Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reflecting on the Man of Gods -- Jeffrey Hewitt

While at Connooga this year, I met quite a few talented writers with whom I was not familiar. After getting to know them, I thought you should get to know them too. Jeff Hewitt was one of my neighbors in the dealer room, and an all-around swell guy with a spiffy haircut... and a gifted creator to boot.

Tell us about your latest work.

Currently I am working on my third novel and several short stories. The novel is titled Men of Gods. It is set in an alternate past in which the Black Plague was a form of magical biological warfare used on humans by fairies. As humans expanded in Europe, border clashes and finally outright war erupted between humans and fairies. The main focus of the novel is Father James, a priest from a small parish in a rural Germanic state. He joined a Crusade against the fairies. However, James finds that ministering to the men of the Crusade, and to their peasant victims, makes him question his faith. After one battle, he is called to burn a child that is a changeling, a fairy baby swapped with a human baby. As the pyre is set aflame, the priest is seized in a fit, climbs the pyre, and frees the child without injury. James explains that God sent him a vision, and he is to return the changeling to the fairies and retrieve its human counterpart. This angers one of the knights of the Crusade, whose zealotry is questionable in its veracity but not in its ferocity. The priest enlists an older knight as a guardian for their quest, and they set off into the wilds of northern Germany to return the child.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I seem to deal with doubt as a theme. All three of my novels have a main character who is reluctant and doubtful of himself in some capacity. At 27, I think these protagonists have a lot in common with people of my generation. With the collapse of the economy and the sudden realization that a college degree means little nowadays, many of us are left adrift trying to find our way. That’s a major theme in my third book. I also like to write about gods and their relationship to us as mortal beings. My short story “The Passenger” deals a lot with the nature of belief and how humans have a powerful effect on the things around them. Lastly, I trend towards folk and monster heavy stories, because those are the types of stories I like to read.

What would be your dream project?

A collaboration on a book of creation stories with Neil Gaiman. He writes a helluva good folk tale, and I think either editing and laying out a book of creation stories from around the world, or just creating our own, would be a great project. In my first book I wrote a creation story about the fictional world of Aethero, where the book takes place, and I really enjoyed that experience. The stories that cultures tell about themselves and their origins are fascinating to me, and Gaiman writes those types of stories wonderfully. 

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

I’d probably re-do my first novel. It meanders and the pacing is off because I wrote it off the cuff instead of using an outline. There are weird asides and dead ends as I went back when I was done to try and wrap things up. At one point I believe one character was a day off of the timeline from everyone else, so I had to shoehorn in a scene or two to make sure everyone was on the same time frame. It just didn’t work all that well. With another novel under my belt and the experience of taking the time to outline, I think the story would be a lot stronger. I’d also hire an editor.

What inspires you to write?

Oh man, good writing does, of course. I love to read, and finishing a great novel or re-reading a favorite does wonders to inspire me. I also find that certain types of music will make me want to write, particularly folk and bluegrass. (I guess I’m a bit of a country boy at heart in that regard.) However, seeing masters at their craft will inspire me almost no matter what the content is. I’ve drawn inspiration from favorite books and authors as varied as modern sci-fi and fantasy to histories of the Napoleonic Wars. But I think it always boils down to this: a fascinating experience that touches the soul. That’s what writing is all about.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

If you could see a lot of my first drafts, especially when I first started working on novels, you’d see a lot of Britishisms and spelling. Many of the greats of writing are British, and  I read them extensively, and particularly genre fiction. Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Iain M. Banks, and others have a strong influence on me. It’s not all drawn from across the pond, though. Stephen King’s short stories are a big inspiration for me. Say what you want about the man, he writes killer dialog and a fine short story. He captures the way people talk in Maine and it’s wonderful to read. His book On Writing is highly recommended. I learned a good deal about the craft from that book, and helpfully, he provides an example of a draft and a revision and explains why he made the changes he did. If you’re an aspiring writer you could do a lot worse than to read that book. It’s part autobiography and writer’s guide, and a great read all around.

Where would you rank writing on the “Is it art or is it a science continuum?” Why?

I’d say it’s equal parts. For instance, if you’re baking a cake, you can have all the parts. Eggs, milk, flour, butter, but if you don’t know how to put it together, what you’ve got is a mess that someone is going to have to clean up. Conversely, you can know how to bake a cake but if you don’t know the things that make it good, if you don’t have the ability to understand what makes a cake from a crappy bakery taste different than a cake made at home from scratch, it’s still no good.

So, I’d say it’s a strong mixture. While you can have a good story, compelling characters, exciting ideas, if you don’t know how to present them you don’t have a good story. Mastering the basics of the craft, understanding how to thread a plot and pace it, that makes the ingredients work together. What good is a compelling villain if his climactic scene is the first thing in the book? What’s left to write? You’ve got to be able to write a clear sentence and express a thought before you can blow the socks off your audience. Otherwise, your message, no matter how awesome, won’t make it through. Writing is communication, and you’ve got to know how to speak to the audience.

Any other projects you’d like to plug?

At this time I’ll be doing well to have Men of Gods ready for next year’s convention, and I’d hate to disappoint a potential audience, so I’ll say keep an eye on my website for tentative announcements about that project and others. I’ve got about half a dozen short stories out for consideration in various venues, and if any of them get accepted, you can bet I’ll be throwing that all over the Web.

Thanks for sharing your time with us, Jeff.

Thanks for the opportunity to reach your readers! I really enjoyed meeting you at ConNooga and look forward to meeting up with you at other events!

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