[Interview] Wade Peterson, author of the Badlands Born series

Like road trips? Giant robots? Badass heroines? Snappy dialogue? 

Sounds like you should check out the Badlands Born series by Wade Peterson. As Wade describes it, Badlands Born is a love letter to a misspent youth watching Mad Max movies, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and listening to hair metal on the radio.

The second book in the series is out today, and if you act fast you can pick up the first book for only $0.99 on Amazon

Badlands Born book covers

Badlands Born

Jasmine Shaw didn’t expect death to be more complicated than life, let alone find herself caught in a decaying afterlife created and then abandoned by her twin brother. To survive she must brave the dangers of the Badland’s blood-spattered highways and find her lost brother while also escaping the dark choices she made in life that threaten to destroy her again.

Get the first two Badlands Born books here.

Interview with Wade Peterson

Jessie Kwak: Start by telling us about Badlands Born. What made you want to write a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series?

Wade Peterson: It was originally a NaNoWriMo* novel, and I started with some characters and the mood. It was just three people in a car, and one person hated the music on the radio. I started asking questions: Why does she hate the music? Well, it’s stuck on the 80s station and she hates 80s music. Why is it stuck on the 80s station? Well, that’s the only station there is. Why is that the only station there is?

Then it was like, okay, that’s the only station because they’re actually in hell. But she’s not even in her own personal hell, she’s in somebody else’s personal hell. And so the story went from there. 

Badlands Born became a road trip through hell that has elements of science fiction and elements of fantasy. 

[*NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing month, where authors attempt to write a 50,000 word draft during the month of November.]

Is that how you normally start a project? With characters and mood and seeing what happens next? Or do you also outline?

I do a bit of both. Usually, the kernel of a story starts with a mood and maybe a couple of lines of dialogue or a scene. A lot of my story ideas come when I’m driving, running errands with music on. Eventually a song will get to me and something will pop into my head. If that same idea keeps popping up over the next couple of weeks, then that’s usually something I’ll develop into a bigger story.

Do you keep track of those somewhere ideas? Or is it just kind of whatever keeps pinging your mind?

I used to write down everything. I’ve got this note card file of all these little story ideas that popped up, which was great at the time when I was writing short stories every week. 

But now, I think if a story idea hits you and it’s enough to keep coming back, that’s your subconscious telling you this is something you can work with. Usually the ideas that have been pinging around for a few weeks or months have developed enough that you can start writing them down and seeing the connections between them.

I definitely find when something has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while, that’s when I’m really excited to write it. I write into the dark, where I just follow a character to see what they do. But it’s definitely easier if I’ve been mulling it over long enough that I have some vague idea of what’s gonna happen.

Yeah, I think it’s easier to keep a mental note and let it build. Little ideas only have a little bit of momentum and when you have a bunch of them together they push each other forward.

I wanted to ask you about the desert and why you chose that setting. Did you find inspiration from actual deserts that you have been in? 

You have this whole pop culture mystique about the desert. There’s the Wild West, Weird West, Spirit West — all those iconic scenes of the big gigantic arches and hoodoos and monoliths, from cartoons like Coyote and Roadrunner to franchises like Mad Max. There’s definitely a bit of Mad Max post-apocalyptic theme going on in Badlands Born

The desert’s also kind of spooky. You’ve got the extremes of heat and cold. You can’t trust your senses because maybe you can see water, but it’s just a mirage. You can hear things in the wind, echoes that can either be miles away or really close to you. The desert has a lot of potential for strange things happening. 

I started writing the story when I was in Wisconsin, which is definitely not desert. But as I was rewriting, I was living in Utah. The story starts out in a red rock desert, and eventually emerges into more of the sage and sandstone that you find in southern Utah right before you get to places like Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.

Yeah, that’s one of my favorite parts of the US. I love that area of southern Utah, Northern Arizona. What was one of your favorite parts of writing the series?

My favorite part is when everything’s going in a flow. Then, you’re not so much thinking about what’s happening, you’re just typing and the next line is right there for you. You’re almost telling yourself a story as fast as you can write it down. That’s when things happen that you didn’t plan, and it changes the story. That’s the magic part of writing.

I also had lots of fun with writing the big set piece battle scenes in the climax. That was a lot of fun, just setting things up and shooting it all out. 

When do you most get into flow?

I can’t put my finger on when I’m going to be in flow and when I’m not. Usually at the beginning of a book there’s a lot of back pressure of ideas that want to flow out. But it comes and goes. I think a lot of it is just staying in the chair, then it either comes or it doesn’t. 

I will say some scenes are easier for me to write. Action scenes are easier, and I usually have really loud music going on in the background. That seems to help. 

Maybe that’s what I need, because I find action scenes challenging. The last quarter of this book I’m working on right now is all action scenes. Everyone’s just running around shooting things, and it’s been tough to draft. What’s your action scene go-to music?

For this series my action scene go-to music is hair metal from the 80s. So Mötley Crüe, Guns and Roses, AC/DC, Metallica. I have a playlist called “Battle,” and another one labeled “80s Novel” with all the other pop music I listened to growing up. 

The third book of the series is going to have a lot more of a the Wild West theme, so that changes the music. I’ve got the soundtrack from Red Dead Redemption, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and a lot of other spaghetti western themes show up in that playlist, too. And some stoner rock, like Clutch and Radio Moscow. You know, laid back, heavy, sometimes they go into 6/8 time. 

When I was starting out with the NaNoWriMo novel, I would write song lyrics at the beginning of each chapter to set the mood, but you can’t do that with copyright. So I put it into a playlist instead.

[Curious? Get Wade’s playlist when you join his newsletter.]

What has been one of the most challenging parts of writing the series?

The hardest part is that when you start a novel, you have these key scenes in your head. When you’re doing the first draft, especially during NaNoWriMo, when you get stuck you can just cut and start a new scene. Well, when you’re putting it together you gotta address those cuts. And sometimes you have to throw stuff out you want to keep in. So the hardest part has been learning how to bridge things together, and then how to cut things that you really want to keep. 

Like with writing the third book, I had two act ones and I had to choose at the end which one I was going to take, because they both followed the outline, kind of. But they went different directions at the end. 

For me, it’s about finding a milestone and trying to aim towards it. I always start in the place I wanted to and end in the place I wanted to, and usually I hit the big scene in the middle. But the path in between those three points isn’t usually what I thought it would be.

What’s next in the Badlands Born series and beyond?

There will be at least three Badlands Born books, and it’s definitely a series that can go as farther. A lot of is gonna just depend on how well it’s received. 

Next, I’m planning a science fiction series, because I have such a huge background in sci-fi. I grew up reading about fifty-fifty sci-fi and fantasy, and I think they go together like chocolate and peanut butter. So I did my peanut butter. Now it’s time to do some chocolate. 

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Thanks, Wade! 

Don’t forget to grab the first two Badlands Born books here.

And head to Wade’s website to sign up for his newsletter and get his 80s road trip through hell playlist