I’ve gathered together a list of the most often-asked questions I get about my writing in general, and specifically about the Broom Closet Trilogy. Sometimes I get so involved in what I am writing that I lose sight of the bigger picture; I hope that these answers cover some of that bigger picture for you.
I’ve also included a list entitled “Thirty-One Facts You May Not Know About Me” because I always enjoy reading similar things from my favorite authors, and thought you might, too.
I travel a great deal, both physically for the work that I do, and mentally when I write. This travel has opened up many worlds to me, and has had a profound effect on my worldview. May this page give you a bit more information on what makes me tick, and how I tend to see things.
There’s a longer response to this question in my blog, but here’s a short answer: When I was in kindergarten my grandmother told me that she was a modern witch who flew over my house at night on a vacuum cleaner to protect me. This thrilling and confusing admission led to a lifelong love of witches in fiction, as well as various attempts over the years to make household objects levitate. In 2008, my friend Susan finally convinced me to stop reading other people’s witch novels and write my own.
I know. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. Except that it does to me. I never liked the distinctions between wizards, witches, warlocks, magicians, sorcerers, sorceresses, etc. In my mind, they’re all about the same. I like the word “witch” most of all. It captures all of the romance and intrigue that I associate with the magical human beings who inhabit my imagination, regardless of gender.
A good question, and one that took me a while to figure out for myself. When I started writing about Charlie in 2008, I wasn’t sure which direction the story would go. I toyed with several ideas: A standard novel for adults, a children’s book with pictures, a young adult novel, even an erotic series of stories (with Charlie in his mid-twenties). I started drafts for each of these genres, but it was the Young Adult format that attracted me most.
As a kid, this was my favorite genre. Once I reached high school I stopped reading it, probably because I was embarrassed that it wasn’t “serious” enough, whatever that means. I have J.K. Rowling to thank for reminding me how much I enjoy a good Young Adult read. So I basically chose this genre, and wrote this story, because it’s the kind of book I would have loved to read as a kid. If I had the guts back then to pick up a book about a gay teen, that is.
I read nearly all my books on my iPhone these days, using the Kindle app. I’m a huge fan of the affordability, portability, and easy access of e-books. So it was a no-brainer for me to choose digital as my format of choice. As for a print version, at some point I’ll probably create one. It just hasn’t been a priority.
I was sold on self-publishing for two main reasons: 1) the amount of creative control it would give me, and 2) the amount of royalties I would keep.
If a traditional publisher offered me a really great contract for my trilogy, I certainly would be open to it. But for now, self-publishing just makes sense.
Originally I only planned on one book, until I saw how much I was trying to cram in. One book would have turned into something ridiculously long. And from early on, I knew how the story ended, even when I wasn’t sure about the beginning, or the middle, which meant that it wouldn’t be suited for an ongoing series. Three books seemed to be the right amount to cover the arc of the story. I am toying with the idea of writing spinoff fiction with some of the minor characters from the story. But that won’t happen until I finish the trilogy.
No. Writing has been a passion, and a hobby, for quite some time now. I’ve been a freelance coach and a trainer since 1995, which has given me the freedom to write.
My partner lives in L.A., and I do a lot of coaching and training work in China. I am relatively new to both cities, and don’t know them as well as my hometown of Seattle, but as time passes, I learn more of their nooks and crannies.
Shanghai is massive, elegant, and runs full speed ahead, morning, noon, and night, eight days a week. At times the pace is fun; at other times, exhausting. But Shanghai can be an exciting place to be these days, as the economic center of a country that transforms by the minute. I’ve had a love affair with China since I began studying Mandarin in 1988; even with the horrible pollution, the crowds, the intensity of it all, I really enjoy the country and its culture. There is much more to China than Shanghai, obviously, but Shanghai, with its glittery, hodgepodge of East meets West, can be a great place to start.
As for L.A., I grew up taking pot shots at it, because that’s what everyone does if you’re from the West Coast. But I started going there for business trips in the early 2000s, and enjoyed it. Then I met my partner in 2007, who is an LA. transplant. He loves it. This has given me the chance to shake loose my childhood views and get to know L.A. on my own terms.
It’s like an odd acquaintance, one who is off-putting at first. Over time, you realize just how multi-faceted the person is, and your intrigue wins over. I’ve lived in some charming cities – Seattle, San Francisco, Monterey – and I wouldn’t call L.A. charming. But it keeps getting more interesting to me. Other cities seem to have a singularity to them, an overall flavor that you can identify. But in L.A. there seems to be many flavors. I’m enjoying discovering it as a new resident.
