Interview with Jeffrey M Anderson

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I must have been in about the fifth grade. It was about two men in a boat, lost at sea. One sees a red star and takes this to be a sign on what direction they should take. The other doesn't see it. They argue. I can't remember the middle part. I remember the ending though. The red star was the right answer.
What is your writing process?
I am what is known, somewhat pejoratively, as a "pantser", contracted I think from "seat of your pants". That means I don't sit down pre-novel and outline or otherwise architect the story. For me one of the sheer joys of writing is getting in a zone and improvising. There is a part of you that sits back and watches the show even as it is created. Nowhere is this process more spectacular than when a new character walks on the stage from an unexpected direction. In my first novel, Little God Blues, this happened several times but the best example is Sula Lamzaki, the protagonist's love interest. Before she appeared I didn't know there would be a love interest. She came out of the ether, blossomed up, and wound up muscling her way into the story in a big way. . . . .
How do you approach cover design?
For Little God Blues I had a great time working with Phillip Gessert, the cover artist. The advice you always get about cover design is to look at a lot of other books in your genre. Sure that makes sense but it can also turn your cover into a cliche. It shows you know how to play the game, but can make your work anonymous. Also as a debut writer who will be relying on ebook sales it was crucial to design a cover that has a presence in the small thumbnail version. I think Phillip's done a sterling job of creating a sense of presence, giving a storyline, and letting the title speak for itself , . . .
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I love Russian literature. I'm not sure why Tolstoy has this eggheads-only reputation. War and Peace is really just a much better-written Gone With the Wind. If you truly like a writer you like him or her for faults as well as the things that astound you. Tolstoy has a superhuman empathetic capacity. He can climb into the life and thoughts of the 500 characters in War and Peace, but he can also look at life from the point of the view of an oak tree (one of my favorite scenes). And yet his faults are also on an epic scale. His theory of history, his sermonizing are tough-sledding and illogical. Other favorite books are The Red and the Black by Stendahl; Decameron by Boccaccio; Master and Margarita by Bulgakov and the short stories of Chekhov.. . . .
What do you read for pleasure?
I always remember a scene in The Magus where the mysterious Picasso-like character, Conchis, tells the hero that at his age he doesn't read novels any more. He prefers biographies and non-fiction. When I read the Magus in my early 20's I thought that was ridiculous. But now I have to say I read a lot of biographies, science, and contemporary issue books. Perhaps most writers can lose themselves in a novel, but often I'm analyzing it--even down the punctuation--so a bit of busman's holiday.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like my Kindle Paperwhite. We often take modern technology for granted. To me being able to carry around the complete works of Chekhov, plus any number of other favorite works is a miracle--and an insurance policy for cancelled flights and other unexpectedly idle times. It is also invaluable to a writer who spends way too much time reading from a computer screen. It is definitely better to read your entire first draft on something much more eye-friendly. (By the way there is a some research that indicates that the blue light from LED screens (computers, iPads, smartphones etc) can negatively affect your eyes.)
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Of course any childhood location will infuse a writer's work. I could go on about the sky, the light, the ocean, the redwoods (and I do in my work), just as writer from Florida could describe equally marvellous things. There is also a California sensibility that is probably in there somewhere. How would I describe that? Generally receptive to new ideas, not particularly flash or ostentatious, always trying to improve, . . .
What's the story behind your latest book?
I have two latest books, believe it or not. Right now I'm heavily into the first draft of the follow on JIm Shalabon novel.Those of you who have read the first Shalabon book, Little Good Blues,will know that there is a "to be continued" element to it. At the same time I have a second draft of another novel out to key beta readers. It's about a bike trip from San Francisco to the East Coast in a dystopian near future. Apparently there are a lot of dystopian novels out right now (I can't imagine why). This novel flowered up out of a short story and just kept going. The twist to the tale is that this dystopia is in some ways positive, more of a muddle than an apocalypse. . .
What motivated you to become an indie author?
It made sense to me. You can spend a lot of time writing away to literary agents (I did that) or you can spend that time and energy self-publishing. The hard reality is that even with a publisher the marketing comes down the the author these days. You need a brand, a platform, a blog etc. So if you're going to do all the work anyway why not do it for yourself? The other consideration is that I have a novel about a dystopian near future that's topical--economic meltdown. If I went via a publisher the book might be out in 18 months; self-publishing is immediate.,
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The best advice I've ever heard about writing, as incisive as it is terse, is from Ray Bradbury:Don't think.Write! Essentially that means mining your subconscious. Now your subconscious is an immense, unknowable swamp out of which all sorts of critters can crawl. It can burp up an amazing scene or character; or, I have read, some writers have issued forth full paragraphs verbatim from a book they read years ago. In other words there is originality in there, but there is also the opposite. So the greatest joy in my writing is when I'm winging it and something comes out of nowhere, a character or a plot twist, and once or twice a novel it will be so surprising it astounds me..
In current writing what are your pet peeves?
I have a general aversion to the present tense.I enjoyed Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, and I'm sure she had her reasons for writing a novel based in Tudor England in the present tense. Sure it gives a scene immediacy but it is also like looking at it with a telephoto lens, there is no depth.
I also dislike outright manipulation . "And then X knew" but we don't. .
Published 2014-11-07.
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