Lisa: I’m so pleased to welcome author S. Hunter Nisbet to The Novel Approach today, author of What Boys Are Made Of, The Men of Mercy, and the newest, All Roads Lead to Hell, in the Saint Flaherty series.
Welcome, Stephanie! Why don’t we start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SHN: Thanks for having me here! I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, and I brew nightmares. Actually, I think my business cards just say writer, but wouldn’t that be fun?
I’m unapologetically from middle-Appalachia, and while I don’t have the accent, I do have the vernacular. Alas, though, I did sell my truck last year after third and fourth gear clonked out.
I’ve been working one way or another since age twelve. My jobs during this time have been many and varied, from radio DJ to daycare teacher, though I like to lump them under the title of “anecdote fodder.” Currently I’m an author full time, which means that between marketing, formatting, editing, emailing, and blogging, I’m occasionally able to write a few words. And I rather love it that way.
Lisa: Before we jump into questions about the series itself, I need to ask you about the gorgeous cover art for the books. There’s a distinct and gritty kinda Urban Fantasy sort of vibe to them. Who’s your artist and how long did it take for you to come up with the aesthetic you wanted to project for the series?
SHN: The current covers are all done by Deranged Doctor Designs, and they take care of the feel of them, the vibe. Before I got these covers, I had ones I’d made myself which were adequate, but didn’t say anything. Too lit, too meta.
I told the designers that I wanted covers with people on them, and I wanted the aesthetic to scream dystopian grit and big drama, which they absolutely do. Really, all the credit for the look is on them. They send me a mock up and I ask for small changes—a slightly different building in the background, a touch of color in a corner, the tilt of a head—and they’re the ones who interpret what I’ve given them and come up with magic. And I’m fairly certain it is, in fact, magic.
Lisa: Okay, let’s talk Simon Flaherty, Connor Hall and company for a minute. First off, tell me how you came up with the idea for this post-apocalyptic, dystopian style US these characters inhabit. What was the inspiration for the setting and overall atmosphere of the series?
SHN: The atmosphere is one I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
Back in school, many of my friends came from bleak homes. In the books I was reading at the time, kids faced rough stuff, sure, but someone was always there to help them. In real life, nobody was helping my friends. They had to save themselves, but to do that, they had to believe it was possible. Mostly, they didn’t.
Hearing their stories of everyday life, seeing how they interacted with a world they knew didn’t care about them—it changed how I viewed adults in general and authority in particular. I wanted to write characters who found their way out of the worst kind of darkness to prove that it can be done. In my books, they do it in a kind of apocalyptic way, but that’s how getting out of a bad home goes—you burn the bridges behind you. In the book’s case, literally.
As for apocalyptic America, that came to me from a couple eclectic places. I live in Southeastern Ohio, which is hilly. No, not just hilly—we have ridges, and the ridges are made of crumbly sandstone. The soil is almost unfarmable, so it’s left to wilderness, miles of trees and wild grape vines and poison ivy, wound around by tiny gravel roads. And one day, as I was driving along one, I thought to myself, this would be the perfect place to be ambushed. I’m in a ravine, I’m vulnerable. If there were bandits, I’d need to take this road in a convoy. Hummers on both ends, cars in the middle traveling as quickly as they can, that’s how we’d have to get around here.
At the time I was in university completing a degree in global studies. Kenya had just broken into a civil war, so my days were spent reading newspaper articles about the chaos the whole country had descended into. Neighbors turning on neighbors, food supply problems coming to a head, family feuds reignited.
Combine that with the first thought and you get a pretty tense situation, and fast. Thus, a book was born.
Lisa: So, speaking of Simon and Connor, let’s pretend I haven’t read the books yet. If I asked you to describe both of these guys to me, what would you tell me about them?
SHN: As characters, or if you were in their world? As characters, I’d say these two are both consumed by the struggle to be better than the men they’ve seen all their lives. They both come from war-torn backgrounds, hand-to-mouth poverty, and the kind of casual violence that leads to high tolerances for poor treatment. Both are survivors, in every way.
Where they diverge, though, is how the world has been treating them. Simon was cared for to some degree, given help, coaching, a place in the world. While he’s worked for everything he has, he’s still always been treated as having value.
Connor hasn’t been. And when you spend your days as less than human, you learn to care only for yourself. A thing must be loved to become loveable, so he isn’t, and he doesn’t see that as a loss. He’s strong because no one can hurt him as badly as he’s been hurt before.
That’s if you need to know them as characters. If you’re walking into their world?
Don’t underestimate either of them. Ever.
Lisa: I’m going to say their relationship status on Facebook would be “It’s Complicated” – understatement of the year. More like “It’s Combustible”, honestly. What simultaneously pulls them towards and pushes them away from each other?
SHN: First off, I’d say it’s not a healthy relationship. I think anyone who’s read the first two books can see that easily enough—it’s not healthy, it’s not based on what it should be based on. Respect? Love? Er, no. Affection? On one side, maybe.