Oh, this could be a long list. I’ll stick to magic-related fiction books, for brevity’s sake. Though I haven’t read them since I was a kid, Ruth Chew’s collection of modern-witch literature enchanted me as a boy. I love what Paula Brackston does with witches in her stories, which are period pieces set in the U.K., especially The Winter Witch, with its lovely historical backdrop. Of course, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is fantastic, not just because of all the hype, but because Rowling manages to create a mystery needing to be solved in each book, all the while staying true to the overall arc of Harry’s character. Not an easy task. Even though there has been a lot of controversy over Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series, especially as to whether or not she is a good writer, I loved those books. Never a fan of bodice rippers, the romance that Meyer created in her books swept me off my feet. Camille Deangelis wrote a gem of a quirky, poignant witch story called Petty Magic. In a fair and just world, her work would get more recognition. Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane capitalizes beautifully on our New England witch history better than most. A. Lee Martinez’s A Nameless Witch is hilarious, and thought-provoking. As for fantasy-related fiction, I love, love, love Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Such a unique premise, and he writes with a breakneck pace and breathless action. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy is a brilliant study in terse, yet lush, writing. If you want to learn how to grow and mature a protagonist over time, this book is a great source. Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series is a jewel. She illustrates the bond between human and dragon in such a way that you don’t really read her books, as much as you absorb them in your skin. I just picked up the first book in Marie Lu’s The Young Elite series, and can’t put it down.
Yes, Harry’s gotten quite a lot of attention over the years. But certainly the world has room for more magical teens, right?
Coming out of the closet is one thing. But publishing a book about a gay main character puts you out there for public scrutiny, especially at a time when gay marriage, and the rights of sexual minorities, are all over the news. Doesn’t that make you vulnerable to people’s fears and prejudices?
Of course. But showing one’s art to the world does that anyway. If I based my choices on my fear of other people’s reactions, I wouldn’t write in the first place. I probably wouldn’t even leave the house.
Well, it makes me cautiously optimistic. I’m thrilled to see how the mainstream views of sexual minorities are changing. But the cautious part of me knows that all of this won’t die down even though marriage equality is now upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s a long road ahead of us. People don’t like hearing that, but it’s true. Changes in laws don’t automatically change attitudes and beliefs.
I lived in Seattle for the majority of the time I wrote The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly Straight. Just a little over a year and a half before I published it, Washington State legalized gay marriage. Someone asked me, “Doesn’t this make your book obsolete? I mean, look at what’s happening. It changes everything.” It does, and it doesn’t. One trilogy with a mainstream gay character is a drop in the ocean, really. It’ll take generations, and millions of media images and sound bytes, to tip the balance away from entire world seeing the queer community as freaks of nature. Don’t get me wrong; we’re going in the right direction. It’ll just take a while for things to balance out a bit. And it’ll take stamina.
I am offended by your book. I don’t think there should be literature depicting gay teens in a positive light. It goes against my values. Why don’t you write something else?
Then don’t read it. There is plenty of literature in the world to suit everyone’s needs.
1) Give them time. I’m not a fan of rushing the process. People come out of the closet when they’re ready. When I was in my twenties, I found a chrysalis stuck outside my bedroom window. One day I saw a spindly little leg poking its way out of the papery shell. It was clearly struggling. Thinking that it needed my help, I tore open a part of the chrysalis. Out poured a bunch of green goop, the leg, and a partially formed butterfly wing. The caterpillar-goop-butterfly thing died on the grass below. I felt awful.
I’m not saying that forcing people out of the closet will kill them; people are more resourceful than that. I’m saying that the struggles in life grow us the most, and even help us evolve.
2) Reflect on your own sexuality. The more comfortable you are with it, the more you’ll be able to create an atmosphere of openness with LGBTQQ kids.
3) Check out organizations like PFLAG, which, even after all these years, are still helping parents, family members, and friends of LGBTQQ people navigate the coming out and coming of age process.
1) Don’t rush the process (see above). There will come a time when the motivation for staying in the closet loses its efficacy, and the pain of hiding becomes too great.
2) It’s a myth that you come out of the closet one time, in one fell swoop. It’s a process. You come out, you go back in, you come out again. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes it takes a while to find your sea legs.
