I’m no Mark Sweeney, who, aside from being my boss on the college paper, showcased his investigative journalism skills during exclusive interviews with incredibly important campus celebrities.
(Don’t worry—I want to punch my younger self in the face, too).
I recently read a book entitled A Glimpse of Her Soul, by Stuart Jaffe. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, and, though a bit outside of my comfort zone, a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner.
Stuart was kind enough to agree to be
my first victim
featured on the blog in a feature that I’m totally stealing from Sweeney,
called “Getting to Know…”
Uh…I mean “Author Interview”
DJ: First of all, Stuart, thanks for joining us today. We’ll get to your book in a minute, but first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, how you got into indie writing and publishing, maybe a favorite sports team or two growing up—you know, “the basics.”
Stuart: Thanks for having me. A little about me, huh? Well, I've been writing for about 20 years. Started out in short stories for 10 years, been in magazines and anthologies, then got an agent and tried to sell some books. Book after book, all the big presses came back with the same response: We love your writing, love your stories, love your characters, love, love, love . . . but we're not going to buy it. That drove me crazy to the point of considering quitting several times. But I'm stubborn and addicted to writing, so I kept going. What this response meant was that they thought my stories were too unique to sell to a mass audience. Then, in the last few years, indie publishing came along. The economics work so much in the favor of authors that what might have been a financial risk to the majors was miniscule at the indie level. So, I went out on my own and haven't looked back. I've had more fun than ever, have met some great people, and I'm discovering that my writing is as strange as they thought. The majority of readers who come to my work enjoy it, even when it's not (as you put it) in their comfort zone.
As for sports -- I went to West Chester University which is outside Philly. So, it's the Eagles and the Phillies for me. Until my recent knee surgery, I was a practicing 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Now, I'm practicing at gaining weight and getting out of shape. Almost a black belt at that.
I am a firm believer that comic books are a window into a person’s soul. If you could have one superpower (NOT “I want to be Superman"—he has too many), what would it be?
I like versatile superpowers, so I think having control over a simple element would be cool. Magneto can do so much with one simple power. Imagine if you could control something as basic as salt. There's salt all over the world, there's salt in human bodies, there's salt in the air. The possibilities are immense. Of course, one would have to be responsible with such power and careful not to become a power-mad lunatic, but that's always the fine line between superhero and supervillian.
Did you start reading at an early age? What’s the first book that really made an impact on you?
I came to reading on and off throughout childhood (a little Heinlein, Poe, and Stephen King), but it wasn't until my senior year in high school that I discovered a love for reading. My father and I were cleaning out the garage, and I found a box with an old copy of Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck. It's a non-fiction account of Steinbeck's road trip throughout the US accompanied with his dog, Charlie. To this day, I have no clue what attracted me to this book, but I picked it up and devoured it. That led to Steinbeck's fiction which led to Hemingway and Fitzgerald which led to everything. Alongside all of that, I was reading plenty of Heinlein, Asimov, Tolkien, and the like.
How did you go from enjoying stories to wanting to create your own?
There was never a transition. I had always been making up stories. I even recall at the age of nine or ten, sitting down at a typewriter (home computers were just getting going) and attempting to write a novel. It was a science-fiction tale about clones being used to commit murders. I wrote an entire page which took most of the day. Never got further with it, but I was excited to have done that much.
What are the three greatest inventions of all time?
The wheel has turned out to be a pretty handy one.
Considering most indie movements would be half what they are (or non-existent) without the internet, I'd have to say that the internet's been a great invention, too.
And the noodle. Greatest, and one of the most versatile, food inventions.
Star Wars? Star Trek? Or Neither? Please explain.
If I could limit the question to just the original Star Wars trilogy, I'd go with that. Not because they were part of my childhood, but because they successfully tapped into the universal mythos of mankind. They are epic and exciting and despite some of the silliness (ewoks), they are remarkably deep. The rest of the series and its offshoots have had highs and lows but nothing in the Star Wars universe seems to have reached that same emotional level as the original series.
I wrote in my review of A Glimpse of Her Soul that you should trademark the genre “Coming of Age Horror.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve already “come of age”—was it tough to put yourself inside your main character, Gillian’s, head as a girl struggling with that crucial time between 16-18?
Remembering what it was like to be a teen was not difficult. Only recently have I felt completely adult anyway. Plus, I have a teenage son, so I'm seeing it all again. The real challenge was writing a teenage girl. I've never been a girl and, like all men who are honest, I am still trying to figure out the opposite sex. However, I do have a wife, and she was a teenage girl once, so she helped immensely in straightening out my errors.
It’s also been a learning process for me to write strong female characters, yet your book has two. Was there any inspiration for either one? And I suppose more generally, how do you “cast” your novel?
Most of my novels have strong female protagonists -- I find females far more interesting to write about -- but in the case of A Glimpse of Her Soul I had intended for the lead to be male. Mostly because of the whole teenage girl thing we discussed above. But every time I tried to plot out the story, it didn't make sense with a boy. His reactions would always be wrong for what I wanted to tell. I had to make a choice -- either keep the boy and scrap the story, or keep the story and scrap the boy. Needless to say, the story won and the boy left. Gillian came in and the rest followed.
Especially toward the end of the novel, the imagery is both striking and beautiful. How did you create such fantastic pictures for the reader? I’ll accept “talent,” but a little more would be great.
First off, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
As for the question, well, I no longer believe there is such a thing as talent. We have passions for things and those are the things we are willing to devote our lives to. Learning to write imagery well (or character or plot or anything) is simply a matter of putting in the time to learn. With writing, that time is measured in years and millions of words. For every short story I've had published, there are another five-to-ten that never made it. I wrote four entire novels before I produced one that was publishable. It takes time and practice. That's the secret to success at anything.
Specifically for imagery, it's a matter of training yourself to find key details that help the reader do the work. The best descriptions (in my opinion) only hint at the setting, character, or whatever but do so in such a way that every reader will come up with the same "sense" of the thing being described. If I describe a sleazy, gold-toothed thief dressed like a pimp, every reader will come up with a unique version, but nobody is thinking of someone looking like George Clooney. Likewise, though I never specified, the word "pimp" will cause the majority of readers to picture a male.
In the end, though, it's all just training on something you're passionate about. I enjoy football, but I never had enough passion to get out on the field every day and perfect my spiral. So, I never had a shot at the NFL. Most people don't have the passion to sit in front of a blank page every day and attempt to come up with words. I did. So, I do.
Let’s end with some rapid-fire:
Favorite vacation spot? Mykonos, Greece (though I've only been there once)
Vacation spot you’d like to visit but haven’t yet? Australia
PC or Mac? PC
Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, or Stewart/Colbert? Stewart
And finally, favorite movie of all time? Too many to name just one, but here are a few: The Godfather, Star Wars, Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Alien, and Young Frankenstein.
Thanks Stuart! If you have any questions of your own for Stuart, fell free to leave them in the comments. And don’t forget to check out his book, A Glimpse of Her Soul, available in Print and ebook on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and elsewhere.
D.J. Gelner is a fiction and freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. His novel, Jesus Was a Time Traveler, is available on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBooks and in Paperback. The first installment of his second series, the Hack trilogy, is now available for Kindle. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org