Kyle Waller is a survivor. He said to me “I’m twenty-three now, but I shouldn’t have made it past thirteen. A tombstone and parchment of dirt in some forsaken corner of some forsaken small-town cemetery should be all that’s left of me.” His war with depression and suicide should have ended in defeat- indeed, it very nearly did. But he survived and decided to write his first book to talk about this mental illness, which is not enough taken seriously.
As his book, “Ward”, is being to be published soon, he accepted to answer a few questions about how he sees the world, how he dealt with his depression and what he wanted to tell the world in “Ward.
Kyle Waller, welcome to CreativInn, please introduce yourself. Could you tell us where you’re from and how you got started in writing?
Certainly. Well, for starters I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. And, if I can be frank, writing is as much a part of me as is my soul, or the very air I breathe. I think for all artists (or maybe just me), there wasn’t some epiphany that blew my mind and made me drop everything I was doing to pursue this passion- it was something that simply was. It was something that just felt right, and the more I delved into the matter, the more we both refused to let go. This was especially true when at five or so years old I wrote my first story in a notebook that was about as big as I was: it was a fusion of Sailor Moon, Star Wars, Timesplitters 2, Army Men, and overall war being played out on a grand and universal scale with numbers and strategy taking center-stage in an ever-intensifying conflict that threatened to sunder all reality.
After that, I refused to stop- I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I’ve always been big into video games, and they were vastly the font of inspiration I drew from to foster and develop my personal brand of creativity.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Ah, how I remember that experience- it royally blew my mind- indeed, one of the characters in this game was a major inspiration for the Matriarch, the enigmatic head of the all-female assassin-saboteur faction known as the Nightingales in my upcoming novel, Ward.
CAUTION, SPOILERS: So the experience in question is from one of my all-time favorite video games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. In it, the Exile (you) have a series of choices to make that ultimately affect the ending and the potential fate of the galaxy. To get access to this scene, you have to find a way to unite the three surviving Jedi Masters on Dantooine- but once you arrive, you soon find yourself unprepared for the reception. In their fear and arrogance, the three Jedi Masters basically accuse you of unwittingly forming Force Bonds- making connections with everyone you meet and everywhere you go- so much so that by doing so, you have de facto placed the galaxy at risk and are gradually draining the life from it. But rather than taking advantage of their wisdom and knowledge to search for the truth, the Jedi Masters decide to embrace fear and try to strip you of all your powers out of desperation to stop, what they perceive, is the threat they’ve been hoping to uncover.
Here’s where everything gets interesting.
Throughout the whole journey, you have a mentor, Kreia, who is actually one of the three Sith Lords hunting down the last of the Jedi. She emerges, interrupts everyone just in-time to save you (but you’re knocked unconscious during the process), during which time, the surviving Jedi Masters know exactly who she is, and only double down on their fear-driven ideology.
But it was the way Kreia spoke- imagine an old-school grandmother who’s also a very wise-woman, who’s also a calm Drill Sergeant come to scorn you for making a fatal mistake- that made me stand at attention- I had to. She spoke with absolute eloquence and authority- she was one who swam in both of the ways of the Sith and the Jedi, and found them both flawed and in a cycle of endless war of ideologies against one another. She literally made me shiver and damn-near made my eyes pop out of my head- you could hear a fly crawling on the wall she was that powerful to silence a room. You couldn’t argue with her- well, you could, but you had no hope of victory.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Believe it or not, at the present moment, I’m actually not friends with any other authors. I think this is my biggest problem: I pursue my craft with a relentless ambition, and you can hear it in my voice and see it in my writing. I’ve attended the majority of the smaller writer’s groups around town, and I’ve found that everyone just sort of treats it as a hobby- l\everyone has a “Oh, well we like to write and whatnot sometimes- and we’re here- what’s everyone been up to” mentality. Whereas with me, I come in like a Nuclear Bomb and just hit everyone in the face with my ambition and the material I write. I’m no-holds-barred and I make no apologies for it.
