Q: We’re here today with Ashton Daigle, author of The Long Hunt, for a little Q&A. How are you today? Thanks for being here. It’s good to see you again.
AD: It’s good to be seen. Thanks for having me
Q: Well for those of us who are unfamiliar with your work give us a little background.
AD: I began writing professionally in 1998 for newspapers. I was still in college when I got my first reporter job. I did that for over ten years.
Q: Do you still?
AD: No. Barring the occasional freelance article, I seldom write newspapers or magazines. I shifted away from journalism a few years after Hurricane Katrina.
AD: Yeah, to a degree there was some of that. It also just became harder and harder to make earn a decent living on reporter wages.
Q: When did you start writing fiction?
AD: Wow, I was probably still in grade school. It was just something I always enjoyed doing. Never really with the intention of publishing anything. If anything, it was probably more of a coping mechanism. I’ve always enjoyed reading. So it just seemed natural to eventually start writing.
Q: What finally made you decide to publish?
AD: That’s sort of a complicated explanation. The Long Hunt was the first thing I ever published. With the exception of excerpts that I’ve released on my blog site from two or three other projects that are ongoing now, The Long Hunt is the only thing I have ever published.
Well, prior to writing and the subsequent publication of The Long Hunt there was another book – Fragments of Light. Fragments of Light was the first novel I ever finished.
Q: I read a few chapters of that on your blog site. I liked it.
AD: Thank you. It took an embarrassingly long time to write. And unfortunately, it’s taking an extremely long time to get it edited, formatted and up on Amazon, Smashwords and other e-book outlets.
Q: How long did it take you to write?
AD: Let’s just say I had the original germ of the idea for Fragments of Light when I was around 13. I finally finished it about a year before I began The Long Hunt – that’s what a good 30 year gap. Of course, I didn’t actively write it for 30 years. There were a lot of other projects in between. I’d start something, get bored with it, shelve it. Between high school and the end of college, I probably filled hundreds of notebooks with different stories and chapters, not to mention some fairly horrendous poetry too. Some of it (the fiction not the poetry) was good. Most of it was crap and I simply discarded it.
To this day, I’ll still talk to old friends and they tell me, “Hey do you remember that thing you wrote about the guy who was strung out on coke, blah blah blah. Well anyway, I have that old notebook of yours. Do you want it back?”
It’s like finding out you have a bastard love child living in Montana or something. I’m usually like, “No, you keep it. And if I ever die a Pulitzer prize winning author maybe it’ll be worth something someday.”
Anyway, getting back to your original question – Fragments of Light was a story that just never went away. I was somewhere between 35 and 37, when I wrote the Long Hunt. It was around that time that I realized that if I ever was going to be serious about writing, I was going to eventually have to actually finish writing something. So, I pushed through and I finally finished writing the damned thing – Fragments of Light.
I wrote The Long Hunt on a dare from a friend of mine named Karin. She was involved with this thing called NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month. It was, well, is an online challenge – write a novel in a month. Since its inception it has grown to hundreds, if not thousands, of people who participate each year – some who have even landed book deals out of it.
After spending so long trying to write a single novel, I thought it would be fun to try to crank out something quick. It was kind of a way to make up for lost time and to exorcize the procrastination demons out of my system.
Q: Did that work for you?
AD: Absolutely. I actually finished writing The Long Hunt in less than thirty days. It gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Granted, it wasn’t particularly long, but it was a tight, coherent story that just worked.
Q: Without quoting too heavily from the jacket cover, can you tell us a little about The Long Hunt.
AD: It’s set during the immediate days following the Civil War out in the west, Colorado. The novel is basically about an ex Confederate soldier, turned tracker and hunter, who helps to protect the town he retires to after a series of violent animal attacks begin. Honestly, I can’t say too much more without giving it all away. I can say things do take a supernatural turn at some point during the novel.
Q: One review on Amazon said, and I quote, “I thought I was out west knee deep in the snow with Louis L’Amour, but ole Louie never went where The Long Hunt ventured.” Would you call The Long Hunt western? Or even a period piece?”
AD: No, I don’t really think so. Admittedly, as much as I’ve read in my lifetime, I can’t really even say I’ve ever even read anything (well barring James Fenimore Cooper and Cormac McCarthy) that would even fall into the western genre. I’ve never even read a Louis L’Amour novel. No, when I started The Long Hunt, I set out to actually write sort of a land version of Jaws. It was more of a happy coincidence that the novel was set in that place at that particular time.
