Today I am absolutely thrilled to be bringing you an interview with Tyler Hayes, the author of The Imaginary Corpse. I adored this truly refreshing and fun book so to be able to talk to the mind behind it all was a real treat.
This was hands down one of the most creative and unique stories I’ve ever read. How did you come up with the Stillreal and how long did it take you to fully develop it and map it out?
Oh, thank you so much for the compliment, I appreciate it!
So, Tippy and the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency are based very loosely on some Let’s Pretend stuff I did when I was a kid. (More on that in the next answer!) I decided I wanted to use them for a novel, and when pondering what to do with them, I thought “What if I do something with the Velveteen Rabbit idea of a stuffed animal being loved real?” From that I thought up the overarching structure of what came to be called the Imagination, the Stillreal, Ideas, Friends, and Big Ideas.
It took me about a month of working on the Stillreal to get to what I felt was a fleshed out concept. I didn’t have every single Idea and Friend mapped out ahead of drafting, but I had what I needed for the story to work and feel lived-in, and I kept creating more as I drafted and asked myself more and more questions about the world. Like, OK, there needs to be a place where Friends can go when they first come to the Stillreal, someone who helps make sure they find somewhere to live, and that brought me to Freedom Frieda, the Freedom Motel, and Golem Jones. Or, I need a background character here, and the nature of the Stillreal means they should be something that stands out…how about a mummy?
In your acknowledgements, you thank the people who brought home the original Tippy so I have to ask, who is Tippy based on? And are there any photos?!
Tippy is based on, well…Tippy is his name. He’s a stuffed yellow triceratops my dad brought home for me as a present when he was away on tour with the band he was playing with at the time. I still have him, actually, he’s in the other room as I type this.
And indeed there are photos! If you search Instagram and Twitter for #theimaginarycorpse, you’ll find some.
As someone who used to work in “big business,” I can say with authority that the Heart of Business really captured the unique hell that is the corporate world. Have you ever worked in a corporate job and did that influence how you created that realm?
Thank you! I found the Heart of Business to be the thing that required the most refinement to hit the proper vibe.
My first editorial job was working for a tech company with a very corporate vibe to their culture (though it was that Silicon Valley “casual” corporate vibe). I also did some temp work at more traditional corporations, and even at my current job, which is very non-corporate, a lot of that buzzword-heavy “business speak” still gets used in the day-to-day conversation. I definitely think that those experiences, plus my time in retail dealing with some stuff I think is universal to all capitalist pursuits (abusive clients, profit before people, “lean” staffing, etc.), all helped me concoct the right kind of hell and the right kind of devil to run it.
In the same vein, most writers don’t start out as full-time writers. What are some of the day jobs you’ve held? The more embarrassing the better.
Currently, I work as a copyeditor for a little publishing company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before that, my day jobs have included a brief period working as a transcriber of textbooks for disabled students; proofreading for an email marketing company; selling books at an independent bookstore; and a single summer spent working on a beach boardwalk in various minimum-wage positions.
If you want embarrassing, the boardwalk job was it. It was the only job where I had to wear a uniform, which was hideous, and people were constantly trying to get me to give them free things or discounts they didn’t qualify for, to the point where someone once spent more time badgering me into giving them the senior discount than they spent in the fun house I was taking tickets for. I had the job for a summer, then went back to college, having planned to keep the job for spending money, until I got my first ever written warning at a job ever. I got it because I no-showed a shift they scheduled and never told me about, on a day I already told them I had classes. After a couple weeks in a row of “Well we haven’t seen you in a while so we haven’t scheduled you for anything,” I just stopped calling. From what I hear everyone who worked there got laid off about a year later and a whole new crew was brought in. I wasn’t shocked.
(side note: turns out Tyler lives where I grew up so I know where he used to work- it’s a fun place but only if you’re there to visit. I have nothing but sympathy for him.)
What would be your biggest piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Write from the heart, not what you think is commercially viable. I don’t mean don’t try to write the best book you can, but write the book you want to read. Your enthusiasm will show through in the final product.
Who are some of the writers that have influenced you?
It’s a big list, but distilling to the choicest bits: Neil Gaiman; Ursula K. LeGuin; Shirley Jackson; Stephen King; Tim Powers; Norton Juster; Madeleine L’Engle; Mike Carey.
Now, back to your incredible book! One aspect of The Imaginary Corpse that I loved was your inclusion of proper pronoun etiquette. Much like many of us in the real world, imaginary friends don’t subscribe to heteronormative gender roles. What made you decide to include Tippy always asking for a new Friend’s pronouns when first meeting them?
It started as a logical worldbuilding thing and grew into more of a statement. I realized as I was drafting the scene with Spindleman that of course there was no way to know its gender, so Tippy would have to ask. Then I realized that should be a normal question in the Stillreal, because no identity can reasonably be assumed as a default there. From there it became a matter of normalization and inclusivity — people deserve to be called by their pronouns, and I had a chance to model that in my book.
It looks like everyone is having the same reaction to your novel as me- we love it and Tippy so much! Will there be more of our dinosaur detective in the future? I think everyone will agree with me when I say we all need more Tippy in our lives.
I genuinely love that “our” you used there for Tippy, it gave me a little happy tingly feeling.
The honest answer is “I hope so!” I have a sequel drafted and ideas beyond that, but whether or not I get to do sequels is going to depend on how The Imaginary Corpse actually does sales-wise. Such is the nature of the business. But I’ll keep on hoping!
And finally, to end on a bit of fun, if you could live in any fictional literary world, which one would it be and why?
Oooo, nice finisher!
I’m going to go with the Wayfarers books by Becky Chambers. It’s such a kind, accepting, peaceful sort of place. It has its ugly spots, but universal basic income and empathy as the norm and also getting to go jaunt around space? What’s not to love?
Thank you so much to Tyler and Angry Robot for the chance learn more about one of my favorite books of 2019 and its author. Read my review of the book here: The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes
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4 thoughts on “An Interview with Tyler Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse”
Great interview! I have never heard of this book but it sounds really fun. And actually, I too would love to live in the Wayfarer universe – love those books!!!
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Thank you! It was a fantabulous book.
The Wayfarers series is at the top of my TBR but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read the books yet. I really want to, though!!