Being connected with Diane Windsor of Motina Books has been a true pleasure for many reasons, only one of which is that she put me in touch with Marlon Hayes (who also writes as Marlon S. Hayes). When I initially emailed Marlon about conducting an interview, he replied in a very timely fashion with a voice that instantly drew me in. “Good morning!” he wrote. “Yes, I would be thrilled and honored to be interviewed by you! I usually don’t add exclamation points, but it’s warranted.” There’s just something about those exclamation points and his admission that made me smile. So it was easy to put together some questions for this well-seasoned author, whose latest novel, 11:59, will be out in just about a week. One reader said the book is, “a fascinating saga of one man’s life that is cultural storytelling at its best,” while another wrote, “If you pick up one book this year, make this the book. You won’t regret it.” Marlon writes both fiction and nonfiction, hails from Chicago, and loves to travel. He also places an importance on relationships, especially with family and friends. Like everyone else I’ve interviewed, he doesn’t have a ton of spare time, so I’m especially grateful he made some space to answer my questions.
Christina: Congratulations on the upcoming publication of 11:59. For those of our readers who don’t know, can you give us a little teaser for what the book is about?
Marlon: Thank you, and I’ll do my best to give a quick summation without revealing too much. A young man named Jackson is reflecting on his life, acknowledging his lack of control over certain aspects, and the domino effect of events which guided his course. It’s about a man discovering the meaning of his existence, while realizing he’s in a race against time.
Christina: Where did the inspiration for the book come from? I love the title. Did the book ever have a different title? Did keeping the title in mind help you craft the story?
Marlon: The inspiration for the novel (which was supposed to be a short story!) came from an idea as to what a person would do or think, if they knew the exact moment in time when their lives would be changed forever. I toyed with title ideas concerning midnight, and then it came to me it should be one minute before midnight. That sounded like a Sidney Sheldon or Stephen King title, so I decided on Eleven Fifty-Nine before deciding the numbers would be more eye-catching.
No, the title didn’t play a part in crafting the story, because I knew how the story would end when I first started writing it way back in 2015. I only needed to play connect the dots to get to the climax I had envisioned.
Christina: You’re a multigenre, multitopic writer. Amazon lists for you a story collection about a magical bar, love stories, sports stories, erotic stories, and you’re a poet. Which do you find easiest to write? The most difficult? Does one genre call to you over the other? Is there any genre you won’t write?
Marlon: I’m blushing a bit right now, trying to decide how to tackle this one. I had writer’s block in the summer of 2015 (as I was writing 11:59) and someone suggested I try writing an erotic story, just to switch my mindset. I wrote one, which really unclogged my creative faucet. I wrote about fifty short stories that summer, plus about two hundred poems and essays. Three short story collections were either completed during that period or inspired by a couple of things written at that time. Watching for Potholes, Sippin’ Life at Lucky’s Bar and Grill, and In the Pale Moonlight can all be attributed to me conquering my blockage by writing an erotic story.
That first erotic story sparked more than I could have imagined, as not only have I continued to write them, I’ve even written two novels due for release in the next year by my company Delicious Escape Publications. It’s not a shameless plug, I swear. It shows how one little idea can lead to destinations never imagined.
I’ve written Western short stories for a couple of publications, and I have a series of novels in that genre, which my agent is shopping. When my mojo is working, every genre is easy, but when the creative faucet only drips as opposed to pouring out, I go back to basics: romance, poetry, and horror. Those are my favorite genres, and the one genre I don’t particularly care to write is science fiction, even though I’ve had a couple of those published.
Christina: Poets intrigue me because they can capture the essence of so much in very few words. Do you approach poetry in a different manner than fiction or essays? Do you have a favorite poet?
Marlon: For me, it’s about painting a picture of an emotion, a thought, or a place in time in a few words or paragraphs. Poetry was my first love, and my mother still has the first poem I ever wrote, when I was five. I was a poet first, performing Spoken Word at events, writing original poems for weddings and graduations, and I even had a couple of one-man shows. The curious thing that happened is my ideas for poems began to be too complex, and those became short stories, then later, novels. It’s an example of my evolution as a writer.
Having a favorite poet is like having only one food you love. My Fave Five are Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Yeats, and Rudy Francisco. Shout-outs to Lord Byron, Sonia Sanchez, and Rupi Kaur.
