Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Jeff Draper

Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Today we have another interview with a talented up-and-coming author, Jeff Draper, whose short story "Protector" recently appeared in The Sword Review, a SF&F e-zine.

Let's hear what Jeff has to say about the world of writing and publishing...

1. Hi, Jeff! Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was raised on a farm near Olympia, Washington. I did the normal stuff growing up; went to college, got married, became a Marine Corps officer. After my time on active duty (all of which was spent in Orange County, California) I took a job in NoCal for a year or so before moving back up to Washington. Along the way I watched my wife give birth to four kids. She tells me it hurt a bit.

2. When did you first begin writing? Was there an event that triggered it?

I don’t recall a specific event that struck like lightning and made me declare ‘I am going to write’. However, it can be said that the movie Star Wars inspired my general creative desires. I was, like many other 9 year old boys, completely blown away by that movie. It had everything a story needed; young hero, beautiful princess, loveable rogue, old mentor/father figure, and villains most foul. That event, coupled with my mom’s tendency towards stories and other creative outlets, drove me to tell lies to strangers.

3. Why do you call it ‘telling lies to strangers’?

I don’t think the phrase originated with me but it’s because fiction, for the most part, is a series of things that did not happen, yet people line up at ticket counters and bookstore cash registers to voluntarily take in someone else’s fantasies. It’s a giant game of make believe. And then by definition, when you actually publish one of your lies it is read by people who don’t know you.

4. Tell us about your first publication.

The story behind ‘Protector’ is a little interesting in that it did not start out the way most of my other writings have. I did not sit down, crack my knuckles over the keyboard, and state that I was going to write a story for publication. It began as a series of posts at TORC, as it’s called, is a site and forum that I frequent. Now that I think about it, TORC was my first big dive into the world of internet forums way back in 2001. There’s a thread in the Scriptorium of Imladris called The Writer’s CafĂ© and it’s been around for a few years now. Several of the active participants decided to write stories featuring each other as main characters. My princess character was originally designed to be a fellow poster there who goes by Ms_Gamgee89 or alternately by the pen name of Quentiel, which is supposed to be derived from Tolkien’s elven languages and means Story Daughter. Anyhow, that’s how the story was born.

5. How do you go about creating your characters?

I cheat. Most characters, like plots, have already been created. I just try to come up with an interesting way to flesh out an existing trope. An excellent book on writing which I recommend enthusiastically is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. He details the plot structure of the mythic journey as well as describes the standard story functions, or perhaps ‘energies’ would be a better word, that need to be in any story to make it resonate with a reader’s heart. Most characters fall into an archetype that lends itself to moving a story along. I don’t recall them all off the top of my head but the big ones are Hero, Mentor, Trickster, Shadow, Shapeshifter, etc. It may seem unoriginal but always remember, if something’s been done a thousand times before, there’s probably a very good reason. That’s why we see a never ending stream of dragon and vampire stories.

6. What advice do you have to give to those considering writing?

Writing is one of the many Get Poor Quick schemes floating around our society today. You clearly have to do this because you like to do it. There are few rewards other than the satisfaction that you get from pulling an idea out of your head and recording it onto a page in a fashion that communicates the original feeling to others. As for the craft itself, you cannot go wrong by finding a trusted first reader who will tell you when you have gold and when you have iron pyrite. I have stated many times before that I have the best first reader in the free or oppressed worlds. She can find a way to reveal what remains hidden to me, to connect what remains apart. When it comes to writing we are like brain and heart. One cannot function without the other.

7. What are your favorite books and authors?

Right now I read fantasy. I’ve read several books by Clive Cussler, John Grisham and Tom Clancy as well as a lot of science fiction but what I really enjoy is epic fantasy. The trick is, there’s a lot of stuff out there that I think is absolute garbage. I’ve never been able to get into Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin and I think there is an entire circle of Hell where you do nothing but read Terry Goodkind. I don’t like humorous or campy stuff so Terry Pratchett is out. I also don’t like thoughtful fantasy that’s slanted toward the female reader so Marion Zimmer Bradley is out, as well as half of what’s on the shelf. But that doesn’t really answer your question. My two favorite fantasy series are the Fortress books by C.J. Cherryh and The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone by Greg Keyes. Also, just about anything from the late David Gemmell is outstanding.

8. What do you find most difficult about writing?

I get long stretches of writer’s block just like everyone else. It is frustrating because you have some ideas that are wandering around in your head but you can’t seem to sit down and force them out. It’s an elusive thing. What finally happens to me is that I remember that the difference between a writer and a daydreamer is directly proportional to the amount of time spent with Fingers Hitting Keyboard. And really, who wants to be a daydreamer?

9. How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Those long stretches of writer’s block are seductively convenient excuses to have a Real Life.

10. What can you tell us about your future writing projects?

I’ve done a lot of work, and had a lot of help, toward making ‘Protector’ the first chapter of a novel. Some scenes have been written and a plot sketched out but since my last attempt at a novel ran for three hundred pages before falling apart due to several inherent structural problems I want to take my time with this one. I also keep coming up with ideas for stories to write so I’m doing that now. My current work in progress is called The Battle of Raven Kill. This is a situation where three things came together at once. I thought up the title first and really liked it. Then I envisioned a fight between one man on a narrow bridge and a horde of savage raiders that are after the last of his clan. The last piece came to me when I thought up a hero that, through some plot device to be named later, gets to choose the moment of his death. In that way, he is a different type of immortal than your average vampire or Highlander character. What intrigued me most was the question, “Under what circumstances would a man choose to die?” The notion of sacrifice runs deep through most of my writing. I have the Marine Corps to thank for that. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

Thanks for your time with us. Any final thoughts?

Thank you for your interest. I suppose I would stress again that you should do what you like to do, in writing and in life. There are plenty of opportunities for us to do what we have to do. Make time to set that all aside and follow your (legal) passions. Your sanity will thank you for it later.

Want to know more? Visit Jeff at his blog. And make sure to leave a comment and let us know you were here!

1 comment:

Diane Craver said...

Jeff and Allie,
I enjoyed reading this interview. Thanks! And Jeff, I'll go check out your blog. I love blogs which is a good and bad thing since I do this instead of writing. LOL