My Favorite Bit: Tyler Hayes talks about THE IMAGINARY CORPSE
Tyler Hayes is joining us with his debut novel The Imaginary Corpse. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.
Most ideas fade away when we’re done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from?
Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl’s imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. But when her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they’re too Real to disappear. Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas – until Tippy runs into The Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently. Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there’s nothing left but imaginary corpses.
What’s Tyler’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit is Wrrbrr, space-knight of the Space Kingdom.
Wrrbrr, like several of the characters in The Imaginary Corpse, is an imaginary friend who was beloved by the person who created her, but rejected after said person experienced a traumatic event that would be spoileriffic to discuss here.
What makes Wrrbrr stand out for me is the age group she’s from. Unlike Detective Tippy, whose creator spent several years with him before the death of her father, or Miss Mighty, whose creator turned away from her in high school, Wrrbrr’s creator was extremely young, not even out of kindergarten. Because of that, Wrrbrr was by far the hardest character to write. I knew she needed to feel unfinished: strange, oversimplified, recognizably sentient but also operating on a logic that is entirely internal to her, just like so many things little kids have tried to explain to their parents. (Thank you, Twitter, for giving me access to so many bizarre and unsettling declarations by children!) But at the same time, she needed to feel like she was unfinished on purpose, not like I just didn’t try very hard to finish her.
Part of my answer was making her literally mutable: a morphing pink jelly, not a solid, developed body. Something a little kid could easily scrawl with one or two crayons in the corner of a coloring book. The name “Wrrbrr” jumped right out at me, something that could be pronounced but is also itself an incomplete word, the kind of nonsense syllables someone still figuring out language might utter when asked to name their creation. I picture the name being written somewhere in half-incoherent crayon that’s mostly invented letters.
When the time came to fill in the details, I went stream of consciousness. I dug back into games of Let’s Pretend and cartoons I watched pre-first grade, and just sort of doodled them all together and boiled them down without worrying too much about how much sense they made when combined. It resulted in a mix of disconnected elements: Wrrbrr’s status as a “space knight,” protecting the “Space Kingdom” (which, spoilers, has very little connection to space). Her “Star Power,” which allows her to summon up various implements of defense and destruction, and which puts her near the top of the charts in terms of most powerful characters in the Stillreal — little kids so often lack a sense of scale that of course she’s been invested with enormous power, the same way kids playfighting on the playground might just off-the-cuff declare that a character can fire a magical star cannon that can bust through their friend’s invincible force field.
Wrrbrr’s personality was the easiest part. I tried to marry “incomplete” and “young” and got “questioning.” Wrrbrr is full of uncertainty about the world around her, big and scary and unknown, but she’s also perfectly willing to admit her ignorance and ask questions without any self-consciousness, unmarred by the bullying and insults that silence too many older children. She’s also exceedingly polite, dropping “please” into her sentences seemingly at random, because that’s the kind of word that gets taught to children as something magical and important. Any word over two syllables I write her as sounding out, unless I know she’d had cause to use it a lot. And because of the trauma in her background, I made her soft-spoken, tentative in conversations with strangers.
Looking back, Wrrbrr feels as real as the rest of the cast of The Imaginary Corpse, but I am more aware of the process involved in dreaming her up because she has such a specific and hard-to-produce feel. She only plays a small (but very important) part in the book, but she looms large for me because of everything that went into those couple scenes. And that’s what makes her my favorite bit.
Tyler Hayes is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern California. He writes stories he hopes will show people that not only are they not alone in this terrifying world, but we might just make things better. His fiction has appeared online in Anotherealm, Nossa Morte, and The Edge of Propinquity, and in print in anthologies from Alliteration Ink, Graveside Tales, and Aetherwatch. Tyler’s debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse, is coming from Angry Robot Books in fall 2019.
Tyler would also love to play Sentinels of the Multiverse with you if you’re interested.