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IR Approved Author Justin Hale: “When you’re indie, there’s no machine behind you to push you. You’re the machine.”

RUNNERS received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Justin Hale.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

My book is called RUNNERS and it has a release date of June 27, 2023, which is also my birthday.

Since I was looking for a June release and my birthday happened to fall on a Tuesday, it made sense to give myself a really rad birthday present.

What’s the book’s first line?

“People wound their way through the arches and over the mosaics of the train station like ants, occasionally bumping and jostling one another, trying to make their respective platforms on time.”

This was actually one of the last sentences I wrote, as it didn’t get added until my final rewrite. I dig
this line a lot, because it gives you a sense of scale right off the bat. The place is huge, but there are so many people that it still feels like a small space. That’s one of the central themes of the book as well. The Metros in RUNNERS stretch upwards into the sky for miles, but most of the people live in the lower section, so everything feels cramped, dark, and dangerous.

I also wanted to give people a sense of the architecture. People might give a city its character, but architecture is what gives it its personality. Serana, the opening locale of RUNNERS, is heavily influenced by my travels in Guatemala over a decade ago. The architecture there, especially the older buildings you find in a place like Antigua, still have a lot of Spanish influence. You have these big,
rounded arches and these really intricate, beautiful mosaics. I love Latin America, its people, its food, its art, and I wanted to pay tribute to that.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

RUNNERS is primarily about a group of rogue “assassins for assassins” (think who you would send to kill James Bond) that have given up the life and now run guns to survive. They used to run guns for Dietrich Boateng, who is either a terrorist or a freedom-fighter, depending on who you ask, but Dietrich blacklisted them after a particularly traumatic event for the captain of the crew. At the start of the book, Dietrich has reached back out to them to set up an emergency handoff of information that goes  completely sideways.

This leads to them to Marshal Akira Sudo, a hard-boiled police detective who can’t stop picking at the threads of their case, even after another law enforcement outfit forcefully assumes jurisdiction and covers everything up. This puts them on collision course with a conspiracy that could threaten the entire

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

RUNNERS really started as what I like to call “a shameless ripoff of The Matrix.” I was in high school when The Matrix came out and it completely changed the way I looked at movies and storytelling in general. The way Lily and Lana were able to intertwine their story through movies, anime shorts, and video games into a cohesive thread was so inspiring. If this book is great, it is in large part because I
stood on their absolutely massive shoulders. Then in my senior year, I found Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop late at night on Adult Swim. Watanabe also directed two of the shorts on The Animatrix, but this was a few years later.

I’ve watched each episode of Cowboy Bebop at least a dozen times and continue to watch them on a cyclical basis.

After that, I saw Akira, which pushed the limits of animation far beyond anything I’d ever seen. Cyberpunk as a genre borrows heavily from Japanese culture and there’s just something about anime that brings Cyberpunk alive. When I was in college, I saw Blade Runner for the first time, which had much the same effect that seeing The Matrix had. Then, I finally saw Ghost in the Shell (1995) and the
world I was building solidified in my head. Add in my lifelong obsession for video games and a ton of pent-up rage about the dehumanizing nature of late-stage capitalism, and RUNNERS was born.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

I think someone should read RUNNERS if they like Cyberpunk or really just Sci-fi in general. I also like action, so there’s a lot of it, but I tried to make the story and setting more than just vehicles to get you to the next big set piece. I spend a lot of time thinking about how much corporations have reshaped our daily lives with technology and their campaign contributions in what seems to be a very exploitive way, using their vast amounts of capital to mostly hoard more capital, often at our expense. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, but I hate the way it’s used sometimes, especially in the realm of data collection and advertising.

So, if you ever have thoughts like that, then RUNNERS is definitely for you.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

There are lots of characters that have point of view chapters, but the main two are probably Akira Sudo and Mr. Zan. Sudo is largely based on Spike Spiegel, the protagonist of Cowboy Bebop. She, much like Spike, is exceptional at what she does, but overall pretty terrible at life. Still, she has a sort of charm
that people find themselves drawn to, even if she makes them irrationally angry on a regular basis. Also like Spike, once you start to dig into her past, you realize that her flaws are really just poorly adapted coping mechanisms to deal with unbearable trauma.

Trauma is a huge theme in RUNNERS and Zan is probably the best representative of that. He’s also exceptional at what he does, but he’s falling apart from trying to hold his pain inside so that no one can see it. Zan was the first character I conceived, before I even had a story, so he’s changed quite a bit over the years. It wasn’t until I saw Chadwick Boseman’s performance in Black Panther that he finally was set in stone. I saw in T’Challa a kindred spirit to Zan, a good man trying to lead his people from a position he didn’t really believe was his, all while trying to grieve the death of a loved one. Later, we found out that Chadwick the actor had a secret affliction, cancer, that he was silently dealing with, while Zan has a secret affliction, addiction, that he is also silently dealing with. I didn’t know that at the time I wrote the bulk of the novel, but it all made sense in retrospect.

When did you first decide to become an author?