And yet, there is a trust between Simon and Connor, and it has to do with secrets. For the longest time, those two kept each other’s. Simon kept silent that Connor was one of Petrowski’s inner circle; Connor helped hide that Simon was gay.
But it was more than that. Connor, as a teenage prostitute servicing men, was being treated as garbage by most of the town. Remember, this is the not-too-distant future. Considering how much our society sucks with dealing with this sort of thing now, in the aftermath of a war, it’s two steps back. Or twelve.
Simon’s life was relatively privileged, and it was being monitored closely. As Mick puts it in 1.5, Petrowski murdered his son’s mother and was doing his best to turn Simon into a man who’d do the same. Literally, Simon was being pushed to be the kind of person who’d hurt Connor, while Connor was regarded by most of Buchell as deserving of it.
In each other’s company, they found the opposite, until the day that Simon beat Connor in a fight in front of the whole town.
And with that I’m skirting dangerously close to book 3 revelations, so I’d better stop right there! Let’s just say that in Simon’s head, it’s a love story. Connor’s? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
Lisa: I recently had a chat with an author about the importance of, and difference between, a book about LGBTQ characters and a book with LGBTQ characters, and how those different representations matter. He called it “casual sexuality”.
What Boys Are Made Of and The Mercy of Men definitely fall into the designation of plotty first, with the characters’ sexuality being more an incidental part of their makeup rather than the focus of the storyline.
Sorry, tl;dr there, but tell us how the representation of your characters evolved and why it mattered to you to present them the way you do in these books?
SHN: The Saint Flaherty series is the story of Simon. Being gay is just one facet of his life, and if you asked him, it’s probably the least-complicated. He has known from an early age that he liked men, and he never found it very strange. It wasn’t a struggle for him to admit to it, or live with it. As you’ve mentioned before, Simple Simon is an oddly fitting epithet for someone as complex as Simon Flaherty.
Rather, Simon’s arc is focused on whether he can be a better man than the ones he grew up with, or the one he was raised to be. And while his life choices, which involve his sexuality, will influence that, at the end of the day, Simon doing something terrible for the sake of love has nothing to do with him being gay. If it was a woman he was fighting to save, he would still take the same extreme actions, and it’s those actions we need to focus on.
Would these books be the same story if Simon were straight? Absolutely not. But Simon would still be facing the same dilemmas, and to me, that’s the difference between an LGBTQ novel and a novel with characters who happen to be LGBTQ. The struggle here is not for Simon’s relationships, it’s for his soul.
Is he Saint Flaherty, or just another devil?
Lisa: And shifting gears, then we have Book 1.5 in the Saint Flaherty series, All Roads Lead to Hell, in which the LGBTQ themes are a more prominent part of the storyline with Mick Perry and Simon. Why, in this particular book, do you feel it was important to make that shift in focus?
SHN: The shift happened simply because this is one of those times when Simon’s life does revolve around his sexuality. I like to think of each book as a snapshot of a pivotal moment in Simon’s life where anything and everything is rearranging. Well, for a brief moment, barely a week, his life changed drastically all based on the fact that he is gay.
The day before Simon left town, he kissed Mick. Six months later, Mick, to put it bluntly, lets his dick do the thinking and follows Simon to Scioto City to see if it’s possible for them to have something together.
This story is Mick’s point of view. We see his justifications, his reasoning, his ideas. We are privy to the extent his very presence in Scioto rearranges Simon’s future, and why. A lot of questions from book 2 get answered here, like why Simon works for Mick, why Simon acts as a neutral go-between for the syndicates.
And, more personally, why Simon doesn’t hesitate a moment to leave his long-term relationship with Mick to be with Connor instead.
It’s a side story because we don’t see what’s going on in Simon’s head, but it’s still an important one. Of course, we’ll get Simon’s perspective on it in book 3.
Lisa: I mentioned the atmosphere of this series a few questions ago. Bleak, devoid of anything resembling hope, I think I might even have, at one point, called the characters feral humans—or maybe that was just Connor. At any rate, these aren’t hearts and flowers novels.
Do you have to psyche yourself up or get into a certain mindset to sit down and write these books? How do you feel after you’ve spent hours writing in this -verse?
SHN: I don’t know if it says healthy things about me, but it’s actually really easy for me to slide into that universe. I put on the right song and I’m there, inside the head of whoever I’m working on at the moment. For me, this kind of writing requires music; each character has a theme song, each book has a playlist. What Boys Are Made Of was a lot of Ellegarden’s punkier stuff, with a good dose of Sarah Miles, Metric, and System of a Down. The most recent book I’ve completed, 2.5, was Gotye, Hozier, AWOLNation, and Imagine Dragons. If I could, I’d have readers listen to those same songs as they read, just to absorb the atmosphere. I feel like by even just saying what songs I was consuming, I can give away the plot.