This isn’t to say that I’m better than anyone else or that the other authors I’ve met don’t take their craft seriously- I freely admit I’m on the polar end of ambition when it comes to my work. We all have different levels of how we want to write and why; I know what it takes for me to do what I need to do. I know where I want to go with all this, I just haven’t met someone else like me yet.
Do you remember the first story you ever read and the impact it had on you?
I don’t remember the first story I ever read per se that left a meaningful impact on me, but I can certainly tell you about a book I’ve read (and reread) recently that’s make a permanent impact on the way I view the world. Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill, is, as you may be able to guess from the title, a conversation between he and the Devil, whom he compiles to disclose all his secrets as to how he subtly manipulates key figures and Human behavior to ultimately serve his interests.
Now, let’s remove all the controversy surrounding Mr. Hill, let’s remove the dividing lines between the world’s religions; let’s look at Outwitting the Devil from an unfiltered lens for a moment. Don’t look at this as a self-help book, but rather, a spiritual (not religious) exposé on how evil and evil-mindedness influences the world today. He speaks of Drifters- people with no direction and established ambition and purpose in life- people who ultimately come to inherit jealousy and show discontent towards those who forge ahead with their dreams. He speaks of how the Devil (or in our case, we’ll just call it Evil), has infiltrated the church and has long-since broken in many of the cathedrals as thrones he sits comfortably upon. He talks about how many of the Pastors and Fathers, either wittingly or unwittingly, serve Evil via preaching fear. Mr. Hill further goes on to discuss in candid detail how Evil uses Lust, Greed, Fear, Poverty, Gluttony, and more as a means of controlling people and keeping them from impacting the world in ways that ultimately cripples Evil’s influential grip.
It ripped my eyes wide open to theories and possibilities I was already contemplating- I showed the book to my spiritual mentor (which, in turn, lead to a few hours worth of debates and renewed discussions over fine red wine). But to really understand Outwitting the Devil, you have to have a very open mind. You have to be willing to see the hard truths that most people would prefer to turn a blind eye towards; the same can be said for my novels.
How did you come up with your first book “Ward” which deals with a difficult subject, mental illness?
Believe it or not, Ward may be the first book the public will read, but it’s not the first book in the series I wrote. This wasn’t planned, but we all remember how Star Wars came out with Episodes 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9? That’s how my series is going to come out. I’ve already written Books 1, 2, and 3, they just won’t be coming out for a little while.
But I digress. I’ve decided to use Mental Illness as the basis for Ward, along with having enduring influence throughout the whole series, because it is a matter that demands our immediate attention. There are organizations and individuals trying their all to erase the stigma, but I don’t believe them to be effective enough to stimulate the real change we need. What we need, is a unified front, a singular collective capable of calling attention to this matter and speaking about it candidly as we do with the gun debates or healthcare (not that we’re going anywhere near those topics here).
But before we can begin having the conversations that will ultimately lead us towards reform, we must find make ourselves comfortable discussing the matter. Society’s take on Mental Illness are demonizing labels and a shuddering alongside shrugging shoulders- we’re afraid to talk about this.
That mentality must end. That mentality will end.
That is why I wrote Ward the way I did: honest, direct, in your face and something you need to look at. I am not here to solve the problem, I am here to bring attention to it through my unorthodox method of dystopian literature, where both of the main characters have their forms of mental illnesses they must contend with that are going to have a tangible influence on the choices made throughout the series. I did it because Mental Illness is one of the least explored concepts that’s stopping Humanity from reaching the next stage of our evolution; if we cannot look inside ourselves so that we may see what is holding us back, we cannot progress.
But as it is with all artists, we all have a personal connection to our work. I am a survivor of depression that very nearly convinced me suicide was the best option when I was thirteen back in 2009. The world was dark, paranoia convinced me the world’s banners were united against my best interests, I never thought it would end. I didn’t feel as if I could approach anyone because of the stigma. Today, I’m more than happy to say that 90% of that depression is forever gone, and the remaining 10% is holding on by a thread. It won’t be long now before it has to capitulate
Do you think, like Michelle Obama that “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distraction”?
