Jeff Savage, aka J. Scott Savage (he had to adjust his pen name because there was already an author with his same name), has always reminded me of Steven King. Without glasses in this picture.
Sure, there’s kind of a physical resemblance, but it’s more than that. I think it’s his work ethic. He’s a writer through and through, and his writer’s brain never really clicks off. Why just last week, he had a flash of inspiration for a new YA novel and he got right to work on it. This, even though he’s already working to finish the FARWORLD fantasy series for Shadow Mountain Press, diving deeper into his new CASE FILE 13 middle grade series for HarperCollins, AND getting set for his first adult horror novel to release in January.
Yes, this is a mind that’s always churning. And the best part is . . . he’s so willing and ready to share that mind and his time with his fellow writers (even if it’s only to get them into a midnight showing of “The Avengers” on the eve of a writers conference). :D
Seriously, no one can say Jeff’s opinion on anything to do with writing or getting published doesn’t matter. But was he always that way? Let’s find out!
ME: When you were a kid, were you as gross as some of these boys you write about? I mean, little fingers falling off into a bowl of mashed potatoes? DISGUSTING! Seriously, what was the grossest thing you ever did?
JEFF: Is there any little kid that isn’t disgusting? I definitely was. We did things that made my mom crazy. Like the time I was starting first grade and my parents took us to see the school. They turned around and my little brother and I had picked up cigarette butts off the ground and were walking around with them between our lips. (Okay, move over James Dean…here’s a true rebel without a cause.)
Or the time we found a dead parakeet and decided to give it a burial. (Nice, right?) (So far…)
Then we thought how cool it would be to see what the bird looked like after being buried for a few days. So we tied a string around its neck before burying it. We pulled the string after a week and the noose came up with no bird attached. (Not quite so nice.)
(True, but a whole lot better than I thought you were going for . . . Still, I can see where the whole zombie middle grade series had its start.)
ME: So in CASE FILE 13: ZOMBIE KID, why did you make Angelo wear glasses if Nick was most like you? Do you have issues with glasses or something? I mean, come on . . . Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, some seriously cool people (including me) wear glasses!
JEFF: Okay, so funny you should ask. I not only wore the thick, black nerd glasses that for some reason I can’t fathom are cool now, I got an eye patch to go with them. It wasn’t even the cool pirate eye patch either. Part of the reason I gave Angelo glasses was because he is the brains of the group. He always has his head in a book. And as a person who wears glasses, aren’t we just a little bit smarter than everyone else? :D (Okay, I won’t argue with that.)
ME: Which of all your books was your mom most proud of and why? Also, which parent had the greatest influence on your writing?
JEFF: My mom loved everything I wrote. After she passed away, I discovered poems and stories I couldn’t even remember writing. In fact, I was reading chapters from my latest WIP to her the day before she died. One of the hardest things for me about having her gone is not being able to share my stores with her. She was a great editor and my biggest cheerleader. (And I’m sure she still is.)
I think I’m a pretty even mix between my mom and dad when it comes to writing. Both of them loved to laugh, and nothing makes me happier than making someone laugh. My mom was very creative, and my dad was very adventurous, which led to some pretty funny stories, like the time he bought her a live monkey as a present and it turned out to be completely wild. (My husband LOVES monkeys, but I’m not as adventurous as your dad.)
ME: Of all the parts of the writing process–idea germination, outlining (if you do that sort of thing), research, drafting, revision, and editing–which is your favorite and why?
JEFF: I typically brainstorm enough to know the beginning and ending of my stories. Of course the ending might be as simple as they end up in the realm of the Zombie King and have to destroy him. Then I leap straight into writing. As I move through the story, I begin researching things that flesh out where the story goes. For example, when I learned about voodoo charms called gris-gris, I wove those into the story of the zombie amulet. When I researched zombies, I discovered bokors. My two favorite times are the very beginning when the story is fresh and somewhat unknown, and the end where it’s all about creating the exciting climax and you can’t type fast enough. (Yes! Now excuse me for a second while I look up a couple of new words.)
ME: How many different projects are currently in process, what are they, and how on earth do you keep so many going concurrently? I thought women were the only ones who could multi-task. Give it up . . . are you a woman? (I must have a picture of you trying to display ALL your books . . . hope your hands are big enough. Of course, that would prove you’re not a woman.)
JEFF: Well, I am pretty fond of Bed, Bath, and Beyond, so . . .
I think I was born to multitask. Right at this moment, I am answering these questions, checking in with my FARWORLD publisher, hiring an artist to do some website work, and scheduling lunch with my daughter. (“Father of the year” material, too!) That’s just the way my mind works.
Writing is the same way for me. I am finishing book three in the Harper series, writing different POV chapters in the fourth FARWORLD book, and brainstorming YA ideas with my agent. When my wife asks me what I am thinking about, it can take twenty minutes to tell her everything. She’s learned not to ask. :D
(Hmm . . . no picture. I guess we’ll have to take his wife’s word for it.)
