Birthday photo. I'd guess this was taken the
same year I started my first draft.
Around the time Solid Groundwas released earlier this year, I penned a series of six short posts about my writing process and my lengthy journey to publication.
The articles were initially published on various book blogs, but now, with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them here. I'll probably share one article each week.
As with the novel, I tried my best not to let these blog posts suck. I hope you enjoy them.
First up....20 Questions!
When did you write your first story and what was the inspiration for it?
I was a poet in my early years, and I don’t think I wrote any fiction until I was in my twenties. The first story I remember writing was a supernatural tale about a boy who gets inexplicably lost as he bicycles around his own neighborhood trying to find his way home. I named the story “Jeremiah Blues,” a title I took from a Sting song of the same name. In the song, Sting references a Shakespeare line in the lyric, “Everybody wants to look the other way, when something wicked this way comes.” I decided if Sting could borrow from literature for music, I would borrow something back from music for literature.
Do you have a writing schedule or do you just write when you can find the time?
I’m a guy who doesn’t get much writing done without structure and scheduling (sound like a load of fun at parties, don’t I?). When I wrote the first draft of Solid Ground, I worked pretty regularly in the afternoons for 4-6 hours each day. Oddly enough, when I reached the editing stages, I shifted my writing time to early mornings. I started editing many days before the sun even came up.
Briefly describe the writing process. Do you create an outline first? Do you seek out inspirational pictures, videos or music? Do you just let the words flow and then go back and try and make some sense out it?
When it comes to novel writing, I’m a hardcore outliner. That’s not to say I don’t seek out inspiration (especially from the music I listen to as I write), but at the start of the project, I plot things out as best as I can. I write a one or two page synopsis of the story and a basic biography of each main character. Then, I break the story arc into three acts and outline the key moments and scenes within each act. Having said that, once I start writing I’m totally open to following whatever rabbit trails I come across. With Solid Ground, I veered off course several times and those side trips yielded some of the best elements of the story.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love Scrivener writing software. I’m like a TV evangelist for this software, only I’m not asking for donations.
Where did the desire to write LGBTQIA+ stories come from?
I like to write about character flaws and individual struggles, how the seemingly tiny moments in life can ultimately define us. For me, the details of the experiences and challenges LGBTQIA+ characters face may differ from their CIS hetero brothers and sisters, but in the end, our stories are all just human stories. How much research do you do when writing a story and what are the best sources you’ve found for giving an authentic voice to your characters?
My stories are set in everyday places among everyday people, so I’m not a big researcher. To make sure my characters sound real and compelling, I draw from my own experiences and from a lifetime of paying attention to books, movies, music, and pop culture. I’ve also been lucky to have some excellent beta readers and writing group buddies who have been willing to spray paint the awful parts of my manuscripts when I’ve been off the mark.
What’s harder, naming your characters, creating the title for your book or the cover design process?
Hands down, naming the characters is the most difficult! Actually, to be clear, naming them is a cakewalk. Renaming them once you realize a few of the names needed to be tweaked is…a challenge. BUT, getting used to their new names and calling them by those names as you edit and discuss the story, that is torture. First, it’s just mentally challenging to make the switch. Second, and more importantly, it feels to some degree like you’re being unfair and maybe even unfaithful to the characters. But hey, Conor is a more compelling name than Rob. So, there you have it.
How do you answer the question “Oh, you're an author...what do you write?"
Fiction. I write intimate stories about people who try and don’t always succeed.
What does your family think of your writing?
I think they’re proud and as surprised as I am that I finally finished a damn book.
Tell us about your current work in process and what you’ve got planned for the future.
My current work-in-progress is my second novel, Selfish. Like my first novel, Selfish is a first person narration that revolves around the small wonder and giant burden of family. The setting is a fictional town in Michigan, and the main character, Max Becker (or so he’s named for now), is forced to make a harrowing and deeply personal decision that will mean life or death, though not necessarily his own. Unlike Solid Ground, most of the main characters in Selfish are not LGBTQIA+. I’m about half way through the first draft of the book and I’m excited to see if the storyline actually ends up where I originally told it to go. Do you have any advice for all the aspiring writers out there?