Oh boy, politics- I can already hear both sides of the political aisle getting their Twitter accounts ready to react to what I say next. With regards to the context of the former First Lady’s quote: yes, the way we view Mental Illness, both in this country and throughout the world, is among the biggest obstacles keeping us from making progress on this issue. So long as we continue to have the knee-jerk reaction that people battling mental illnesses are “Cray Cray”, “Nuts”, or just “bat-sh*t crazy”, it’s going to be next to impossible to get things done.
However, that being said, I’m going to take a moment to make something readily clear: Mental Illness isn’t a political issue, it’s a Human one. I would beware anyone who seems all too ready to weaponize Mental Illness as a means to court political favor as to gain the upper hand. Especially with the way things are in this day and age in the United States, to side with one faction is to immediately be seen as demonizing the other. To seek out political support today as a means of promoting your artwork, no matter how noble-intentioned, is to lose the war before the first salvo is even fired.
Politics is too polarized, too black and white, too embroiled in believing their ideology is the only way, to be of any use to the one who seeks to tell the raw truth to the world. Both factions are in a pacifistic blood-feud- to the point where neither side can see reason or is even willing to come to a compromise in the name of progress. I don’t have time for that nonsense; I only have time to get things done.
How has the creation of your novel Ward’s main characters, Tango Primary Five and the Angel of Death, change you as a person and as a writer?
They’ve changed me in more ways than I was expecting. In several ways, Tango Primary Five’s depression and battle with suicide is a reflection of my own war with those buggers. While working on Ward, I had to sit down, center myself, and reflect back on the darkest moments of my depression. I had to remember what isolationism to that fanatical of a degree felt like. I had to remember how I thought the world was against me and that no one would ever be able to understand where I was coming from. I had to reflect on the darkness that was taking over my life- that indeed very nearly had absolute control over me- and convinced me to end it all at the age of thirteen.
And I had to be careful all the while. While my depression is 90% gone, there’s that remnant, clinging to life, trying to regain its former power. My self-reflections back to the time when I was angry, cynical, bitter and saw everyone as an enemy and every new day as something I didn’t want to face, I knew it was going to try and surge back. I should be dead- surviving all I have has built up a formidable willpower that’s carried me this far, and will, alongside the good spirits and energies of the world, carry me all the way towards my ambitions. But what good’s a wall if you open the front door and invite the darkness, the enemy, in?
The reflections made realize just how far I’ve come, and how far I’ve yet to go. They’re a reaffirmation that I’ve survived, stared darkness and Evil and death in the face, and lived to tell the tale. It is my hope, that in its own form, my story may reach others, and from it, they may begin to realize that depression, like any enemy, can be conquered. Just as it tries to break you, you, can break it. Remember: depression is in a love/hate relationship with you. It needs you to survive, but it also depends on keeping your brain cluttered, disorganized, clouded and hopeless. The moment you realize that you’re the one in control, it starts to panic, the Evil behind it realizes its been betrayed, and its days are numbered.
How would your description of the Ward in your novel compare to your description of Depression? Is the Ward the incarnation of the agony you’ve been through or is it something else altogether?
Well, let’s take a look at the Cambridge English Dictionary. One of the definitions is: “one of the parts into which a prison is divided.” It’s obvious “The Ward” is a city-prison, but is that the only form of prison that exists? How many people today walk “free,” but are indeed imprisoned by their own hand? Just because you and I can walk into a Starbucks or visit a friend’s house doesn’t mean we’re wholly free. We’re free in only the obvious and most defined sense. It’s what’s beyond that surface that matters.
What stops people from achieving their ambitions? What denies people what they want most out of life, and, after too much time has passed, almost wholly locks them into a cycle where they just “get by” and wonder where they went astray? What makes people die many times before their death? Fear. Its been said that fear will kill more dreams than death ever can- I’ve yet to meet someone who can argue this notion. In my world, The Ward is where dreams and lives go to live in their tomb before they die forsaken and forlorn.
