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Meet Jeff Andrews Author of The Gandy Dancer
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Norm Goldman


Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.

He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.

To read more about Norm Follow Here






 
By Norm Goldman
Published on November 29, 2012
 



Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com Interviews Jeff Andrews Author of The Gandy Dancer

                                        




Author: Jeff Andrews

Publisher: Eiger Press

ISBN: 9780985722616


Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest Jeff Andrews author of The Gandy Dancer.

Good day Jeff and thanks for participating in our interview

Norm:

How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Jeff:

Hi Norm, and thanks for allowing me this interview opportunity. Many years ago, my wife prodded me to try an on-line class on writing short fiction (Mary Lou is a recovering English teacher and an avid reader). I never imagined that I might actually have a decent short story (never mind entire novels) tucked away somewhere within me, but Mary Lou and my instructors persisted in meting out measured praise and generous encouragement. I first experienced my writing through my readers’ eyes during a peer review of one of my early stories. It was then that I recognized my ability to connect with others through the written word, to entertain them, and especially to elicit their emotional reactions to my characters.

In writing, as in most worthwhile endeavors, the challenge is to find ways to improve what you do—continually raise the bar. What keeps me going is the knowledge that I can make every character better, that I can ratchet up the tension in every scene, and that I must fulfill my obligation to my readers to give them the most compelling story I am capable of writing.

Norm:

Did you know the end of The Gandy Dancer at the beginning?

Jeff:

I knew what I wanted the ending to be but I had no idea how I would get there. There were many days when I’d call Mary Lou and exclaim, “You’ll never believe what that knucklehead Mitch Corsini did today!” I did try to control my characters (I am supposed to be the “adult” in that relationship), but there were simply days when they would not play by my rules.

Norm:

Where do you get your information or ideas for The Gandy Dancer?

Jeff:

I had finished my first novel, The Freedom Star, which is set in Virginia in the 1860s and I wanted to follow that with a story that would maintain a connection, albeit across generations, to Isaac, a slave in search of freedom (the first book’s main character).

Not long after, I was reading about a train wreck that occurred in Virginia during World War II involving German POWs. I was intrigued, but the POW angle didn’t work for me, so I tossed what I didn’t want and kept the rest. Then, while vacationing in the mountains of Virginia near Clifton Forge, I came across an old photo of a lynching that had apparently occurred there in the early 20th Century. I immediately saw that racial conflict as a core element in my story because no matter how enlightened we might see ourselves, remnants of those ugly prejudices still linger just beneath the surface and are still emotional triggers for far too many.

Norm:

How did you go about creating the characters of Mitch Corsini, George Henry McConnell and his brother Willie, and Rebecca Marshall?

Jeff:

I should begin by disavowing all rumors that Mitch was autobiographical (but I can’t, at least not entirely)! George Henry and Willie were the grandsons of Isaac, and I’d come to know Isaac about as well as one man can know another (or as well as an author can know his own characters). Isaac had more to do with forming George Henry and Willie than I did. They were the product of his values, his strengths, his courage, and his beliefs. Rebecca was a bit more challenging. She is Southern, but not necessarily “Old South,” or, as many of my Virginia readers would recognize, “FFV—First Family of Virginia.” Rebecca was the product of a single parent (railroad engineer) upbringing. She was independent and aware of societal expectations—but not beholden to them. For those who read my first novel, Rebecca could well be the adult version of Polly, Henry McConnell’s kid sister.

Norm:

What was your secret in keeping the intensity of the plot of The Gandy Dancer throughout the narrative?

Jeff:

I’m certainly no expert on this, but it seemed that whenever I might allow one situation to be resolved, it would become necessary to ramp up the challenges and conflicts elsewhere. While readers might enjoy a “happily ever after” conclusion, there can really only be one—and that can only come at the end. As an author, the key questions are always, “What if . . .?” and “How can I worsen this for my character?” And from my character’s perspective, every “Whew!” needed to be followed quickly by an “Oh, no!”