One of my goals, while writing The Long Hunt, was to keep it simple, and not get weighed down with back stories, sub-plots, symbolism and all the other crap that can sometimes slow a writer down, or just weight the story down. With that in mind, I drifted back to elementary school lit classes and focused on the three basic types of conflict: man versus man, man versus himself and man versus nature.
Man versus nature seemed the least complicated. I figured if Hemingway could win a Pulitzer for a story about an old man trying to catch a fish, I could at least write and finish a novel about a guy hunting a scary creature that’s terrorizing a small town.
Q: I’d like to talk a little about self-publishing and the e-book business. There’s an old joke: What do you call a doctor who drops out of med school? A Dentist. There are some folks out there who might view self-publishing kind of as cheating. You know kind of like, they weren’t good enough to get picked up by a real publisher so they self-published. Do you think there’s any truth to that? Is self-publication valid or is it just vanity?
AD: There’s probably a little bit of truth to that, but I don’t know if I’d confine it just to writers and self-publishing. There are a lot of musicians, there are a lot of actors and actresses that I see out there and think, ‘god what’s all the hubbub about? These people suck?’ I think there are a lot of writers out there that the same could be said of.
There is some horrible writing out there. But, interestingly enough, not all of it is written by self-published authors. Some of it’s published by big time publishing companies. And yes, sometimes it’s on the New York Times Best Seller’s list.
That being said, there’s good and bad writing out there that finds its way to publication, whether it’s self-publishing or through traditional publishing houses. I really don’t know and can’t say whether one route is better than the other, because I’ve only self-published. I’ve been pleased with my results. I think there are some definite advantages to self-publishing. Yes, in a lot of ways it cuts out the middleman. With self-publishing, you are kind of in control of your own destiny. You sort of get what you give. Let’s say you publish something and then run a pretty good marketing campaign via social media. That writer is probably going to do better than the writer who just publishes and then sits and waits to see what happens.
If anything, one of my biggest regrets is that I haven’t been able to market The Long Hunt as much as I’ve wanted to. Because of the advent of social media, marketing isn’t necessarily expensive, but it is time consuming. It does require effort.
Q: What’s next for Ashton Daigle? Things have been relatively quiet from you on the creative front lately. With the exception of a short story or a sample chapter here and there, we haven’t really seen much from you. There was some talk of some health issues.
AD: Yes, there have been some health issues. Actually, some pretty serious ones. But before I get too much into that I’d like to address the first part of that question. My immediate goal is get Fragments of Light good to go, for publication.
Q: What sort of time frame are you looking at for that?
AD: I’d like to have it out by Christmas. Is that realistic though? I don’t know. At latest, I’ll say April of 2017. One of the things I didn’t have for The Long Hunt was an editor. No beta readers or anything. And while I still don’t think it’s full of typos or other errors, there are maybe still a couple in there, and The Long Hunt is a good bit shorter than Fragments of Light.
Fragments of Light is much longer and a more complicated novel in terms of story-telling, so yes, I think editing is going to be a lengthy process, and more involved.
Q: Do you mind addressing the question of health issues?”
AD: I’ve not gone into any details about it publically but I don’t mind discussing it briefly. I was diagnosed about two years ago with end stage renal failure.
Q: Kidney failure, correct?
AD: Yes. About two years ago, out of nowhere, I began having what basically felt like bad heartburn. Everything, except milk shakes, hurt going down. I lost my appetite. I was pretty miserable for about a month. Then on a Friday afternoon, I began urinating blood. The pain grew to an intolerable level and two days later I was in the emergency room.
Q: What happened?
AD: That’s when I received the diagnosis. I had rampant high blood pressure that had basically caused my kidneys to begin shutting down. During that hospitalization period my GFR, which is the kidney flow rate, was at around a 6 – basically near complete shut-down. Normal range is about 65-75. It came up to about a 26 or so, shortly after my initial hospitalization. But then, over time, despite the fact that I was aggressively treating the high blood pressure and adhering to a renal diet, kidney function started to decrease again.