The Ward embodies both the reality of physically being locked away, as well as the mental anguish that isolation and darkness can inflict on one’s self when they’re severed from redemption and goodness and hope. You’ll see throughout Ward, all the mental warfare that’ll take place inside Tango Primary Five’s and the Angel of Death’s minds- the impossible task before them, they trying to navigate Ward Politics and the enduring civil war between the cannibalistic Vikings, the Roman-inspired death cult, and the paranoid Mafia Syndicate.
I think people are in for a shock when they lose themselves in my novel. I think they need it. I think this is a good thing.
Tell us about your writing process and the way you brainstorm story ideas?
Alright- now we’re cooking! For me, I usually start with writing one of my novels by creating the core plot elements- such as the ending, major developments, new characters, certain events that trigger other problems- first. And then a fraction of all that gets thrown to the wind once I actually start- because that’s when my creative energy is at its strongest- and along the way, new ideas are spontaneously (usually when I’m in the Men’s Room or taking a shower) downloaded into my brain and it completely augments my story in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Music is an absolute imperative- without it, my work would slow to a crawl, especially during some of the more intensive combat scenes- I have to have Heavy Metal playing in my headphones to get me into the right mentality. Other times it’s Goth Rock, Dark EDM, Alternative- whatever the scene calls for, I’ve got an extensive playlist ready for every occasion, and it’s always expanding.
Along the way, I’ve found that my best work is usually produced once the sun sets- I can’t explain how or why, but something about the nighttime calms me. It unlocks some hidden away corner of my brain where the wildest and most insane parts of my stories can come to the forefront of my mind and soon find themselves on the computer screen.
Sometimes, when the right song comes on, when it’s the height of nightfall, when I’m able to fully detach from the world, when something in my brain just clicks, I stay up all night and crank out 10-12 pages in one sitting. I’ve yet to figure out the secret to activating this on a regular basis- maybe I’m not supposed to, who knows? But I sure as hell welcome the surge of energy when it comes.
For many writers, creativity is first preceded by a phase of observational learning. What is this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a writer?
I’m self-taught; I didn’t go to a university, didn’t study at the feet of the masters, didn’t attend all the expensive writer’s workshops and conventions- I did it the old fashioned way. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more, until now, after several years of honing my skills to a level I can work with, I’m finally ready to publish my first real novel. I’ve grown up on the premise that if you want to get good at something, you need to do it, again and again. And every time you finish a project, tear it apart, find out where you went right, where you went wrong, where you can improve and what blew your mind.
Writing the books I’ve written, going back and revising them after all I’ve learned, it has taught me more than I think any college class could ever hope. College can teach you the theoretical, but theory only gets you so far before reality tosses a lot of what you learned out the window and tells you how it is.
Actually, now that I think about it, I have gone to a university: the University of Life. Life and my day job as a disaster relief specialist have taught me more than I ever thought possible about real life. It has given me an unfiltered stare-down into some of the dark places Humanity can go when desperation takes center-stage. Sorrow, anger, jealously, greed, Evil- I’ve come across it more times than I care to discuss here, but once you meet Evil, you’ll know it, and it’ll know you too. Being exposed to Evil and its influences, watching how it subtly works to take control of whatever room it’s in, it has become easier to spot, and therefore, [easier to] document and weave into my literature.
But I very well know I have to be careful- Evil’s not going to like my exposé.
What role do you want to have in society as a writer?
I think the writer’s role in society is to call attention to the thriving or struggling times we’re facing, to call attention to problems in creative and widely digestible ways the public can take in, and ideally, take action on. I am here to solve a problem, I have a means to call attention to it in a way where people will be able to see something they previously didn’t want to see. I can suck readers in and get them so lost in my world they’re gonna choose to stay- and along the way, it is my hope they will learn something that will make them view the world differently.
Thanks again Kyle Waller for the opportunity to interview you for Creativinn! Are there any final thoughts or words of advice you have for our readers?
Art is not a sprint- it’s a marathon. You must pace yourself, and realize success isn’t going to be an overnight thing.
Finally: do not ever chase your dreams- pull them towards you.