Create a writing discipline and stick to it. There is no better way to hone your skills, and to finish a writing project that you have in your head, than discipline. I don’t care how many writing books you’ve read or seminars you’ve attended. Nothing can replace the act of moving that pen across the page, or those hands over the keyboard, even if it means getting just one word at a time from your brain onto that page or screen. I wish there were a sexier answer, but there isn’t. You gotta write. Regularly. End of story.
Isn’t it true that you have an “I Hate That!” list of how witches are depicted in books, movies, and television shows?
LOL. Not really a hate list. There are just some devices that are tedious and hackneyed. Here’s the short list, then a longer explanation.
- When a witch’s hair blows when she’s casting a spell (unless the spell is about calling up a windstorm, or unless she’s outside on a windy day).
- When a witch’s eyes glow during said spell casting.
- In television/movies, when a Wagner-esque chorus is used as the only soundtrack each time there is hocus-pocus.
- All magical spells are written, and spoken, in Latin, which is apparently the lingua franca of witches.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the above devices. I’ve just witnessed them too many times. Whenever any of the above (or worse: ALL!) is used, the audience is supposed to know that the person is a witch. But to me, it’s ho-hum.
It’s like when Pachelbel’s Canon is played at a wedding. It probably moved me the first time I heard it as a kid. It is a pretty song. But now, after so many weddings, I just tune it out.
As a writer, it’s my job to catch my readers’ attention, to surprise them, to make them see my characters in a new way. If I have too many hair-blowing, eye-glowing, Latin-spouting witches, my readers will gloss over the descriptions. I don’t want that. I worked hard on those sentences, after all.
Besides, who said that Latin is the only witch language on the planet? Why not Aramaic? Or Cantonese?
"The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly Straight" has lots of romance and affection but seems to shy away from actual sex. Why is that?
An Amazon reviewer wasn’t happy that there was no romance in TBWCFS. I think what he really meant was that there was no sex. That it wasn’t M/M erotic fiction. In the book’s early stages, I toyed with the idea of making it an erotic adult book with a main character in his mid-twenties, but it fell flat. I just liked the story better with Charlie starting out as a fifteen-year old, from a YA perspective.
Some people find this strange, since I have published erotica before, and am a fan of it, both in terms of reading erotica, and writing it. Additionally, some have felt that my approach isn’t realistic, seeing as how many teens and pre-teens engage in sex these days.
All I can say is that it just didn’t feel right. Leaving sex acts out of the story just made more sense to me. That the struggle around Charlie’s sexual attractions are primarily internal ones, instead of something externalized via him losing his virginity, or in detailed accounts of his sex life. I do write about Charlie and Diego’s kissing, and how this unleashes the boy’s sensuality. Just nothing rated R or X.
I dreamed up Charlie on a flight to Beijing in 2008. All I knew was that the main character – no name at the time – was a closeted teen who didn’t know he hailed from witches. That idea intrigued me. I started brainstorming character traits and settings on that flight.
As for how much of me is in Charlie, on the one hand, none at all. He is a figment of my imagination. He doesn’t represent me as a high-school sophomore. I wasn’t a rural kid who grew up with a single mom, nor was I a teen plagued with intense shyness.
On the other hand, I drew from my own challenges in life to breathe authenticity into Charlie’s inner experience, to highlight the emotions he struggled with. I did the same with all the other characters, too. Even with Grace, the bad witch. So in a way, none of the characters in the book is based on me, but I used some of my own emotions, as well as the emotions and experiences of people I know, to flush out the characters. To make them more multi-dimensional.
Take Charlie’s internalized homophobia, for example. I too suffered from this as a high school kid. I was terrified that I might be gay. I didn’t want it to be true, and so ignored the whole topic. I worked hard, got good grades, lettered all four years on the swim team, all the while hoping that my feelings and attractions toward other boys would go away. (Surprise, surprise. They never did).
In this way, even though the external factors of Charlie’s life are different from mine, some of the internal struggles are the same.
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Thirty-One Other Things You May Want to Know About Me
- I don’t like coffee. I think it tastes gross. Even though I was born and raised in Seattle, where everyone seems to live with a coffee mug attached to his or her hip, I never took to the stuff. I do enjoy the smell, and sitting for long stretches of time in coffee shops. But the taste? Yuck.
- I read much more fiction than non-fiction, probably at a ten-to-one ratio. Maybe twenty-to-one.
- My mother and I were in a near-fatal car accident in 1992 that changed nearly every aspect of my life.