Norm:

How easy or difficult was it to lace past and present events into your compelling yarn?

Jeff:

That was one of the most satisfying (and fun) parts of writing this story. It was akin to putting together a scavenger hunt across generations—dropping a clue into the modern story that would appear several chapters later in the 1930s and vice versa. Pacing was a challenge, particularly deciding when and how often to switch from one storyline to the other—and ensuring that I never left one storyline for the other without first adding a hook to keep the readers interested.

Norm:

Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?

Jeff:

I guess you could say my plan was to be improvisational. I started with the broad story arc—“Once upon a time . . . and they lived happily ever after.” I then overlaid pieces of story as I discovered them, moved them around, and saw how they fit. As I mentioned earlier, there were times when my characters would try to take over. That usually resulted in some negotiating, but I tried not to be tyrannical in my decisions—and their influence often won out.

Norm:

In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?

Jeff:

As a writer of fiction, I create the world in which my story takes place. However, as a writer of historical fiction, that world must, at least to my sensibilities, adhere to the history upon which it is based. There are reader expectations based on genre, and as authors, we violate those expectations at our own peril. Human emotions and reactions will probably allow us the most latitude—a nineteenth century response can appear in a twentieth century scene (or vice versa) without needing too much suspension of disbelief—but a twentieth century weapon (AK-47, as an example) can only appear in the nineteenth century if the story is alternative historical fiction, sci fi, or a similar genre where such dichotomies would be accepted.

Norm:

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

Jeff: I grew up left-handed during a time when penmanship mattered, and I couldn’t spell (still can’t), so I did as little writing as possible during my formative years. Looking back on it, I regret not experiencing the satisfaction of creating strong characters and good story until the advent of PCs and Spell Check. Otherwise, my memory of growing up in a “Leave it to Beaver” world was that I was always very aware of the stark conflict between good and evil (and the good guys always wore white hats). Over the years, we’ve tried to ignore or water down those differences—but that fundamental struggle is at the root of every good story.

Norm:

What was the most difficult part of writing The Gandy Dancer? Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Jeff:

Mitch was my problem child (too much like me? Not enough?) He had to be a jerk—but not too much of a jerk. Adding layer after nuanced layer and sanding just enough of the rough edges seemed to take forever. Mary Lou was the one who suggested that instead of subtracting “jerk” I try adding “heart, soul, fear, vulnerability” and make him much more three dimensional. Writing good characters will always be my greatest challenge—and it will always come down to being able to first uncover their emotional hot buttons. I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if I was successful with Mitch.

Norm:

Do you have any suggestions to help our readers to become better writers? If so, what are they?

Jeff:

Begin by allowing yourself to be a bad writer. I am not a very good writer—but I’m getting to be pretty good at the rewriting! A good story rarely happens all at once. The trick is to write, read, react, and rewrite. POV (point of view) is crucial. What does your character see, smell, feel, taste? Let your readers experience all those sensations through your character’s senses. How does the situation you’ve created affect your character emotionally? Show the emotional response (it might be as subtle as a knot in the stomach, a sweaty palm, or a single tear).

Norm:

Where can our readers find out more about you and The Gandy Dancer?

Jeff:

My WEBSITE   and my FACEBOOK PAGE.

My books are also listed on Goodreads.com (haven’t had time to do much over there yet, but I’m working on it.) I enjoy hearing from readers, meeting with writers groups and book clubs, and seeing readers’ reviews on all the usual bookselling websites, so please let me know what questions you have and how you like my novels.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Jeff:

Only that I am beginning my next project, which will be a sequel to my first novel, The Freedom Star. This as yet untitled novel will continue storylines from the first book and will bring as much closure to the McConnell clan’s saga as three and a half years of the Civil War will allow.

Norm:

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and read your work. Good luck with The Gandy Dancer!

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