Clark Hays & Kathleen McFall

The married couple talk to us about taking on the publishing industry

After a fiery breakup, writers Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall wanted to put their relationship to the ultimate test, so they decided to write a novel together. The end result is the Cowboy and the Vampire series, which launched in 1999 with A Very Unusual Romance,followed by four more books that transplant the familiar suave, urban vampires of other stories into the gritty, rural life of the American West that they both love. Today, after 20 years of marriage and much critical acclaim—including making Kirkus’ own Best Books of 2014 list with the third Cowboy and the Vampire installment—the couple has founded Pumpjack Press to publish their own, and others’, work. Following up on their vampire saga, Pumpjack is currently releasing Hays and McFall’s Bonnie and Clyde series, which reimagines the infamous outlaw duo as heroes of the working class fighting to earn their redemption.

Why did you decide to move into publishing, and what are your hopes for Pumpjack Press?

We always wanted to establish a small press, and by 2014, when we were finally ready, technology had conveniently advanced enough to allow us to take that leap. We used the next three books in the Cowboy and the Vampire series as our inaugural list. We’re now evolving Pumpjack Press into a nonprofit authors’ collective while also creating partnerships to broaden distribution.

What made Bonnie and Clyde interesting to you as characters?

Hays and McFall Bonnie and Clyde were the ultimate rebels without a cause. They were young, broke, wildly in love, and, courtesy of a bank-robbing spree, they lashed out against a rigged economic system destined to grind them into dust. For a short while, until it all went bad, people struggling through the Great Depression lived vicariously through Bonnie and Clyde. We built on that, creating an alternate reality in which the charismatic outlaw lovers had a chance to atone for their crimes by becoming defenders of the working class.

What do you feel makes your alternative timeline relevant for today?

The 1930s were characterized by unprecedented income and wealth inequality, homelessness, and poverty. Sound familiar? We see a role today for storytelling to remind readers that during the 1930s, the government reined in the more destructive aspects of capitalism with innovative policies and worker protections. We want to inspire people to demand similar solutions to our current economic challenges.

In your previous series, what sets your take on the vampire mythology apart from other vampire stories?

We combined the undead with a dose of bloody humor to explore metaphysical spirituality and the clash of cultures. In our mythology, the vampires’ consciousness flows to a shared nonphysical realm until they are reborn at sunset. It gives the books a unique spiritual foundation, and we also use humor (and sex and campy horror action) to explore the gentrification of the American West and an opposites-attract relationship.

How do you two work together as a husband-and-wife writing team?

Writing together is like wrestling an alligator. With your hands tied. During a tornado. First, we outline together and then take a first pass at assigned chapters. Then we edit each other’s chapters with passive-aggressive redlining and then argue about the edits. We repeat that until a magical alchemy (in other words, skill and tenacity) blends two voices into one book and we celebrate with champagne and Campari.

What can readers look forward to from the next Bonnie and Clyde release?

In Book 3, Bonnie and Clyde are assigned to the WWII Manhattan project to ferret out spies bent on leaking top-secret nuclear plans to the Soviets and Nazis. This story will have the same thrills, suspense, history, and romance as the first two books and explore the rise of the military-industrial complex.

Rhett Morgan is a writer and translator based in Paris.

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