Jeff and I “met” on Twitter and I instantly became indebted to him when he tweeted about the Big Metal Chicken. Since that tweet, pretty much everything else Jeff has ever written has had me rolling with laughter. Except his books. His books didn’t have me laughing hysterically, but had me engrossed in the world he created. That’s why he is a nationally renowned bestselling author. My favorite is Liquid Smoke, featuring Noah Braddock. But everything he writes is great. In February, his book, Thread of Hope was the most downloaded free ebook on Amazon. Not just for mysteries. It was #1 out of all downloaded books. Woot!
1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?
Uh, well I’d like to…but I don’t have one. I fit it in around the rest of my life as a high school teacher and basketball coach and father of an eight year old girl. I’m terribly undisciplined. I write when I can, but I do try to do at least a bit every day. Usually ends up being at night. My routine is to sit on my couch with a Diet Pepsi and see what happens. If that doesn’t work, I talk to my daughter and my cat and see if they have any ideas. Fortunately, they usually do.
2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?
If you want to get paid to write, writer’s block can’t exist. Because it will also serve as mortgage block, phone bill block, food block and bar tab block. I like being able to pay those things, especially the last one, so I will write even if what I end up writing is crap. I can always go back and delete. But I force myself to do it. I firmly believe – and this always pisses people off – that writer’s block only happens to people who don’t want to write for a living. They love the romantic idea of being a writer, but they don’t want to deal with the realities. The realities are that it can be hard and frustrating and about as unromantic as dirty feet. Real working writers don’t get writer’s block. Because they don’t ever stop writing.
3. Who do you read, or recommend other writers read, in regards to craft?
I think Owen mentioned this a couple of weeks ago when you talked to him, but Stephen King’s On Writing is the best book I’ve ever read on craft. But I usually tell people to read the authors who have successfully written what they’d like to write. For me, I studied Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane and a bunch of other private eye writers. I read them critically to see how they pushed a story forward, how they developed characters, how they avoided doing anything repetitious. Those books are my craft books.
4. Who do you read for fun?
List of books I’ve read recently: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, Set in Stone by Beth Balmanno, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Have you heard of this one? Tiny little book that I think might be a hit), Savages by Don Winslow, Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger. All of them were fantastic and your life won’t be complete until you read them all.
5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.
In second grade, I wrote a story about Snoopy playing tennis at Wimbledon. In junior high, I wrote what I call Male Teenage Romances about boys saving girls who then fell madly in love with them. When I got out of college (finally), I started messing around with mysteries. So I’m not sure I can pinpoint when – because let’s be honest – no one ever says “Hey, you should be a writer.” They tell you to go to law school or become a doctor or just do something to pay off those student loans. I have always wanted to write, but didn’t really think about being able to earn a living while doing it. I got serious about it in the late 90’s by joining a writer’s group when I lived in Colorado and started to think I could actually do it. Sold my first book in 2003 and starting wallpapering my homes with hundred dollar bills shortly thereafter.
6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Read. Write. Be nice to everyone. Buy wine. And always push the story forward on every page. But seriously – buy LOTS of wine.
7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?
I think it’s incredibly important to be able to bash your head into a desk repeatedly without causing permanent damage. Because there are days where you will hate what you write, where it feels like you are the worst writer in the history of writers, where it feels as if you have nothing to say and you will then bash your head into the desk. Those of us that learn how to do it without causing permanent damage live to write the next day and realize it’s never that bad and that it’s actually kinda fun. (I should maybe add “buy a helmet” to #6.)
8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?
Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t eat vegetables. Or fruit. So this isn’t gonna be a fancy list. I love hamburgers and sandwiches and pizza and steak and lasagna and chocolate and cheese and cheesecake and ribs. There is also a cream of jalapeno soup that a place called The Rockyard in Castle Rock, Colorado makes that I would probably knock you over to get to. As far as drinks go, if I’m teaching, then it’s Diet Pepsi. If I’m not, then it’s Jim Beam and Pepsi. (Pepsi is better than Coke and I don’t wanna hear another word about it.) I am also partial to beer. And red wine. And flavored vodkas.
9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?
Favorite book: I have two. Lois Duncan’s Stranger With My Face – a YA paranormal/mystery that I read as a kid and more than any other book, probably made me want to write mysteries. The other is Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. A better book with a male protagonist and voice has yet to be written.
Favorite movie: I have seen Chariots of Fire about thirty times. My dad and I went and saw it four times in the theater when it was released in 1981 – I was 11 – and it just struck some chord in me. The music still gives me goosebumps and the races are still as exciting the first time I watched the movie.
10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?
I can juggle. I once stepped on Wilt Chamberlain’s feet. I was a friggin’ snowflake in the Holidazzle. I’ve never had a Big Hunk.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff, the Big Hunk is in the mail!
Jeff Shelby is the national bestselling author of the Noah Braddock books (Killer Swell, Wicked Break and Liquid Smoke), a series that has been compared to the works of Robert Crais and Robert B. Parker. He is also the author of the standalone thriller Thread of Hope and the humorous cozy mystery, Stay At Home Dead, written under the pen name Jeffrey Allen. A graduate of the University of California, Irvine, he teaches high school English and coaches high school basketball in the suburbs of Dallas, where he lives with his daughter. You can find him on the web at www.jeffshelby.com. You can find him on Twitter @jeffshelby. And you can find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JeffShelbyBooks
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