Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we talked with Jeffrey H. Baer, author of The Strickland File, a literary fiction tale set in 1990s (read the review here).
I was born January 21, 1969 in Brooklyn, NY. I was an army brat without knowing it when my dad was stationed in Fort Huachuca, AZ after his return from Vietnam.
My childhood was like a lot of others–difficult. I was advanced for my age, as everyone discovered when I read the Times Square message boards at age two– out loud, no less. My grandparents told me how surprised the pedestrians were; I was too engaged to notice, or else I’d pass the hat around. As I got older I seemed to offend the other kids easily and was often reminded as much. The worst of it was in junior high school when the entire grade hated my guts without knowing why. Looking back, I should’ve thanked those kids for giving me all that attention.
I realized I could write when our seventh-grade English teacher asked us to write an essay about a famous woman. Since I enjoyed pop music, I wrote about Roberta Flack, but I was out sick the day after handing it in. The next Monday a girl in my class complained “Gee, thanks, Jeff. We really wanted to hear about Roberta Flack.” Apparently the teacher was so impressed with my essay, he read it to the class–and my classmates had yet another reason to consider me persona non grata.
My so-called “bad reputation” followed me to high school. Suffice it to say I was never so relieved in my life than on graduation day.
I entered Baruch College in 1987 to study accounting, but after seven years I realized I couldn’t crunch numbers the way they should be crunched. I detoured into journalism, but my heart wasn’t in it. I took time off to sort out my career goals while I worked as a receivables manager for a Manhattan-based trade magazine. It was the worst job I ever had, as I coped with office politics and the nastiest, most manipulative boss I ever had. The good news is I was able to get THE STRICKLAND FILE out of the experience. Little did I know, however, I’d bring out the wicked stepparent in other managers during an absurd 15-year job hunt.
In April 2002 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is high-functioning autism that affects social skills. It explained why I was socially inept as a child as well as why I couldn’t find and keep jobs on my own.
I live in Coney Island with my wonderful girlfriend Karen, whom I’ve known for most of my life. We would be married and parents by now if not for my social issues, but we have to make the best of what we have now. In addition to writing fiction, I compose songs using software. I enjoy old school R&B as well as 70s pop; I also sing and play guitar, bass and drums.
Official web site: www.jeffreyhbaer.com
What does literary success look like to you?
I think it begins with people who not only enjoy how the story is told, but can relate to the premise and pick up on the message. Amazon reviews are a big boost, but I have yet to do wide-ranging interviews and book signings since I’m up against some amicable competition for book sales. I’ve found some measure of success so far, though.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
For me, especially with my form of Asperger’s Syndrome, I tend to focus on the message more than how to send it—putting the cart before the horse, as it were. As a result those who read my abrasive drafts are often confused by what I want to say, and they make the point with somewhat harsh feedback. But I always sleep it off and go back to it the next day when the shock wears off.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Steve Jobs once said “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It’s always easier to sell what’s been successful, so I was nervous when I queried agents about stories that likely wouldn’t fly off the shelves. Nevertheless, I had to do what they always say and write what I know, but also put my own spin on what some people would consider mundane scenarios.
What are your favorite books?
I’ll read anything that piques my interest, but I especially enjoy stores I can relate to if the main character is an everyman.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
Characters. Just as a basketball team needs a point guard to run the offense, so does a novel need characters to move the story forward.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Impressing agents and editors enough to take on my work. You can guess how THAT turns out.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
A sense that their experiences, no matter how commonplace they may be, can be elevated to the level of compelling stories—and maybe the fortitude to share their own experiences the same way.
Categories: BookView Review Interview