ME: What was the best “fishing” story you told back when you were fourteen (and had the brain of someone whose hero would be called Captain Weenie)? I don’t believe you can’t remember a single one. If you can’t, make up one now . . . please.
JEFF: People ask me all the time when I knew I wanted to be an author. And the truth is, not until I was probably in my thirties. But looking back, I realize I was always telling stories. My cousins and I loved fishing. So when the fish weren’t biting, I made up stories. Captain Weenie was the hero and he was always trying to catch his arch rival, The Little Purple Man. Again, being a boy, there was always a river full of piranhas or alligators, a waterfall that dropped into spinning razor blades, and a great deal of potty humor.
ME: What was the name of your underground paper that you published in high school and what was the most scandalous story you attempted to print? Did you ever get in trouble for it?
JEFF: It was called Asylum. We never really got in trouble. Most of our stories were satire on local school events. You know, like significant testing has proven that the new chain link fences around the school will not withstand a nuclear attack, Pervert club has most student signups, that kind of thing. We actually were interviewed by the school newspaper in a K-Mart cafeteria. Good times!
ME: On a more serious note, please describe your writing space in the voice of one of your favorite characters (your choice). Also, please send a picture that I can post.
JEFF: Well, since Nick, Angelo, and Carter were there most recently, I’ll let them tell you.
“Dude, he’s got like a gazillion books in here,” Carter said, picking up a box of Cheez-Its and shaking the package to see if there were any left.
Nick examined the room. What little of the walls which were visible behind the many bookcases was painted a deep sky blue. Dragons, swords, and a variety of antique cameras covered most of the open space, and a map was tacked to a large bulletin board. He stood on his tiptoes to peek inside a miniature red restaurant called the Burger Barn. “I think this is from his first Farworld book.”
Angelo was busy flipping through the nonfiction books which ranged from an encyclopedia of Demons, to a book about body snatchers, to a thick treatise on Haitian voodoo. “I admire his reading material. But I don’t think I’d want to be a guest in his house over the holidays.”
“Are you kidding?” Carter asked, plopping into a plush leather recliner that looked like it got a lot of use. He dumped a dozen crackers into his mouth and popped open a cold diet Coke. “I feel right at home.”
(And so do we. Thanks!)
ME: What are some of the biggest differences between working with a big publisher like HarperCollins and a smaller LDS publisher like Covenant or Shadow Mountain, and what was the most embarrassing thing you did that revealed one of those differences to you?
JEFF: Mostly it’s about resources and time allocation. A smaller publisher may have a single editor working on fifty projects per quarter. While a big six editor might work on twenty to twenty-five per year. You just can’t put as much time into a book that might sell 3,000 copies as one that sells 30,000.
Another issue is contracts. Big six publishers working with experienced agents aren’t generally going to throw anything too egregious in their contracts. Smaller publishers are a lot more afraid of losing an author, so they often have more clauses you have to watch out for.
Then there’s marketing. Brandon Mull said it best: “A small publisher can do nothing for you, and a big publisher can do nothing for you. A small publisher can do a lot for you, and a big publisher can do a lot. The difference is that when a big publisher decides to do a lot, there’s more they can do.”
Covenant is my smallest, Harper is the biggest, and Shadow Mountain is in between. All of them have done things I loved, and all of them have done things I didn’t love as much. But all my editors have been amazing.
(Spoken like a true diplomat. And notice he didn’t own up to anything embarrassing? President Obama, I present your next Secretary of State!)
ME: Finally, where do you see Publishing as an industry five years from now? Any changes and, if so, what?
JEFF: No question there will be changes. People think e-books are the biggest change to hit publishing. But paperbacks were at least as big of a shakeup at the time. I believe some of the biggest changes are going to come in the way we find and access our books. More tools to let you enter the books you like and get suggestions on what you might like. More tools to let you share your thoughts with friends. That kind of thing. And technology will give you more options with how and where you read. (I’m visualizing a built-in iPad in the bathroom wall, 2-3 times the regular size. Now he’s even got me doing potty humor!)
Where I differ from some people is that I don’t expect publishers to go away. They are more adaptable than many people think. And a good publisher does so much more than just designing a cover and doing edits. With my CASE FILE 13 series, we went through probably a dozen series titles, looking for one that fit what we felt set the stories apart. The artwork, from the cover to the chapter pictures (which change as the book progresses), to the custom chapter fonts, to the little zombie horde on the bottom of the pages. My editor and I really worked on every aspect of the story from the narrator intro, to the future characters, to the POV for this and future books.
The basic story is the same. But the level of professionalism increased unbelievably. I would be devastated if that all went away. Of course, not all publishers provide these kinds of services, and many people do create great stories without a publisher. But I don’t see publishers disappearing.
(Nor do I.)
If you want to learn more about Jeff and his work, check out his blog. He also has links there to purchase sites for his books.
And what about you? Where do you see Publishing in five years?
I’m taking the day after Christmas off, but don’t miss my next interview with Daron Fraley on Wednesday, January 2nd!
Originally posted 2012-12-19 06:00:10.