Getting to Know You
What advice would you give to new authors?
I don’t know that there one piece of advice that I could give every new author, but in general I’d say “sit down at your computer and buckle up, you’re in for a wild ride.” Writing a novel isn’t for the faint at heart. But seriously, the more you know your characters, the better the book will be. So really explore who they are, who they were, what they strive to be, what’s preventing them from getting there. The plot’s important but we as readers need to see the growth arc that takes place since it’s the characters we’ll (hopefully) relate to, whatever the plot may have in store for them.
What is your ideal writing environment? Do you have to have certain elements in place to be in “the zone”?
My ideal environment is right where I am as I write this – in my home office, staring at my computer and all the books and CD’s on the shelves behind and around it. I need music to listen to, and not just any music. I write in first party present, so I’m basically in the head of whichever main character is narrating the chapter I’m working on. I try to get as close to my character as I can, so I listen to the music my characters like.
Ram Forrester, who is an amateur guitar player, owns an Eric Clapton autographed Stratocaster, so I listen to Clapton and his various bands and collaborations. Brendali Santamaria prefers Latin pop and rock, so when she’s the chapter narrator her music is playing on my headphone. Bren even introduced me to a terrific singer-songwriter, Gaby Moreno, whose renditions of La Malaguena and Quizas, Quizas, Quizas are simply jaw-dropping.
What author have you found to be most influential on your works?
During the four years it took to write First Second Coming, I was reading several of Neil Gaiman’s novels – Good Omens, written with Sir Terry Pratchett, American Gods and Neverwhere. I also took Gaiman’s MasterClass online. So he’s certainly a major influence. So is Pratchett, whose Discworld novels are superb.
I read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and his unique writing style and comedic sensibility certainly hit home with me. In fact, the first chapter of First Second Coming came from an exercise I did, trying to write a short story in Adams’ writing style. After I’d written something like fifteen different first chapters, and found them all wanting, I realized that with some modifications that short story would be perfect as my first chapter. That seems to be the case from the feedback I’ve received.
What is a random fact that no one knows about you?
I’ll give you the one even my brother didn’t know until last week.
I was roughly ten to twelve years old. A rainstorm prevented me from any outdoor activity. I had plenty of friends in the apartment building, but for reasons I can’t recall now, none were available to hang out with me. The TV only had six channels back then, and none of them offered me any entertainment. So I was stuck with nothing to do.
I decided to pick a book from my mother’s bookshelves and read it. We had a long hallway in our apartment, and one side of it was stuffed full of books – some mine or my brother’s, but mostly adult level books my mom had collected. I idly chose one and sat down to read it.
That book happened to be published in 1918. It stayed in circulation in the Brooklyn, N.Y. School District until I finally made its way to my mom in the 1940’s. This was a textbook of English history, and it absolutely fascinated me.
From that point forward I took an active interest in English history, and history generally. I began reading the Post – which was then a reputable newspaper – back to front (the sports pages still came first). I watched the news shows on TV. And all that was happening in the turmoil of the 60’s – the Vietnam War, civil rights, women’s rights, assassinations, etc. – had a huge impression on me. I did a lot of protesting, and once Watergate happened I was rapt, watching the whole thing unwind.
All of those things, from that English history textbook to the undoing of Nixon, brought me to decide to become a trial lawyer. I work in that capacity for 35 years until recently retiring. Sometimes textbooks really do have a big impact on impressionable youngsters.
Jeff’s book, First-Second Coming is now available.
In 2027 the deity known as NTG – short for New Testament God – retires after more than two thousand years of minding the store for his employer, Milky Way Galaxy, Inc. The new god, a planetary turnaround specialist, must decide whether Earth’s dominant species should or should not be included in his plan to bring the planet back into full compliance with Milky Way Galaxy, Inc.’s planetary operation standards.
Earth’s new God introduces himself to humanity by unexpectedly appearing on the Ram Forrester Hour talk show. Ram, an atheist, and co-host Brendali Santamaria, a devout Catholic, are stunned. God’s interview, beamed worldwide, shocks and infuriates viewers. They learn that a sixty-day conference will take place in Los Angeles to determine whether humans are capable of helping him implement his planetary turnaround plan. To earn a coveted spot in this God’s good graces all mankind must do is eliminate religious violence forever, without his heavenly help, within sixty days. Failure means extinction.
God designates Ram and Bren as the conference’s only authorized media reporters. This assignment, fraught with peril, ignites their romance. Not only must the harried couple attend the conference meetings by day and do their show at night, they must also outwit a fanatical religious group bent on killing them. When rising conflicts within the conference intensify, it’s up to Ram and Bren to do whatever it takes to protect their budding romance and mankind’s very survival.