Welcome to our weekly feature,
This week is another first for us: we’re pleased to introduce to you a not-quite-yet published author, Jeff Faria. Jeff is hard at work completing his book “The Patriots of Mars,” — only about a month away from publication — but he agreed to take a few minutes away from his writing and editing to be our guest. Jeff also has a design background and designed the covers for his book. We think you’ll really enjoy this interview, so grab a cup of coffee or pour yourself a cold brew — beverages are always on the house — pull up a chair, and enjoy!
At what age did you first realize you wanted to write books and how/when did you first share this ambition with “the world”? When I was in first grade I wrote little picture books. I reshaped the words and books they give you, to teach you to read, into new forms. Not radically new, like I was trying to write my way out of first grade or anything. I just understood the tools that were put in front of me and wanted to use them myself. I wrote and drew a book about the arrival of The Big Red Airplane at that time, so that was my first ‘published’ work.
This didn’t strike me as anything special, nor was I ever encouraged. But looking back I realized that my first grade teacher had me tutoring other kids. Either she needed help that badly or it was plain to her that I was well ahead of the class and needed something else to do.
Who in your life and what authors you read had the most influence over your decision to write? There was no author who caused me to write. There were authors who moved me, though. I thought Arthur C. Clarke was a genius, and moreover a prophet and sort of a father figure who could point the way to proper morality and the secrets of the universe. (It took me years to learn and accept that I was wrong on all counts, but when I was young I certainly did believe those things, and probably needed to.)
I grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts. That’s the town from which the Pequod sailed, and as you might imagine no child grows up there without having a heaping helping of Moby Dick installed within him. Like most any allegory, Melville’s masterpiece can be interpreted about any way you like. I was taught many of the wrong ways by overzealous instructors who were probably mis-taught themselves, but my big take-away was that the best literature means more than what presents itself at first glance. If you read it once and understood it completely, it probably wasn’t worth reading in the first place.
Neither the writers I read as a child nor the things I saw around me while growing up instilled any desire to write in me. But they did inform what I would write about, many years later.
You’re working to complete your work in progress (WIP) Patriots of Mars. I understand that the first half is complete, has been edited, and has gone to beta readers for review. The second half is written, aside from three chapters still in progress and then must be edited and beta read. What do you hope will be your completion date for all these tasks? What about publication – do you have a date in mind yet? I should be done in a month. Much depends on how long the beta readers take, and how they feel about what they read. If things aren’t right, one way or another, then it’s a question of how badly I’ve gone wrong and how much time it takes to fix it. But I don’t think I’m sending anything out that’s so badly wrought that it’s irreparable. Even though this is my first actual novel, I have actually had many years of writing results-oriented materials.
What do you mean, ‘results-oriented materials’? I was an illustrator (with numerous clients, some well-known, such as National Lampoon) and a designer. As a designer I specialized in marketing materials, starting out with books for some of NYC’s larger publishers. After that, I did a lot of advertising & marketing work.
One thing I discovered was that I did not like working with mediocre copywriters. Another thing I discovered was that they were ALL mediocre. (At least the ones I encountered were – hopelessly so, in fact.) But I also found that they did not mind if I rewrote their work, so long as I did not show them up (i.e., claim credit). And I didn’t mind giving them credit they did not deserve, since it beat the alternative, which was to fight over it.
I learned that a lot of mediocre copy gets produced because of turf wars between the copy and art departments. I also saw that some of my best ideas came about while I was kerning or otherwise adjusting some piece of type, and with no one fighting me over copy I could simply make the best changes as I went along. Sometimes I made changes simply because a different word ‘looked’ better in a particular spot.
When I say ‘results-oriented’, I mean that the effectiveness of my design/writing was strictly measured in a way most writing is not. Much of the work I took on was aimed at ‘beating control’. Say the client was AAA (a client I actually did work for), and they had a certain product to sell. Let’s say it’s a branded credit card. Well, AAA’s been around a long time, and they’ve sold such cards before. So they would dig up their best-performing campaign, the numbers and sales materials and so on, and my job was to analyze the work and improve on it. And I often did, typically by 10% or more, which translates into big dollars for a large campaign.
I developed theories over time regarding the nature of writing and why certain things worked and other things did not. A large part of it involves the structure of the message rather than its actual content. What these theories add up to is that you could write a book about young wizards at a boarding school (and many have been), but only if it were properly structured would it become Harry Potter. It’s not magic, really – there are reasons for why some ideas catch on and others don’t, and they’re worth pursuing.
Although my marketing campaigns were consistently successful, I felt badly about my contribution to a world where results were so skewed toward clients who hired someone like me. My clients didn’t necessarily have a better product, just better marketing.
