2011 Book Recap: Author Interview: Jeffery David Payne

Over the next few days I am going to post some 2011 book recap posts about books that I have enjoyed this year and also books  that have surprised me for various reasons!

Far From War by Jeffery David Payne was one of those books that definitely surprised me. It surprised me because I really enjoyed it and wasn't sure if I was going to when I first picked it up! Far From Far may be YA which I adore but the concept of the story is one I wasn't sure I would like.

A Coup D'Etat that sets of a modern day civil war in America. When I heard this I was like, not sure this is going to be my thing but how wrong I was. From reading this book it has taught me that even if the genre, the setting or description of a book puts you off, maybe you should try it, in the end you might find a book you really love. Check out my review of Far From War here!

I was very grateful to get an interview with Jeffery David Payne author of Far From War, check it out!

A little about Jeffrey and how he started writing:

I've been writing for a long time: mostly plays and screenplays.  I'd always wanted to write a novel, but I wasn't sure if I had the stamina for it; it seemed like such a huge undertaking. After writing my first novel (yet to be published) and Far From the War, I've learned that, if anything, my problem is confining a single story to the 90,000 - 120,000 words considered normal for a novel.

One of the things that always frustrated me about play writing and screenwriting was that that work isn't really finished once I finish the script.  A producer has to pick it up and run with it.  Making that happen is tricky and even when it does happen, your original intent can get distorted by directors' and actors' interpretations.  Sometimes this is good; they contribute new and wonderful things.  Sometimes. 

With fiction, the story is fully realised when I finish the manuscript.  I don't need to cut anything because the props or scenery or special effects don't fit with the budget.  It's a true blank canvas.  Writing long form fiction is also very rewarding, even if very few people ever read it.  As for my writing career, such as it is, it's definitely in the nascent stages.  Far From the War is my first published novel and we put it out through an imprint some friends and I created called Roche Harbor Books.  For a long time I bought into the old idea that I needed an agent and should patiently wait for someone in the publishing industry to discover my work.  When I wrote my first novel, that was good advice, but so much has changed since then.  Now we have agents becoming publishers, and enough established writers going around the traditional process that they're starting to talk openly about their bad experiences with traditional publishing.  Roche Harbor Books and Far From the War is a bit of an experiment, and so far, one that's going well.  It seemed like a better alternative than waiting.

In my personal life, we're just celebrating the first birthday of my son Oliver today.  I live in Seattle, am married to a wonderful woman named Kathryn, and I work as Chief Technology Officer for a company that makes planning and financial software for concert touring and Hollywood.

For all my readers can you tell them a little about Far From War the first in a trilogy!

Far From the War is the first book in a series about modern day civil war in the United States, an idea that seemed pretty far fetched when I started writing it.  The first volume is about a girl named Esther, a very smart ambitious girl modeled after some of the cool girls I remember from the high school debate team.  The novel opens with Esther receiving an appointment as a page to the United State House of Representatives.  It's very competitive and pages spend their days working in and around some of the most powerful people in American politics.  It's eye opening for Esther; for so long she'd been a big fish in a small pond.  In some ways her experience is modeled after some of the culture shock I received once I started working with people in Hollywood.  You meet people who say and do things you never imagined in your life anyone would ever say and do.  America as depicted in the book is in the midst of a depression, with 30% unemployment and $30 a gallon gasoline.  The middle class has collapsed.  Things are tense in the country, people are desperate.  Eventually a cadre of politicians and military leaders stage a coup, one they hope will be peaceful and bloodless.  It doesn't work out that way.  Military units loyal to the deposed government try to end the coup -- and the shooting war begins.  At that point Esther abandons Washington, DC and  heads back home to her family on the opposite end of the country.  Needless to say, she has a rough time getting home.

Where did you get the idea for the trilogy?

It didn't really start out as a political book.  The idea started when my wife and I spent a long weekend on Orcas Island before our son was born, (or conceived for that matter).  We had rented a house on the water near the ferry landing watching the ferry come and go.  I began to wonder what would happen if the ferry stopped running, if power and communication lines from the mainland were cut.  The idea of a family trying to preserve their idyllic life on the island began to take shape, but I needed a reason why that loss of contact might happen.  This was during the mid term Congressional elections in the United States, 2010.  It was a nasty race and it was the first time I'd noticed the political rhetoric start to include hints of revolution or violence if certain objectives couldn't be reached politically.  That brought about the idea of a modern day civil war in the United States and I needed a way to show readers what was happening on the mainland.  The original plan was to write a single novel that alternated between a the family's struggles on the island and member of the family caught up in the war on the mainland.  I realised quickly that this would be a very long book and decided to break it into a series at that point.  When I introduced the character of Matthew, I decided to make it a trilogy with one book from Esther's point of view, one book from the family's point of view and a finale from Matthew's point of view.  Each book will show the perspective of a different character and extend the overall timeline of the war.

I really like the cover of Far From War. Who designed it and did you have much say in the design process?

I'm glad to hear you say that because I really like it, too.  It's not as sensational as most YA covers.  I doubt a traditional publisher would ever have approved it; it doesn't really pop out at you on a bookshelf.  It's a subdued, serious cover which I think we needed for what eventually became such a serious book.  The artist is named Marina Veselinovic, an artist from Serbia who's been through a civil war herself as girl.  Her father fought in the war.  We're planning on a documentary as part of the final instalment in the series where we'll get more into Marina's story and how her experiences factored into all three covers.

As for my input, I've always found it's better to leave artists alone and let them apply their own powers of creativity.  I knew I wanted to suggest the finale scene with Esther on the pier without giving the whole story away.  Marina took that idea and ran with it.  I recently learned that her cover illustration was selected for a prestigious art exhibition in Serbia, The 46rd Golden Pen of Belgrade, The 11th International Biennial of Illustration 2011.  I've attached an image from the exhibition's catalog with some interesting details.

How is work coming on the next book in the series?

The next book is called The Mail Still Runs and gets into what happens to Esther family while she's stuck on the mainland.  It's told from the perspective of Esther's sister Charlotte, and Charlotte is very different from Esther.  She's more of an athlete, not as vocal. 

At this point it's running long.  It will need a lot of cutting once all is said and done.  I'm just getting into the part where the letters for Esther start arriving from Matthew and how they impact the family.  This book also gets into Chad's family.  We hint around in the first book about his father's involvement in the war.  This becomes a central conflict in the second book.

Why should we read Far From War?

Well, I wouldn't be so brash as to say that everyone should read it.  I can't even say it's a good book,  because that isn't for me to say; it's for people like you to say.  I can only say what my intent was in writing it.  I wanted to write a book that asks tough questions, that makes readers face unpleasant realities about where the world is headed, but I wanted to do this without it feeling as though reading the book is work.  I tried to write a story that pulls you through the book without all the heavy content bogging you down.

In the process of researching the book I tapped into a lot of information I'd never really considered before.  I was blissfully ignorant about a lot of things.  Not anymore.  As the European Union approaches either fiscal union (financial dictatorship) or collapse, as war in the middle east expands, as Russia and China start to assert themselves militarily, as political division and counter-terrorism measures in the United States erode our constitution, it seems clear that something terrible is about to happen: not in a book, but in real life.  The world is entering a dark and dangerous phase.  What that will ultimately mean is anybody's guess, but what's clear is that all our lives are about to change.  Most dystopian fiction warns readers about what might happen 100 years from now.  Far From the War shows a world just a few years, perhaps days away.

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