertise and promote my books.”
The Quick-Writing Process
If the business side of writing is about control for Jason Halstead, then the writing business is all about letting go.
“To be honest, my process is a lot of smoke and mirrors and magic,” say Jason. “Sometimes I come up with a character concept that becomes as real as the visions someone eating some bad mushrooms can get. That happened with both my post-apocalyptic book Wanted and my Lost Girls book. At other times I’ll think of a setting and an idea that I think would be a lot of fun and work on figuring out some interesting characters and how they would behave in such a setting. Then I let the characters start to tell the story. The characters are what matters, not what I want. It’s their story, I’m only writing it down for them.”
Once he has a setting and a set of characters Jason discovery writes most of his work, but outlines towards the end.
“I let the words flow with as little guidance as I can manage,” says Jason. “About the time I figure I’ve written half the book I stop and start outlining how I want to wrap it up. Then I write to that outline and, without exception, end up deviating and expanding the outline by 50 percent or more.”
While he himself edits as he goes, Jason Halstead cautions others from doing the same, and always employs a third party editor.
“Self-editing is important, but it’s flawed,” says Jason Halstead. “You know what you meant to write, not what you actually wrote. I edit on the fly and then send it off to a third party copy editor. When it comes back I go through it again and, since I’ve had a few weeks away from it, I can more objectively review both the edits and change unedited parts that don’t work for me. About the same time I’ve got cover art in process and, once both are done, I bundle it all together and ship it!”
This year Jason Halstead plans to publish 15 novels, and is on schedule to doing so.
- Jason Halstead’s webpage
- Jason Halstead on Twitter