Christina: Let’s talk a little bit about the publication process. What do you think is the most difficult piece? And you’re a well-established writer, so with this latest publication, did anything surprise you about the process? Any tips for the writers just starting out?
Marlon: The most difficult thing is to keep believing in one’s self. I used to read the things published by other writers and feel like I’d never get a shot, because to me, I was a much better storyteller. Not hating on anyone’s success, but a lot of writers got lucky to have their work read by the right person in the right position. The lack of success and recognition can make it seem easier to just give up. I couldn’t stop writing, so I had to find my own path.
I self-published, learning a lot about the need for a team, consisting of editors, cover artists, and truth-tellers, who hurt my feelings, but made me a better writer. In 2018 I challenged myself to submit at least one hundred pieces of my work to magazines, anthologies, and publishers because I felt I needed to build up my resume. I think I had twenty acceptances, a few that I got paid for.
Remember I said how important it is to have something read by the right person? That happened for me, as far as that person being a conduit to the people I have a working relationship with these days. Nowadays I have to keep myself from constantly sending gifts to my editor, my facilitator, and my publisher because I absolutely love them. Might sound weird, but it’s true. Any success that comes my way is due to the people God has placed in my life. I guess I play a small part. Lol.
My advice to any new writer is not to give up, think outside of the box, and be open-minded to new ideas. I’m working on audiobooks, podcasts, and blogs in the upcoming chapter of my evolution, a far cry from a guy who once only wrote poetry.
Christina: Social justice is important to you, and you’re forthright with your experiences living as a Black man in the United States. In your opinion—and I know this is a much bigger conversation than a short interview has space for—what do we need to do to work for equality for all? BIPOC people have been fighting all their lives, so how can the majority help?
Marlon: I think it would help to be objective, or as Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “Try to walk in the other fellow’s shoes.” Imagine running a race where the other runners have a fifty-yard head start, and while attempting to catch up, one is handicapped by systemic racism, which is prevalent in education, social resources, law enforcement, and in all levels of government. Not trying to climb on a soapbox, but . . . I know how it feels to be pulled over by the police for being in an upscale neighborhood, or the feeling of disgust when a white woman clutches her purse close to her body due to my presence, or being followed around a department store by its employees. I like to think I have thick skin, but it’s hard to watch the news when a Black person committing a crime is called a thug, while a white mass shooter is always called “troubled or misunderstood.” The media feeds the racial stereotypes, and I like to think it’s not intentional, but I know I’m deluding myself.
If every person could be objective enough to think about the racial dynamics of America, then maybe the uncomfortable truths they realize will promote change to the point where the ideals of America could actually become realities.
Christina: Over on Instagram, you’re known as @DuckDaddy63, and you often use the hashtag #lifeisabanquet. What is the story behind the username? And is there a story behind the hashtag? How do you want your followers to interpret your use of it?
Marlon: When I was a little boy, around four or so, I guess I waddled when I walked. My uncle gave me the nickname Duck, and even as I approach turning fifty, my family members, people I grew up with, and my close friends still call me Duck. I grew up on 63rd street in Chicago, and I became a father when I was nineteen. When I was trying to create a user name for my first email address, my oldest daughter suggested Duckdaddy63, because I’m Duck, her Daddy, and I’m from 63rd.
One of my favorite movies is Auntie Mame, and her favorite quote was, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” I adopted that as my mantra years ago, and if it were original, I’d trademark it. Maybe I’ll look into that.
Anyhow, it’s about not placing limits on one’s life or daydreams. I hope my followers understand and embody that slogan. Indulge in one’s passions, live life to the fullest, and be fearless in one’s pursuit of fulfillment. I love to travel, cook, and write, and I’m trying to shape my life around those things.
Christina: What’s next for you?
Marlon: Professionally? As you know, 11:59 is coming out August 23, then I have an erotic novel, The Delicious Escape, coming out later in autumn. I have about four releases scheduled for 2023, including the follow-up to 11:59, my novel Singing to Butterflies. I’m going to scatter my creative eggs in enough different baskets to ensure a consistent harvest. I’m not placing any limits on my hopes and dreams, and I have two completed novels, as well as a Western series, plus two short story collections in my “vault.” Those should guarantee me at least two or three releases for the next five years. Of course, I’m constantly working on new things, and I hope to get my stories to Hollywood. It’s a beautiful, possible daydream.
Thanks to Marlon for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.