Author: Jeff Sweat
Pub. Date: May 8, 2018
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Jemma has spent her life scavenging tools and supplies for her tribe in the their small enclave outside what used to be a big city. Now she’s a teen, and old enough to become a Mama. Making babies is how her people survive—in Jemma’s world, life ends at age seventeen.
Survival has eclipsed love ever since the Parents died of a mysterious plague. But Jemma’s connection to a boy named Apple is stronger than her duty as a Mama. Forced to leave, Jemma and Apple are joined in exile by a mysterious boy who claims to know what is causing them to die. The world is crumbling around them, and their time is running out. Is this truly the End?
1. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
The first job I ever wanted was to be a street sweeper, the guy who drives the machine that cleans up after the horses in the 4th of July parades. Thank goodness that didn’t last. But I’ve wanted to be a writer even before I knew it could be a career.
I couldn’t read or write well as a kid—I had three kindergarten teachers, and I think I fell through the cracks. Something clicked in the first grade, and I started to love to put words on paper. I wrote my first story in the shape of a cake mixer…and that was it.
2. How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
Like any other deadline, I find it takes almost exactly as much time to write a book as I think I have to finish it. The first draft of Mayfly took exactly a year, on a self-imposed deadline. The sequel to Mayfly has been in the works for a couple of years—but that’s mostly because I’ve taken a break to work on rewrites of the first book!
3. How do you come up with themes for your stories?
It always starts curiosity and a “what if.” For Mayfly, I realized I’ve always been obsessed with the end of the world. I grew up in the 80s in the Cold War, and it wasn’t a question if the world would end, but when. As a reader and an author, I started looking for fascinating whys—why the world would end.
Then I read a study that said that humanity had two major population booms: when we developed agriculture, and when we became old enough to have grandparents, at about age 30. Having “old” people around meant a memory to find food and water and avoid danger. It meant calmer heads to avoid war. So I asked myself: what would happen to the world if no one ever got old? We might survive, but civilization as we know it would cease to exist. And I knew that was the story I had to write.
4. Do you have a schedule of when you write?
I try to write every day, but other than that I haven’t been able to set a specific time. My favorite time to write is after dinner, right before I walk the dog.
5. How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
With a really up-to-date calendar and a near-constant dose of adrenaline. I wrote the first draft of Mayfly with a more-than-full-time job and a young family. The only time I could write was late at night after I put the kids to bed, so I started to write standing up so I didn’t fall asleep.
6. What elements do you think make a great story line?
It starts with the thing your protagonist wants, and the things that will keep her from getting it. Then you add in things that surprise your readers and keep them on their toes.
7. What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
Starting it. I hear so many writers who tell me they have an idea for a book, but it never leaves their heads. I had the idea for Mayfly at least five years before I began writing it, and it kept on building in my head until finally I thought, “What else are you waiting for?” I signed up for a fiction writing class at UCLA so I’d have a deadline, and haven’t looked back.
8. Do you have a favorite character?
My characters tend to be kids that, however flawed, I would have liked to have known when I was a teen, that I’d be proud to have as a kid of my own. But I think I like Pico the best—he doesn’t fit into this world of his, he knows it, and he simply doesn’t care. My favorite character in all books is Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
9. Where do you write?
In my home office mostly, but I spend a lot of time writing on my back deck, in libraries and bars. The key is that I can’t know the Wifi password. Once, in England, I wrote sitting at the foot of a lighthouse!
My office looks like my wife’s and my worlds thrown together, in a shade of pink that neither of us like. My half has an unplayed guitar, several yo-yos, and a rack of my black-framed glasses, which I buy in bulk from China. My wife’s half is full of knitting projects and design books, and her half always overtakes the other.
10. When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
I wanted a publisher who would be enthusiastic about my book, which I found! As I looked for agents, I found that personal relations really matter—I queried a number of them, but the only ones who gave it a serious look were the ones referred to me by friends. My agent, Cheryl Pientka, was the agent of one of my best friends, Vanessa McGrady. Cheryl was busy, but Vanessa almost insisted that she read it!
11. What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
(Trying to remember a world outside of writing) I love basketball, skiing, and carpentry. I thought carpentry might be my day job at one point—until someone shot me in my head with a
12. What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
Write every day—not just because of creating good habits, but because when you write every day, the story never leaves you. Then new characters and plots emerge when you walk the dog, when you take a shower, when you’re thinking of nothing. Creativity tends to live along the margins, and you have to give it an opportunity to emerge.
13. What is your favorite book? favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
I read anything I could get my hands on, from comic books to junk novels to slightly less junky novels. The ones that had an impact on me were the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, S is for Space by Ray Bradbury, and The Daybreakers by Louis L’Amour. My current favorite book is probably Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. My writing’s been heavily influenced by the three Rays: Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, and Ray Bradbury.
14. Do you have any go to people when writing a book that help you with your story lines as well as editing, beta reading and such?
I have a pretty large network of beta readers, and I’m always looking for more. But the people I rely on the most are my wife, Sunny—who’s not a writer but really gets plot and story—and my incredibly talented writer’s group. They workshopped the entire first draft of Mayfly, which was such a gift!
15. Are you working on anything now?
There’s a whole world left in Mayfly, so I’ll be going there first. After that, I have a contemporary YA book based on my experience moving to New York for college, a couple of screenplays, and a sci-fi series that asks, “What if Europeans never came to America?”
16. Tell us 5 things that make you smile
· Views of the LA skyline
· Travel to other countries
· Indian food
· My family
· My one-eyed cat, Cleo
17. Tell us 5 things that make you sad
· My kids, arguing
· Lines for brunch
· The current political climate
· Thinking about the things that make me sad
18. If you could travel anywhere in the world to visit a place so you could use it as a background for a book, where would it be?
Ireland. Last summer, my family and I moved to the United Kingdom for a month. We lived in a lighthouse in Northern Ireland, and rode bikes to a Stone Age fort on a cliff. It’s somehow green, historic and wild, all at the same time.
Thanks for stopping by, Jeff! Great to have you here!
Jeff Sweat has made a living from words his entire career, starting out as an award-winning tech journalist for InformationWeek magazine and moving into marketing.
He led the content marketing team for Yahoo and pioneered its use of social media. He directed PR for two of the top advertising agencies in the country, Deutsch LA and 72andSunny. He now runs his own Los Angeles–based PR and marketing agency, Mister Sweat.
He grew up in Idaho as the middle of eight children—seven boys and one girl—and attended Columbia University in New York. Jeff lives in a big blue house in Los Angeles with his wife Sunny and their three kids, two cats, and a racing greyhound.
He loves to travel and writes everywhere he goes, even when there's not a desk. He likes karaoke, motorcycles and carpentry. He was once shot in the head with a nail gun, which was not a big of a deal as it sounds. But it still hurt like crazy.
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