I first interviewed Hayley Stone when I featured her fantasy Western Make Me No Grave. Her recently released book with Audible, MACHINATIONS, also stars a bad-ass heroine, this time in a robot apocalypse:
Waking up as a clone with a broken memory? Not great when you’re leading the resistance.
Rhona has battled the malevolent A.I. intent on wiping out humanity since the first Machinations began—until she’s killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now, Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA and her personality.
She’s a clone… of herself. Except for her missing memories. Some of which could potentially turn the tide of the war.
Trapped in the shadow of the life she knew and rejected by the man who once loved her, the reincarnated Rhona must fight to secure her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humanity for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.
What have you found most helpful recently, both as a writer, and a person?
As a ruthless perfectionist, it’s easy to become invested in an imaginary ideal: drafting the perfect book, establishing the perfect morning routine, etc. But perfect doesn’t exist. Too often it becomes the stick we use to beat ourselves with after falling short of our desired results. Instead, I’ve found it far more helpful (and personally better for my mental health) to leave space for failure, replacing the critical voice in my head with a more understanding one.
I’m currently working on the final book in this series and it’s been the most challenging novel of my life to write. There came a point where I had to abandon my preconceived notions of what my writing should look like (“every line must be beautiful or ELSE”) and let myself be messy on the page. I’m ordinarily a slow, methodical drafter, so doing the complete opposite required a large amount of mental flexibility and the reshaping of stories I’ve told myself about the way I write novels. Sometimes it is our own narratives weighing us down, and we have to cut the line before we can move on.
Outside of my career, this also means forgiving myself for not being—ironically—a machine. Some days I can write and meet every other obligation I have that day. Other days, I can do one of those things or maybe none of them, and that’s okay.
Good advice for everyone, especially us recovering perfectionists. You’ve spoken before about Rhona’s vulnerability in MACHINATIONS. What parts of her personality were most difficult for you to tap into?
Rhona is brave and impulsive in ways that I simply am not. I’m a planner; she thrives in chaos. I agonize over minutiae where Rhona would jump right in and figure something out as she goes. This changes for her somewhat over time, but it’s still her default setting. Act now, worry later. There is something extremely liberating about writing a character like that, though, as you never want for excitement or agency!
Those are some of my favorite kinds of characters too. And I love the cover of MACHINATIONS! In what ways do you feel it captures the novel’s theme?
I love how resilient Rhona looks here, walking into or away from the carnage of battle. It definitely captures the themes of survival and reemergence. The cover offers a very literal vision of being the last one standing, and makes me think, “What comes next?” How does a person rebuild themselves and repair their relationships in the aftermath of violence and trauma?
In my experience, everyone faces their own personal apocalypse at one time in their life. Granted, it doesn’t usually look like killer machines wiping out the human race… but still. The emotions track.
Indeed they do. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
“Lean into your strengths. Don’t be embarrassed by what you love to write.”
“One person’s opinion is not law.”
Writing is by its very nature subjective, yet it’s really easy to take critical reviews to heart—even when you disagree with them! I definitely learned this lesson late, and am constantly having to relearn it.
For this reason, it’s good to have some sort of touchstone to remind you what you love about writing. For me, this is fanfiction, which always puts me back in touch with characters I love and the types of stories I like to tell. You aren’t going to please everyone—no matter how much you might wish to! But there is one reader you should always strive to make happy: yourself.