It’s cliché, but write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Some days, you’ll put in your fifteen minutes, bitch and moan a little, then shut your laptop and get back to the business of life. Other days, a quarter hour magically becomes three or four hours, and you’ll have to drag yourself away from the keyboard. Both days are okay.
If you could travel forward or backward in time, where would you go and why?
I’d go back to my twenties to tell myself to write fifteen minutes every day. We’ve all got a little voyeurism in us right? If you could be a fly on the wall during an intimate encounter (does not need to be sexual) between two characters, not your own, who would they be?
Hmmm. I suppose I’d like to peak in on Louis and Lestat, Anne Rice’s characters from the Vampire Chronicles. I loved their love, especially in the first hundred or so years when it was fresh and new.
If I were snooping around your kitchen and looked in your refrigerator right now, what would I find?
Milk (for my Apple Jacks), grapes (I like to drop a few in my brandy), and cheese (the most versatile of all the dairy products).
If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
To sleep through the night without waking up to pee.
If you could trade places with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
I’d trade with Conor, my main character, so I could make better decisions than he does and spare him a shitload of grief.
If you could sequester yourself for a week somewhere and just focus on your writing, where would you go and what would the environment be like?
A small cabin in the redwood forest around Arcata, CA. There would be no television, telephone, or Internet, and I’d use a wood stove for heat. On the wooden front porch, I’d have the most comfortable writing chair known to mankind – an Eames lounge chair and ottoman (if you have $5,000 to spend on one, you’ll thank me). I know that’s how my fantasy week would be because I was in that cabin in Arcata for a month in 2012. I’d go back tomorrow if I could.
What's the one thing, you can't live without?
Ice cream, Maker’s Mark, and tennis. Okay, that’s three things, but if I can’t have ‘em all it’s not worth it.
If you had your own talk show, who would your first three author guests be and why?
* Christopher Moore (Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, etc.) – because he’s not only a terrific novelist, he’s also hilarious and kind (or so it seems).
* Dave Eggers (Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, etc.) – because he’s brilliant and I’d probably be a better person by the end of the interview.
* JK Rowling (Harry Potter, as if I needed to say that) – because she’s an unbelievable creator of compelling stories and characters and her British accent would make me giddy.
When you got your very first manuscript acceptance letter, what was your initial reaction and who was the first person you told?
I don’t recall my exact reaction, but it was in the ballpark of, “Seriously? Are you sure?” followed by some zealous fist pumping and jumping around. I told my partner, Paul, and our roommate (and live-in editor), Kyle as soon as I read the letter. Kyle got weepy and Paul said something akin to, “Holy shit!”
Thanks for reading!
Jeff's novel, Solid Ground, can be purchased in print and ebook from Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million, and other places where fine fiction is sold.
Republican Senator John McCain (AZ) released a statement yesterday criticizing President Trump's pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In his statement, McCain noted that the pardon of Arpaio, who was "found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos," undermined Trump's claim to respect the rule of law. This was maybe not the strongest condemnation of the pardon (McCain didn't call the President a racist as many others have), but the Senator's statement was criticism nonetheless. And, of course, this also wasn't McCain's first public opposition to some of the President's most disgraceful decisions. McCain was also among the first to speak out against Trump's Muslim ban, and when the President tweeted his intent to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, McCain responded the same day opposing the ban and saying that transgender soldiers "should be treated as the patriots they are."
Trump and Arpaio (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
Since the release of McCain's statement about Arpaio, I've had discussions with other liberals, both online and in real life, who argued that Senator McCain's repeated condemnations of Trump were essentially just "hot air." In these conversations, my fellow liberals argue that McCain, and others in the GOP who periodically speak out against the President, are all talk, and that when the rubber meets the road, when it comes down to Congressional votes, these anti-Trump GOP windbags simply fall in line the President.
