Stuart is the author of many short stories and paranormal series. These include The Max Porter Paranormal Mysteries, its prequel, the Marshall Drummond Case Files, The Malja Chronicles, the Nathan K books, the Gillian Boone series, The Parallel Society, (where I am now), several stand-alones, and a few collections of short stories, including The Bluesman, which is high on my list.
Why I really wanted to have you in as a guest, Stuart, is your answer to when people ask you where you get your ideas, you said the problem for writers is too many ideas. Boy, can I relate! How do you sift through and decide which to write about, and which can be incorporated into any given piece of work?
I wish I could tell you that there’s some easy trick or magic spell that would do the work for you, but the truth is that all writers have to go through a process of trial and error. Over the years, you develop a sense of which ideas will work in a series. Some of it is obvious. For example, I can easily go down a rabbit hole of wondering what it would like for Nathan K to battle a dragon, but I know that idea is never going to work because Nathan K takes place in our real world — mostly. There’s the “magic” of his immortality, but it’s not a world of dragons, fairies, and elves. When you get rid of the bad ideas, the fun but absurd ideas, and the ones that won’t work because of the way you set up a series or story, then you are still left with a large pile of ideas that are all good, appropriate, and usable. At that point, you have to go with what excites you. I always figure that if I’m excited, my readers will be, too. If I’m bored, they will be, too. Really, it’s that simple and that complicated.
Do you find yourself putting more than one start together, ideas that were to be separate stories, or do you more find yourself saving ideas that you edit out of stories in the works?
I play mix-n-match all the time. For a novel-length work, rarely will one idea be enough to satisfy. Besides, blending multiple ideas creates an alchemy of wonderfulness. A single idea — dragons — is fine. But mix it with something different — dragons who are also detectives — and suddenly you have an idea that might be interesting. Mix it with something else again — dragons who are also detectives who live and work within the human world — and now we’re getting somewhere. That somewhere also happens to be my short story “The Three-Fingers Case.” Ha! I know many writers do this to some degree or another, and I suspect we all do. In fact, if you take any novel you’ve loved from any genre, you would be hard-pressed to find one that is only a single idea. There will be a core idea, of course, but by the nature of a novel, the depth required to propel a story through all those words, you’re going to need more than a single idea.
You also have a how-to for writers, “How to Write Magical Words”. What prompted you to put this together?
Many years back, I was part of a writing blog called Magical Words. Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, and Misty Massey started it, and later brought onboard A.J. Hartley, Edmund Schubert, and myself. We each wrote on the craft and business of writing, and we also answered questions from our readers. This blog lasted for several years and was moderately successful. Enough so that we published a book through BellaRosa Books highlighting the best posts and some of the interesting comments and discussions. This all pre-dated the rise of ebooks and indie publishing, so much of the business advice is outdated. However, the craft side of things is always relevant and might just help the budding writer find their way. Side note: I’m not plugging this book to make a buck. In fact, with so many contributors and the publisher, I think I only made a few cents per sale anyway back during its main run. But nowadays, I make nothing. Nada. Not a single cent. So, if you can find the book (I’m not sure if it’s even in print anymore), read the creative side of it and I hope it helps.
I see on your site that you generally have many speaking engagements that have had to be canceled, (this being during the time of Covid 19). Where do you generally speak? Do you speak about writing, your books? What is your target audience? Since you must really enjoy public speaking, how hard has it been on you to suddenly have to stop these engagements?
Mostly, I speak on panels at conventions. The SF/F genre conventions have grown enormously over the last decade and became an excellent source of revenue and new fans. It also is where I would get to hang with my fellow writers, many of whom have become like family. On top of all of that, I’ve been part of great business opportunities because I happen to be sitting in the hotel bar with writers and publishers as an idea for an anthology or some other project is birthed. Due to COVID-19, all of that has been shut down. The loss of not being at convention mentally and financially is big. Cons are also a great ego boost (and we writers can be really hard on ourselves, so it’s important). For a weekend, I get to play at being a minor celebrity. People want my autograph and gush on how much they loved my books, and it’s all a lot of fun. Of course, on Sunday night, I’m back home and nobody cares who I am anymore, but for that weekend, it’s a reminder that there are people on the other end of the writing process who love what I do. Every writer I know is itching to get back together and get in front of new readers and longtime fans. Plus, I’ve got about 200 paperbacks in my office which should have been sold by now but instead are simply taking up space!
As for speaking itself — at conventions, I do everything from talk on the creative and business side of things to participating in the fan panels where we discuss every aspect of our favorite shows. The panels I love the most, however, are the Iron Author panels where a group of writers create stories in real-time based an audience prompts. It can be funny, touching, and is always a good time.
I also have had the opportunity to speak in schools and universities at every grade level, and that’s always a blast. Students eager to learn how to be better writers, how to become a professional, or any aspect of this crazy life I live make for a challenging and fascinating time.