At the time, I was living in Hoboken, NJ, a town whose political corruption was so far-reaching that its mayor ran election campaigns with only token opposition. I wondered what would happen if someone ran against one of his machine slates with my help. Of course, only a desperate candidate would turn his/her message over entirely to me, which is what would have needed to happen for this experiment to be worth my while. But I knew this was a desperate situation. So, when a ‘reformer’ accepted my terms (a campaign at no charge, but using my message), I created my first political campaign.
It made a huge splash, but the candidate did not win. My next one did, though. So did the next and the next and so on. The corrupt mayor was unseated and ultimately went to jail.
Unfortunately, I learned first-hand that the main difference between the average ‘reformer’ and a corrupt pol is one of opportunity. When the people I got into office became as corrupt as the ones they replaced, I quit. Then I applied my theories to the service of a well-known educational institution, and a major scandal erupted there, as well.
I finally concluded that I since I couldn’t change the world, I could stop feeling an obligation to try. Then I took a few years to think about what (if anything) I ought to say about that. This became the idea for a book, and that is how The Patriots of Mars was conceived.
Once all of the above is completed, will you send Patriotson to a professional editor and have you selected that editor? I’m supposed to say ‘yes’ to that question, but the answer is ‘no’. It is true, for sure, that most ‘indie’ books would benefit from the thorough housecleaning a professional editor would provide. Most indie writers, compared with publisher-affiliated writers, are sloppy thinkers who write badly. This is true largely because established writers tend to be survivors who develop good, professional habits. An indie with such habits will almost certainly one day wind up having a relationship with some publisher, while an indie who does not will surely always be ‘independent’.
Still, even established writers have affiliations with editors, and presumably their work benefits. And I’ll freely admit that my own work, in affiliation with the ‘right’ editor, would be much-improved as well. So… why don’t I just hire one of the many very fine freelance editors out there? Here’s why: It does not matter to the bottom line. Of all the factors that go into an independent book’s success, the editor matters least. LEAST. Sorry, editors-at-large reading these words, but it’s true. More important by far for someone in my position is the quality of the ideas themselves, the quality of the writing, the relevance of the content to the marketplace, the cover (!!), and the book’s marketing. Don’t believe me? Ask Amanda Hocking, John Locke or Kerry Wilkerson. All were independently published, none of their books were touched by an editor’s pen. I have seen covers credited for helping a book find its market, but I have yet to see evidence that it was an editor who made the difference in an independent book’s viability.
Does this mean I will not engage an editor for the next book in the Patriots of Mars series? GOD, no. If there is another book, it’s only because this book does well. If this book does well, I want the next book to do better. That may or may not mean a relationship with a publisher. It definitely means hiring help with editing, proofreading and marketing, but those tasks will be performed in accordance with the methods and criteria I’m establishing in this first book.
I see an editor as a collaborator. I think the best ones see themselves that way as well. I think that kind of collaboration is hard to come by in a relationship between someone putting out their first book through sweat and determination and an editor who, frankly, has to juggle many egos and many ideas – not all of them to his/her liking. But if Patriots does well, I expect to find an editor who is already a Patriots fan. That’s who I want editing my books, but obviously that person does not exist today.
Besides that – and that is my primary reason – you have to realize I have worn many hats in my time. I have produced graphics AND writing, which is unusual enough in the ad biz. I have also overseen print production, handled research, overseen staff, etc. While I do not feel that editing one’s own work is ideal, it makes sense at this stage of the game, and there are certain tricks for making it work. Here’s a simple one: Reset the text in a radically different font and style. This will force a fresh look at the copy.
Do you write full-time or do you “owe your soul to de comp’ny sto”? This is my full-time gig now. If it fails, well, I’ll have to do something else. As Jo Rowling felt as she pushed Harry Potter out into the world, ‘failure was not an option’. It’s true – this is not a hobby for me, this is my life. I feel like the protagonist in Gattaca. Don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there is a memorable scene in which a dispute is settled by way of which of two brothers can swim furthest out to sea. The one who wins is the one who ‘left nothing for the return trip’.
About how many hours daily do you spend writing? Depends on the day. I put in a full day’s work, dawn to dusk, but some days are spent working on marketing. Other days I might just get a hundred words in, but they will be a key hundred words, and that’s OK.
From your blog, it is apparent that you have done extensive research for your novel. Do you prefer the research or the writing more and why? Doing the research, the possibilities are limitless. The writing narrows it down, but the joy there is having a completed product. But I must admit that doing the research offers many opportunities for semi-justifiable flights of fancy, so the research is more fun.
You are writing for what audience? Mostly lovers of sci-fi? Or will Patriots also interest readers of other genres and in what respect? It’s a YA audience. The book really skewers sci-fi convention, but on the other hand no sci-fi fanatic can resist a trip to Mars. I think, though, this is a parable for our times. Ultimately I want it to be seen that way, but Jo Rowling also thought Harry Potter was a book for adults, and the first one, at least, was clearly not. Ultimately, the fact is you have to do whatever you can for the book while it’s in your hands. Once you send it out, it belongs to the world, and they will tell you what it is. Whether you like it or not.