About a month ago, I got very ill again, as a result of the toxic buildup of urea in my bloodstream, or uremic poisoning. There was extreme fatigue, mental confusion and vomiting. I lost 20 pounds. Basically all the faculties needed for writing, were failing me. I wasn’t that sick for that whole two years, just sick enough to where if affected my ability write. I tried a few times, but had absolutely zero stamina, no staying power. Words and sentences got jumbled in my head. I couldn’t think of words. It was a terrifying feeling – not to be able to do the one thing that I more or less feel, I was really cut out to do – write.
Quite literally, it was like being handed a death sentence. In addition to the physical and mental effects of the illness was the mental shock that comes with finding out you basically have a terminal disease. It was a lot to process, it still is actually, both for myself and my family.
So, about a month ago, I was in fairly bad shape again. I had some labs run and my GFR was way back down, in single digit range and my nephrologist strongly suggested it was time to get my ass to the hospital so that I could be prepped for dialysis.
That was about a month ago. I’m still getting used to the dialysis routine. I go three times a week for four hours at a time. I’m still waiting to get placed on a donor list for kidney transplants. I’m still waiting to get sized up for a fistula – which is a dialysis port that is “grown”, for lack of better word, in your arm.
The good news is that dialysis seems to be working wonders for me. I don’t seem to have the fatigue or side effects that some dialysis patients report. This is the best I’ve probably felt since my initial diagnosis two years ago. Barring the kidney failure and high blood pressure, my overall health is pretty good. From what I understand the average lifespan of someone on dialysis is five to ten years, although some have reported lifespans of 20 to 30 years.
Hopefully, by the time five or six years roll by, I’ll have a transplant.
Q: Do you think your illness has had any effect on your writing?
AD: From a content perspective, no. The same themes, subjects and story ideas that used to fuel my writing still do. That hasn’t changed. Or at least, in all fairness, maybe it’s still early to tell about that.
What has changed for me, as a writer, is that I definitely have a greater sense of urgency now. Yes, I’ll probably make it 10 or 15 years or until I get a kidney transplant. But by the same token, maybe I won’t. I’m more in touch now with my own mortality than I’ve ever been in my entire life. There’s always been a part of me inside somewhere that thinks, “oh I don’t have to rush, if there’s not time for that today there will be time for it tomorrow, or next month, or next year”
Now, I realize my time here on earth is finite. I’m not going to be around forever. If I’m serious about leaving behind a literary legacy now is the time to do it. Once again – it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Yes, I’d have to say my illness has definitely lit a creative fire under my ass.
Q: On either your blog or one of your social media accounts, you recently released a chapter from what you’ve been calling your “Misfits book” Can you tell us anything about that project?
AD: It’s another one of those ideas that have stewed in the back of my mind for some time now, at least a few years. It’s a book about witchcraft and politics. I know that’s kind of vague, but that’s as far as I want to go with it for now.
Q: Are the two mutually exclusive?
AD: No, and that’s actually part of the fun I’m having writing it. There’s a lot of overlap. More than you’d probably actually think. In fact, there’s a scene I’m writing now where one of the characters, a political strategist/campaign manager, goes on a big rant comparing and contrasting Obama’s whole “hope and change” to the marketing of bottled water – a product we mostly all get for free out of our own taps.
Q: How do The Misfits fit into the whole thing?
AD: Well among other things, they’re one of my favorite bands. A lot of their song titles are named after old monster movies and B movies from the 50’s and 60’s, a lot of which sprouted from fears of atomic energy and other Cold War concerns like Godzilla, The Blob and The Fly. Some time ago, I had the idea of crafting a book that used Misfits songs as chapter titles, primarily as an homage to one of the bands I’ve done a lot of writing to. At this point I do not have a working title for it yet.”
Q: Do you have an anticipated release date for the Misfits book yet?
AD: I’d like to step it up some and have it ready for release and out on Amazon by early summer.
Q: Do you have anything else on the horizon?
AD: I’ve got two or three really old manuscripts that I’m thinking about reviving. And two things that I started not too much before I got ill two years ago. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy for the immediate future.
Q: We are running low on time here. Do you have any parting words of wisdom you’d like to share.
AD: Just treat every day, every moment like it’s your last, because honestly – we don’t really know when out last moment is going to come. I wish I had something more positive to say, but this is just kind of where I’m at right now.
Q: Actually, not bad advice to take to heart. Thank you for being here.
AD: Any time. Thanks for having me.