DEADWOOD, S.D. – Michael Harris has been plotting his first novel, Outlaw Blood released in July of this year, since 1993.
The author was stationed with the U.S. Army in Fort Meade, Md. after graduating from Southeast High School in 1990. His idea would come to life in just under 600 pages of what he describes as a “Post-Apocalyptic Western.
“When I was going to school at Southeast, living in Torrington, all I could think about was getting up, getting out of Wyoming,” Harris said. “And then I got in the Army and I got just terribly, terribly, terribly homesick. I remember I’d be sitting in the barracks there and that’s when I came up with this story.”
The novel depicts life in southeast Wyoming following an economic crash through the eyes of protagonist Thedford Bennett, an ex-airman who returns from war overseas to find his home in a state of lawlessness and despair. In this dystopian world, cattle are currency and the gun is the law, according to the book’s summary.
Harris said when he finally sat down to write in 2007, he had his ideas, but no idea how to go about writing a novel.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Mike, why did it take you 13 years to write?’ and the answer is simple: I grew up ranching and working cattle,” he said. “I knew I wanted to tell a story about ranching and cattle but I didn’t know anything about editing, the three-stage process of writing a story, character arcs, pacing or anything.
“We grew up very poor. The whole point of our lives was work, get enough firewood saved up so we didn’t freeze in the winter, and then try to get enough money off of selling a calf here or there or do an odd job so we can buy food, and it just wasn’t a very good environment for creativity.”
So, he just started writing. Harris said he channeled Stephen King, who said “a writer has to write.” Along the way, he found a developmental editor in Jay Burns and a line editor, Sheila Sybrant.
At times, the writing wasn’t the issue. It was dreaming up a new world that makes sense to readers.
One “colossal roadblock” was the idea of currency, Harris said. For a novel set 10 years in the future during a post-economic disaster where the dollar would be worth next to nothing, it took him a year to figure out how such a system could work.
“I would get stuck on certain things and I’d be stuck on something for three months, because I didn’t know what I was doing,” Harris said. “Every day I would sit and grind it out in my head, how would I have this character do this and it just took me a really long time.”
Harris now resides in South Dakota with his teenage sons, Jacob and Luke and his wife, Susie, but he said Goshen County and the surrounding area was the natural setting for the novel.
“For decades, I had thought about raiders coming down into Lingle and attacking and then the people from Torrington having to go and help the people in Lingle, and Wheatland getting burned out by marauders in the interstate right there,” he said.
Harris said he recognizes the irony of a dystopian novel released in 2020, when a pandemic presents both public health and economic concerns. On one hand, it can serve as an escape for those who are staying home to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19, he said. His goal is for readers to drink a glass of iced tea and to enjoy the story.
“The whole premise of the book was it wasn’t political, it wasn’t supposed to be a warning,” Harris said. “There are people that are saying the book is prophetic, this book is a warning, in this book is what’s happening right now. That wasn’t my intention.
“The book is a really neat thing for people to do, as opposed to going out in public if they don’t want to, if they’re worried about the coronavirus.”
Harris is self published and his book is sold on Amazon. Search Michael Harris Outlaw Blood on Amazon or visit the novel’s Facebook page, “Outlaw Blood.” He’s currently working on a sequel.