Which sci-fi authors do you admire and why? Michael Crichton. I like his approach. He would find some scientific discovery or other and just build a story on top of it. Harlan Ellison, for sheer nerve. Vonnegut for wit. And Asimov, Clarke as I mentioned before. But as Clarke once said, most sci-fi is not great literature. For that you go to Hemingway or, as I said, Melville. Folks like that.
You have an extensive blog about Patriots at Patriots of Mars in which you outline the evolution of sci-fi as well as your beliefs about today’s sci-fi and what it should and should not be. Can you briefly describe what you believe the sci-fi novel of today should and should not be? It should not be its own closed little world (but it is). It should seize the opportunity to be more allegorical and speak to the actual world around us (but it does not). Instead, what sci-fi does is compete with itself. If you have warp drive I have mega-warp drive. If you have green aliens I have green aliens with feathers. It makes these worlds absurd and opens them up quite nicely for parody. (Check out Galaxy Quest sometime.)
What is the basic premise of Patriots? You will find the basic premise on my Facebook page. Here’s the link: The Patriots of Mars (Summary). But, just to give you a taste, here’s how the Summary starts out: “The good news: In 2231, twenty-five billion people walk the Earth. Most of them have basic food and shelter, and a few have much, much more. Among them are the SuperOld, who believe the promise of immortality will soon be within reach. Energy is cheap and abundant, most who are willing to work can find it, and a vast army of ‘bots serves man’s needs.” You’ll find “The bad news” (and a lot more) when you follow the link!
In one of your posts from 2011, you wrote: “…But lurking beneath the surface of the human condition, readily round but little-recognized are the seeds of our true destiny. There are new, unexplored issues lurking, growing, waiting to emerge. That’s what interests me, and what moved me to write this book.” Since that writing has your original motivation changed? If so, how and why? No, that feeling has not changed. If anything, it’s intensified. Although this book is pretty much wrapped up in terms of where it’s headed, I am exploring a vast sea of issues for the remaining books. What this first book allows me to tap into, for future installments, seems at this time to be pretty unlimited.
Is there another genre you’d like to try and what attracts you about that genre? To be honest, a parody of sci-fi would be really appealing. Having done sci-fi now I can really appreciate the many ways of taking it all down and having quite a bit of fun doing it….
If you could pick another sci-fi author’s character and use him or her as a character in a novel, who would that be and in what type of setting would you write about him or her? I suppose Darth Vader would be both interesting and popular. But then again they’ve figured that out over there in Lucasville. There are a ton of Vader books beginning to show up. Of course, what was never really explored in the films was Vader’s conflicting, Hamlet-like character. (Until he tossed the Emperor into that abyss, anyway, his conflicts never showed. Boy, that Death Star sure had a lot of handy abysses.)
After your book is published, you poll your readers and ask them to list five words that best describe it. What top five words do they list? I guess you’re asking ‘if I did that’, not saying that’s what I do. In which case, they should ideally say things like ‘unique’, ‘fast-paced’, ‘riveting’, ‘surprising’ and some reference to their favorite author. (One fellow said ‘Heinlein’, another said ‘Vonnegut’, so something like that. Doesn’t mean I write as well as Heinlein, just means the reader feels about me a certain way. Which is a great compliment.)
Your book covers are complete and they’re very attractive! Did you know all along what you wanted your covers to look like and how did you go about finding a cover artist who could fulfill your wishes? I created my own covers, and I did them with an eye towards practicality: They will read well at the postage-stamp size at which the average Amazon reader will first encounter them. However, I have some ideas for illustrations I would like to see done, and used on the blog, even though I do not need them for the book. I have searched in many placed for illustrators, but I suspect the way I will find this one will be via DeviantArt. Most of them are up-and-coming and willing to work with you. The best ones outside of that, I’ve found, tend to be tied up in their business with existing clients. As a ‘former’ graphic designer, I’m fussy about what kind of art represents me. Also – IF the book does well – it will be a graphic novel at some point. The material really lends itself to that.
Are you a dog person or cat person and what kind of canine or feline assistance with your writing do you receive, if any? These days I have an aging white cat sitting on my lap. Makes me feel rather like a Bond villain with his best days behind him. She does walk back and forth over my keyboard, though I am not sure how much of a help that is. Cats are fine, and little trouble. Dogs are a lot more trouble, require more room, but will love you to death. There’s nothing in this world quite like a dog for undying love.
You’re admitted to heaven and you decide to throw a dinner party to celebrate your arrival. What five people (alive or dead) are on your guest list? Lincoln, Jesus, Ghandi, Einstein and Hitler. I wanna see how Hitler does.
The E-Pub PUB thanks Jeff for a fascinating interview and we look forward to the release date for “The Patriots of Mars.” (Someday, we’d also like to hear how it goes with Hitler.)
Join us next week for our interview with author Tony Slater!