Most of what I write comes from a boy point of view. For better or worse, it is what it is. It is the lens from which I view the story ideas rolling around inside my head. For those who have sons or who have spent time around pre-teen and teenage boys, you know what a wild, strange (and sometimes dangerous) place that can be but I guess I’m doomed since it’s how my brain works.
THE YOUNGER DAYS is my middle grade historical fiction from the MuseItYoung imprint. The story is built around the three big themes of faith, family, and redemption and has resonated well with the boy 10-14 year-old boy reader, especially the reluctant reader. Plus, I am very proud of the book and the work that went into it, with shouts of praise for my MuseItUp editors, Lea Schizas and Penny Ehrenkranz, and cover artist, Kaytalin Platt.
I like to take facts and build stories around them. It is a mental game I call Fact-ion. Besides all the historical background researched for THE YOUNGER DAYS, the story is basically built on two facts. Below is the cover blurb to give an idea of the basic premise of the book, followed by the two facts which drove the book.
The tension in post-Civil War Missouri builds to a boiling point between 11-year old Boy Smyth and his mild mannered, devout father over the father's embarrassing lack of support for Boy’s Border War heroes, the outlaw Cole Younger and the notorious Border War phantom William "The Butcher" Bryant.
The family farm is visited by Cole Younger and his injured brother, Jim, of the infamous James-Younger gang, on the run after a train robbery in Iowa. Much to his surprise, Boy discovers the Younger brothers are childhood friends of his Ma and Pa. Cole has come to their farm searching for the aid of Boy’s mother to nurse Jim’s gunshot wound. As the Youngers rest and heal, Boy learns about his family’s past and begins to understand why Pa is the way he is.
After the Youngers leave for their Texas hideout, a new band of visitors arrive at the farm intent on violent revenge. Everything the family built becomes threatened by the strangers, forcing Pa to make the decision to unleash a long hidden identity in order to save his family.
The Idea Fact
There was a family legend handed down from an uncle who grew up in the late 1800’s on a southwest Missouri farm. According to the story, the infamous outlaws Cole and Jim Younger spent the night in their barn while on the run after a bank robbery.
I began to see things from a young boy’s, Boy Smyth, POV and a story began to fall in place. The Younger brothers would be outlaw heroes of Boy and his parents would lead a life completely against anything to do with rebels or outlaws. With this initial background, the story started to walk, but it was still a short story at best.
The Payoff Fact
“All from least to greatest shall know me says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” -Jeremiah 31:34.
Bam! Through this simple Bible verse about redemption and forgiveness, the story took off. A whole back story began to grow of a secret past shared between the parents and the outlaws. A past intertwined with the atrocities of the Border War battle for “Bloody” Kansas and a past with the Border War’s gangs of ruffians, Quantrill’s Raiders from Missouri and Doc Jenison’s Redlegs from Kansas.
Through the point of view of Boy, who knows nothing of his family’s hidden past, the conflict arrives with a surprise visit from his heroes, the Younger brothers. In an attack of their farm by a gang of former Kansas guerillas bent on revenge, all hell breaks loose and Boy’s life as he knew it unravels at the seams. Faith, family, and redemption soon emerged as themes to hold the family together through the darkest of times and protect them from the evils of vengeance and hate.
Mike Hays is a husband, father, and microbiologist from Kansas. Besides writing, he has been a high school strength and conditioning coach, a football coach and a baseball coach. He writes from a boy point of view and hopes to spread his particular style of stupid-funny inspiration through his books, blogs,and social media. His debut middle grade historical fiction novel, THE YOUNGER DAYS, was released by the MuseItYoung imprint of MuseItUp Publishing in March of 2012 and was the recipient of a 2012 Catholic Writer's Guild Seal of Approval Award. He can be found on Twitter @coachhays64 and on Facebook at Mike Hays Books.