The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Jeff Rivera, author of Forever My Lady, published by Grand Central Publishing. He's currently working on the sequel for Forever My Lady and he's also working on a YA. And, he told me he considers himself a workaholic. "I work constantly. I only sleep about 4-5 hours a day with a nap in the middle of the day and that's my life."
I asked Jeff what got him interested in writing.
"You know," he said, "It's something I did as soon as I could pick up a pen. I remember doing it as early as first grade. It was probably something I inherited from my mother who is also very creative or from my grandfather who was a college professor and author."
Jeff's been writing since he was in the first grade, using it as a way to express himself. "We were very, very poor, living in American poverty at the time so we as kids were forced to be creative since we didn't have a lot of toys during that time," he told me. "I look back with pride at that time because my mom always did the best she could and encouraged our creativity. I feel very blessed to have had more than many rich kids had in terms of creativity; in that way, we were very wealthy."
Jeff never suffers from writer's block but is a self-confessed "recovering procrastinator-addict." He deals with it by making small goals he knows he can achieve; for example, writing just one page between 8:30 and 9:30 and knowing the writing doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be finished.
I asked Jeff, "What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?"
"I think characters that have a life of their own, that have a great characterization on top of that," he replied. "A story that is an emotional roller coaster that leads you in one direction then bams you over the head with another direction you never saw coming."
His favorite author, Nicholas Sparks, embodies what Jeff strives for in his own writing. "I like how he changes his writing voice for every piece he writes, and how he writes emotional roller coasters."
Jeff bases his characters on real people or a combination of real people. He takes that as the beginning, but the characters often veer off from there. "My plots go back to the Syd Field concepts," he told me, "and begin from there. Sometimes we forget that every element of a great story has very basic plot devices and it's easy to forget those sometimes."
Normally Jeff comes up with the concept and works on the plot first, but the characters often appear not long afterward. "Everyone has their own process," he explains, "and neither of them is wrong."
On a more personal note, I asked Jeff if he "really, really wanted a dog."
"Yes, sometimes I really do," he said. "I do clean up messes; though, I'd rather 'hire' people to do that." He laughed. "But one thing about a dog is it's there for you always, loves you unconditionally, whether you feed it or not (though I hope that you do). All it asks is a few minutes of your time and you get so much more back."
Like most of us, Jeff doesn't like how he looks in pictures. "My godmother tells me when she thinks I look fat in them or how I have to be photographed in a certain way etc. But as I'm getting older, I'm not caring as much."
Jeff doesn't think he has any weird handwriting habits, but admits that other people might consider his handwriting strange "because they cannot read it! I really should take a penmenship class. Anyone know of a good one?" he asked me. He does have a strange lifestyle habit that he admits isn't a good one to have. "One of my strangest habits is not eating at all. I might eat one meal throughout the whole day when I'm on a deadline."
"Jeff, you can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?"
"There's little I would erase from the past because it's made me who I am," he told me. "However, if I could take all the knowledge and wisdom I have today and go back in time I would do certain things differently, certain people I would have stayed away from who turned out not to be good friends. I would have spent more time with my immediate family and enjoyed life instead of being driven to come up with a scheme to get us out of poverty. I would have lived life now. That's all we have and that's all that really matters."
I asked Jeff if he'd ever eaten a crayon. "Yes," he admitted. "I have eaten just a little bit of crayon. I have also been known to be a connoisseur of paper and paste as a child." Even those don't meet the criteria for the label of the strangest thing he's ever eaten. That honor is held by a fish eye ball.
"Gross!" he exclaimed. "My stepfather is Filipino and he eats those sort of things. Ick! They say it tastes the same but just the thought of it ..."
Finally, I asked Jeff what advice he would give to a new writer just starting out.
"Keep writing, be the best," he said. "Many are obsessed with landing an agent when they should be obsessed with being the best writer they can be. I remember reading a seasoned writer say that very thing when I was younger and I thought he was crazy but now I know he's right."
You can keep up with Jeff on his website, http://www.jeffrivera.com