Well, okay. There's truth to the accusation that GOP Trump critics frequently, if not almost always, vote in line with the President's policy positions. Check for yourself in this FiveThirtyEight.com Congressional vote tracker. The tracker shows the "Trump Score" (the percentage of time each member of Congress votes in line with the President), and various columns in the chart allow you to sort by political party, ascending or descending "Trump Score," etc.
If you drill down to the specifics in the tracker, you'll find that out of 52 Republican Senators, only Senator Susan Collins (ME) votes AGAINST Trump more than John McCain. By contrast, no Republican Senator votes more WITH Trump than Florida's Marco Rubio. Other GOP politicians who have been regularly outspoken against Trump, Senators like Ben Sasse (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Bob Corker (TN), tend toward the bottom of the Republican "vote in line with Trump" list, but even among these more "independent-minded" Senators, the percentage of time they vote with Trump tends to be in the low to mid 90s. It's true, then — when voting on bills in Congress, these Trump critics tend to vote in favor of policies the President supports. So, what do we make of this? Maybe all this public Trump opposition is just GOP politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths? Maybe their criticism is nothing more than grandstanding for the cameras? Maybe they take principled positions on CNN, but not in the halls of Congress?
Or as one Twitter friend proposed, maybe most of the bills that have come up for votes in the Senate, excluding the healthcare bill which was defeated, have been on "standard line Republican legislation." More importantly, maybe the bills upon which the Senate has voted don't reflect the most heinous and reprehensible things the President has said or done. Let's face it, when the President has thrown the real red meat to his base (things like exiting the Paris Climate Agreement, attempting the Muslim ban and the transgender military ban, the Joe Arpaio pardon), he has done so unilaterally through executive power. He has not enlisted the support of Congress for such actions because he knows he wouldn't have it. In fact, when he's attempted to make good on the most despicable and hurtful elements of his campaign rhetoric, and when he needed Congressional approval to do so, he has failed. That's why Obamacare is still the law of the land, and there is little, if any, progress on a border wall, paid for by Mexico or anyone else.
I've dedicated a fair amount of this article to "defending" some Republicans in Congress, but that is not my ultimate intent. The bigger picture is this....
When the President supports traditional GOP positions, Republicans in Congress will, of course, vote in favor of those policies. When the President unilaterally takes executive actions that fly in the face of core American values like fairness and equality, some Republican leaders are vocal in their opposition to the President and we should not criticize those efforts.
When Republican opponents of the President speak out against his most egregious social, cultural, and political transgressions, those of us on the left must resist the urge to hurl "hot air" or hypocrisy accusations. When someone from the GOP steps forward to criticize the President for something appalling, outrageous, and un-American that he's done or said, we need to recognize and appreciate these rebukes for what they are, statements of disapproval and condemnation.
Are there enough Republicans, Congressional or otherwise, stepping forward to oppose the daily attacks and abuses we suffer from Donald J. Trump? Hell no. And that's exactly why we can't afford to alienate those who do. We need to help more Americans recognize Trump's assault on democratic institutions (voting rights, the free press, the judiciary, need I go on?), and we must act in ways that encourage Trump opponents of all political stripes to speak out.
There will, no doubt, be countless future attempts by this Administration to enact into law things that those on the left (and many on the right) find unequivocally wrongheaded, unfair, and even disturbing. There is also an increasing likelihood that ongoing investigations of potential Trump campaign violations of federal law will escalate and possibly lead to criminal prosecutions, and even Presidential impeachment. In all cases, it will be helpful to have voices from across the political spectrum who are not afraid to speak truth to power. When it comes down to it, our most fierce and robust opposition to Trump exists not because he represents traditional Republican values, but because he tramples on fundamental American values like equality, decency, and democracy. In our fight to salvage these principles, we need all the friends we can get.