I probably first decided to become an author around the 2nd grade. We read The Polar Express in class
and I loved it so much. We had a class assignment to write the author, Chris Van Allsburg, a letter and we were supposed to draw on the computer what we thought he looked like. I didn’t know what he looked like, so I drew Frankenstein’s monster, because he was my favorite. In my letter, I told Chris that
“I drew a picture of Frankenstein, because he is weird and so are you.” I hope, if he read that letter, that he took it as a compliment, because it absolutely was. My teacher absolutely did not, so I’m not sure it ever got sent, but that experience was cool and helped birth a dream in me to one day be an author. If I ever write a children’s book, I hope some seven year old kid draws me like their favorite monster and tells me I’m weird.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

This is my first book. As a young adult, I got scared of my dream, mostly because I had people telling me how I was supposed to do it, which didn’t work for me, so I pivoted to studying film. I worked for a while as a content producer and video editor, before burning out and switching to tech support. Not doing anything creatively made me sad, so I pulled out the novel I’d started to put together, but would get overwhelmed with what ifs and not touch it for a while. The pandemic was a game changer, though. We had nothing to do but sit in the house and go to zoom meetings, so while people were learning how to make banana bread, I was writing 50,000+ words. Within a year after lockdown I was finished and now a year later, we’re gearing up for release.

It’s surreal and yet felt inevitable in retrospect.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

Partially related to the pandemic and partially related to a health scare with my wife, I had a major mental health crisis in the Summer of 2021. I started having panic attacks at work, at home, while driving a car, or going to grocery store. It upended my life in a way I’m still recovering from. I took a couple of months off from work, but I wasn’t really getting any better, so I finally decided just to quit and focus on recovering full time. RUNNERS was close to being finished, but I was just trying to get back to feeling like an actual human being. After a few weeks, I wrote myself a schedule that forced me to write, and a month later I was done. I’ve been taking the free time I have now to start Indie Roots Media, publish RUNNERS, and market it. My wife is currently in grad school to be a Nurse Midwife/Women’s Health NP, so I spend a lot of time taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry she doesn’t have the time to. I also spend a massive amount of time playing video games, because I love them so very dearly,
especially RPGs.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

When I’m writing, I like to block out at least 4 hours a day, starting at 1PM, although I often don’t spend the whole time writing. It’s more like a guideline that helps me cope with ADHD, since not having structure for me leads to terrible procrastination. I usually write until I feel I reached a good spot and call it a day.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?

I think the best part is probably also the hardest part. When you’re indie, there’s no machine behind you
to push you. You’re the machine. So, you get to decide where the machine goes, but also, it only does what you tell it to do. And, as I’ve found out the hard way this past year, when you start out, you don’t even know what you don’t know. It’s awesome that I got to write and publish exactly the book I wanted to write. It’s the most freeing feeling in the whole world. I hired an editor, but ultimately, every single letter and character, for better or worse, was my call. I also got to call the shots on how it was formatted, what the cover was, what the title was even. I had a friend who wrote and directed a movie, only to find later that Amazon had changed the title of the film when they picked it up for distribution. He hated it. I
don’t have to deal with any of that, but I also don’t get special access to all of a publisher’s wide range of contacts and media partners. The only marketing I’m getting is what I pay for or DIY myself on social media, which I’m not a huge fan of. So, I have unlimited freedom, which I love, but it’s probably the harder path. I didn’t call my company Indie Roots Media for nothing, though. The spirit of indie
art definitely burns in my soul.

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

I don’t know that I have any great advice, but something I keep telling myself is that “you are enough.” Whatever your story is, no matter how broad or niche it is, is enough, so long as you are willing to do the work to get it to its best form.

We’re all at different levels. Sometimes I read William Gibson, or Philip K. Dick, or T.H. White, and I marvel at the sheer artistry of their words and it makes me realize that their are levels to this. However, where as in the past, I would get intimidated and stop writing, these days, I use that feeling to push myself to get to their level. Will I ever write anything as great as the Once and Future King?

Who knows, but I hope I can say that I will give it my best shot, and I hope you do, too.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling? If so, why?

I can’t say that I wouldn’t, especially if the contract was lucrative. However, I would need complete creative and editorial control of the final product. I would also need to make sure that I owned the rights to the IP, as I have several more ideas for stories set on Nera, with all sorts of mediums in mind. If a traditional publisher came calling with all of that and the bottom line was high enough, I would at least
give it a thought. However, I would love to be able to stay indie and potentially build a platform to help other creatives get their projects made, published, and promoted. I think that would be super cool, a sort of “creative commune.”

Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)

I think creation is the motivation for me. Toni Morrison’s quote “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” is exactly why I wrote RUNNERS. I had this story I wanted to read and couldn’t get it out of my head, so I wrote it and I love it. I have other stories waiting to be told as well, so I’ll repeat this process for as long as I have thoughts in my head, which I hope
is a long time still.

Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?

Living? Probably William Gibson for obvious reasons. He’s the godfather of Cyberpunk and I adore his
works so much. He invented the concept of The Matrix, which the Wachowskis adapted into their game changing film, which inspired me to write this book. I also love his attitude that we all are influenced by someone else. He’s proud of and enjoys the works he’s influenced. That’s pretty “preem” in my opinion.

Dead? I have to say T.H. White. No other author has made me laugh as hard or moved me to tears with as much as he has. He’s the person I would have the hypothetical dinner with, just so I could hear him give his thoughts on our modern, terminally online world.

Which book do you wish you could have written?

Again, back to T.H. White: The Once and Future King. I’ve loved Arthurian legend for almost all of my life and his book is the definitive work on the subject. It has comedy, it has triumph, it has tragedy, it has biting satire, it has a torrid love affair, and it has some of the most jaw dropping prose I’ve ever read. I keep a list of quotes from it on a note in my phone that I go back and read all the time, one of which I read to my wife on our very first date (a move for use at your own risk).

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