The Parallel Society is in Philadelphia, the Bluesman is set in the South. I know that you now live in North Carolina. Are the other places where you have lived? How do you do your research on places, if not?
First off, the Max Porter/Marshall Drummond books are set in North Carolina. That’s important because they take real history of that area and mix it with ghosts, witches, and curses. I was raised in the North and when I moved to Winston-Salem, NC, I wanted to learn about where I found myself living. Those discoveries led to the creation of Max Porter. It’s by no accident that Max is from Michigan (another state I’ve lived in) and moved to Winston-Salem!
Olburg — the town Roni lives in from The Parallel Society — is fictitious but based on real towns I lived in when I went to West Chester University on the outskirts of Philadelphia. And the Bluesman is in the South because … blues. I play guitar. I love the blues. And that’s how that one happened.
When I’m working in a location I don’t know well — the Nathan K books go all over the world, for example — then I rely on research. One of the best tools is Google Maps. Being able to get to the street level of a town in Ireland while I’m sitting in North Carolina, being able to see what the buildings look like, the terrain, the people, the signage and everything like that is invaluable. YouTube is also a great resource because you can hear the sounds of an area, hear their voices, their music, the way their car horns beep — all of it. The most difficult sense to experience without being there is, of course, smell. But if you dig deep enough on the internet, you can find people who will describe that for you, too. Put it all together, and you can create a location you’ve never been to with a surprising sense of reality. It’s not perfect, of course. If I could, I would travel to every location I write about. But this is the best alternative I’ve come up with.
Speaking of North Carolina, you and your family have a farm there. How did that come to be? A few of us here are now in rural areas. Tell us a bit about your NC move and life there.
After living in Winston-Salem for over a decade, we had an opportunity to grab a 10+ acre hobby farm. My wife always wanted one, prices were low at the time (real estate market had yet to fully recover from the bubble burst), and I can write from anywhere, so who am I to tell her no? So, we bought it. We’ve been in this small NC town for almost another decade now, and life is nice out here. Not as quiet as you might expect — not only because of the wildlife but plenty of neighbors take full advantage of the space and have set up firing ranges to practice shooting. Plus, everyone has a dog (including us), and some days they all decide to have a group barking session that covers a few miles. Still, on a daily basis, life is mostly quiet and peaceful out here.
When it comes to the paranormal, do you delve more into hitherto unexplored areas or do you use ‘conventional wisdom’ to help the stories along? Do you tend to use different interpretations to change people’s ideas about forces/creatures/spirits, or do you keep some general knowledge perpetuated?
I suppose it’s a mixture. The Max Porter stories stick firmly in the world of ghosts and witchcraft and such. There’s an intentional element of reality brought into this series with the hope that the reader will never be 100% sure what is true history of North Carolina and what is from my imagination. At least, until the end. I put an Afterword in each Max Porter book to address the real from the fictitious historical elements. Some of the ‘rules’ of ghosts are commonly held beliefs — such as putting up a salt barrier that a ghost can’t cross — and some of the ‘rules’ are things I’ve made up — such as The Other, a place ghosts trapped in our world can go to and escape humans for a while. Same holds true for witchcraft and the stranger mystical arts my characters come across. Ultimately, I’m interest in serving the story, and that’s what I aim to do.
The Gillian Boone books are about a teen who had no idea that she was special sense, then suddenly, a great deal of supernatural phenomena ensues. What inspired you to write a YA series?
I did and I didn’t write a YA series. What I set out to do was write this story that happened to feature a teenage girl as the protagonist. In the modern world, that means it’s YA. So, that’s what it is. But I was simply playing with the story idea of a girl with a secret message etched into her soul. As for where the idea itself came from … well, it’s never one idea, is it? I had bits and pieces floating around in my head, and one day these various parts bumped into each other, realized they worked great together, and demanded I write a story about them. Why at that moment? What prompted those pieces to find each other? If I ever knew, I don’t recall.
How did your interest in The Blues come about?
When I was fifteen, I started teaching myself to play guitar. Around that same time, I first heard about the famous bluesman Robert Johnson. Not knowing what I was getting into (and long before CDs or the functional internet), I bought a record of his music and that sent me down a rabbit hole that I’ve never entirely emerged from.
How much does music play a part in your life?
Music is a great part of my life. I play lead guitar with The Bootleggers, a blues/classic rock band. So, every week I’ve got rehearsals, and back before COVID-19 hit, we’d gig once or twice a month. Music is always there. Oddly, though, I can’t write with music playing — or any noise, for that matter.
Please let everyone know how they can learn more about you and your work;
Twitter: @StuartJaffe (I only check my twitter feed about once a month)
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Stuart-Jaffe/e/B0056QA152
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