- I’m left-handed.
- In my work as a coach and trainer, I use English, Chinese, and Spanish. In that order.
- When I find a scene in a movie or TV show that I think is hilarious, I play it over and over again. As in, over fifty times. This drives my friends and loved ones crazy, but I can’t help it. At some point I’ll create a list of these scenes to share.
- I wrote and rewrote The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly Straight while listening to two songs, which I played on repeat nonstop: The first was “Adagio for Strings” from the album Reader’s Digest Music Homework Hits, Vol. 1 – Classical Study Hall. The second song was “The Sailor’s Grave on the Prairie” from Leo Kottke – 6 – and 12 – String Guitar.
- I wrote and rewrote The Boy Who Sailed Over the Moon while listening nonstop to the album Invincible by Two Steps from Hell. Thank you to the awesome YA writer Marie Lu for her recommendation.
- I love telling jokes and stories. If you ever need help refining your skills, let me know. I can teach you!
- I have been self-employed since 1995, and love it. I know I couldn’t do a 9-5, Monday-through-Friday job now.
- My partner Terry is an amazing cook and jam maker. I am not. But I’m good at helping him in the kitchen, and I’m a good eater.
- One of my favorite movies of all times is The Matrix. The first time I watched it, there was so much violence that I kept my hands over my eyes for most of it, missing all of the themes and amazing life lessons in it. I’ve seen it more than ten times.
- My top fave Audiobooks of all time are: Eat, Pray, Love, The Graveyard Book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Help.
- I’ve read the Twilight series over five times. And I’m proud of this fact.
- I love to jump rope. I can do ten thousand jumps in sixty-five minutes, though usually I don’t try to do that much. I count in my head while I jump. I also do lots of single-rope tricks, and I love double-dutch, too. My awesome friend Rene Bibaud, who is a Cirque du Soleil performer and coach, taught me a bunch of cool stuff.
- My idea of a dream vacation is to stay at home. I know that doesn’t sound exciting, but I’ve been traveling for work since 1999. Maybe someday I’ll want to travel more for vacation when my work travel slows down.
- While I enjoy thrillers and adventure stories, I don’t watch most horror movies/TV shows. They scare me too much.
- Halloween is my favorite holiday, but my version of it is cute and campy, not scary. A little spooky, but sweet and fun, too.
- I do all my writing on a computer, even though many experts say that you should write with pen and paper to access your true creativity. I have horrible handwriting. So I ignore their advice and stick to the keyboard.
- I write in timed segments, 20 minutes at a time. It keeps my fingers moving. The time pressure is my friend, not my foe.
- When working on a first draft, I write a minimum of ten pages per day, which is challenging, but not impossible. This usually takes me between three and five 20-minute timed writing segments. When I don’t complete the ten pages, I make them up on other days throughout the week.
- When I finished the first draft of my first novel, I thought I was nearly done. I had no idea how long it would take to rewrite, work with an editor, get feedback from early readers, etc.
- I am terrible at following directions, and often get lost. But because I travel for work regularly to places I’ve never been, I’m good at using maps, following GPS, and asking for directions.
- September is my favorite month, not only because it’s my birthday month. I love that transition from hot summer to cooler autumn.
- Autumn is my favorite season. I love the gentle spookiness of darker afternoons, of the trees doing one final fashion show before losing their leaves, of the mash-up of warm and cool weather, and how the quality of light changes, becoming more golden. Plus there’s Halloween!
- My father died of cancer in 1998, and I still miss him.
- I was born and raised in Seattle, and went to college in nearby Tacoma. Even though I don’t live in the Pacific Northwest now, it will always be home to me.
- I began coming out of the closet in my mid-twenties. I first told my friends Jenny and Shane. I can’t remember which one I told first. The more people I told, the easier it got, regardless of their reactions. I was pleasantly surprised to find that after I started coming out, I slept better at night.
- I began studying Chinese in 1988 during my sophomore year in college. I originally wanted to take Japanese, but the class was too full and I couldn’t get in. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the difference between the two languages. My Chinese teacher, Lo Sun Perry, turned out to be the best teacher I’ve ever had. For anything.
- One of my favorite things in life is laughing so hard that I cry. When I do this, my face turns red and I don’t make much noise. Sometimes people think I’m having a heart attack.
- My favorite food is probably sushi. Or anything made by my man Terry. Except for the coffee he drinks. Yuck.