For me, writing is all about getting out of my own mind. Escaping to a fairytale is nice, but when I come back, there’s still dishes in the sink and groceries to be bought. Returning from a nightmare makes those small things not hum-drum, but lovely and soothing.
Lisa: Let’s shift gears and pretend that I’m sitting here interviewing Simon and Connor. If I asked them to tell me about you, what do you suppose they’d say?
SHN: With them knowing I’m the puppet master? No words, they’d just hunt me down and that’d be the end of me. Connor would kill me for what I’ve done to him, Simon for what I’ve done to Connor. And everybody else, too. Not sure I could blame them for that either; I definitely put them through hell and back multiple times.
As just people? At this point in their lives, age twenty-two, twenty-three, I’m not sure they’d understand the life that I live. Connor would sneer at my petty struggles with publishing and editing. After all, I have a roof over my head and food on the table, and I’m perfectly safe; all else is immaterial. There might be a touch of jealousy in that irritation. Or a bucket-full.
Simon, on the other hand, has a strange amount of gratefulness for every person who hasn’t lived his life. To him, we’re proof that not everyone is awful, and that those untouched by terribleness can live happy, normal lives, as perhaps he might have in different circumstances. He wouldn’t envy me the vast quantities of reading and writing and sitting still, but would be glad someone’s enjoying it.
Lisa: Which of the guys do you think you’d get along with better, and what makes you say so?
SHN: On a surface level, I’d get along with Connor better than Simon. You don’t see it much in the first two books, but Connor does make friends with a certain kind of person, the kind who can keep up with him. He’s motivated, he’s clever; we’d get along well.
For a short period of time.
But I think in the long term I’d do better with Simon. Fiona figured out something about him that’s really a core of who he is—he’s trustworthy. Simon will do what he says he’ll do. He has integrity coming out his ears. Not that his morals are in direct alignment with mine, or, well, most decent people’s, but he can be depended upon to follow them to the last. On that level, if I had to work with someone, I’d work with Simon.
Though I will note that neither of them has much of a sense of humor. That might get to me after a while.
Lisa: Final question, because everyone has a light and a dark side: Superhero or Supervillain—which would you rather be, and what’s your superpower?
SHN: Oh, I’d definitely be a superhero. I think it’s pretty evident from my writing that I do believe people must do their best with what they have, and having the ability to hurt is not a reason to do so. I’m the person who will step in front of bullies and tell them to go to hell…and then promptly become the new favorite target. It’s a special kind of stupid.
With that in mind, my power would probably be something awful like the ability to predict disaster, but not prevent it. I’m staunchly against fatalism, so this seems rather appropriate for my super power: the direct opposite of what I believe. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my life is a cosmic joke.
Lisa: Thanks so much for being here with us, Stephanie! It’s been a pleasure.
Tell us where we can find you on the internet.
SHN: I’m almost always on Twitter, and you can find me there dropping tidbits about upcoming books under the handle @shunterni. There’s also my blog Under-Paid, Over-Enthused, which is slice-of-life focused, full of rants both ridiculous and furious, sometimes at the same time.
I have a facebook page for my writing where you can get all the news fed to you in your feed, and a newsletter, which has the good perks like, oh, I dunno, a free copy of the first book in my series for everyone who signs up, not to mention early access to books and the occasional exclusive short story. Ya know. The good stuff.
It’s been great being here, Lisa. Thanks so much for inviting me here! I hope everyone who’s already read the series is enjoying the ride, and for those of you who haven’t—I look forward to having you as readers. It’s been a blast!
About the Book
Good intentions only go so far.
Regretting his decision to let Simon Flaherty leave Buchell without admitting his feelings, Mick Perry follows his ex-fighting student to Scioto City looking for closure.
What Mick finds is a teenager barely coping with his new life, adrift in a metropolis that pays lip service to progress while accepting bribes from all-powerful criminal syndicates.
Mick thinks he’s prepared to do anything to help Simon, but his own past is catching up, from the family that betrayed his beliefs to the war he can’t seem to stop fighting in his dreams. Not to mention the contracts he’s bent on securing with the city bosses. The right move forward has never been less clear.
When the local syndicates realize exactly who Simon’s father was, all bets are off for the future. Mick will have to choose—does he want Simon as a lover, or does he want to use the power of the Petrowski name?
Or do all roads lead to hell?
The book numbers refer to the chronological order they go in.They are intended to be read in the order presented below.Read them in chronological order at your own risk.
Books in the Saint Flaherty series
Book 1: What Boys Are Made Of
Book 2: The Mercy of Men
Book 1.5: All Roads Lead to Hell
Book 3: What About the Girls (Coming late fall 2016)
All Roads Lead to Hell is a side book, and is therefore 54,000 words. The main series books are 100,000 words. It is not intended for those under eighteen years of age due to some scenes of a sexual nature. While the main series *can* be enjoyed without reading book 1.5, it is highly recommended that you read it as it explores several side stories and gives added context to some events later in the series.