Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Jeff Hirsch

Welcome, everyone, to another addition of the Friday Feature.  This morning, we're talking with Jeff Hirsch.  I honestly can't remember what link clicked me through to Jeff, but once I landed at his blog, I immediately wanted to know more about him and his path towards greatness.  So, I backtracked through his blog.  I especially love this haunted post (which fits in so nicely with our Halloween weekend), and this post about his journey.  Go ahead, click through.  We'll wait. *twiddling thumbs*

You're back? And properly inspired? Great. Clearly, I went all fan-girl on Jeff, and invited him over here.  And, here he is!  Help me give Jeff a warm welcome by leaving him a question or high five in the comment section here, as he'll be stopping by to hang out with us. 

Jeff Hirsch grew up in Richmond, VA and received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from UC San Diego. He now lives in Queens, NY and works at a non-profit in the ad industry. Besides writing, Jeff enjoys cooking, fire eating, escaping from a straitjacket (while standing up or hanging from the ceiling by his ankles), and trying not to get obsessive about politics. Jeff's first novel The Long Walk Home, will be released in the fall of 2011 by Scholastic. You can follow his journey to publication at or 

Spoiler alert--do NOT click through that twitter link unless you did NOT fall asleep on the couch last night halfway through Project Runway! *quietly sobbing* *collecting self for rest of the interview*

Jeff, your book, THE LONG WALK HOME, will be published by Scholastic in the Fall of 2011. How exciting!! Tell us a bit about the book.

Well, one thing is that it almost certainly won't be called The Long Walk Home for very much longer. We're working on a new title now and I hope to let everyone know what it is soon. Heck, I hope to know what it is soon.
The book follows a scavenger named Stephen and his father twenty years after The Collapse, when America was wiped away by a nearly apocalyptic war with China. When their decision to risk it all to save the lives of two strangers leaves his Dad dreadfully injured, Stephen must lead them to safety in a lost remnant of the Pre-Collapse world. There, Stephen falls in with Jenny Tan, the wild child town outcast, bringing him into violent conflict with a group that is determined to remake the world that was, no matter the cost.

What has been the highest high, and lowest low while working on this book toward publication?

The highest was definitely the day of the auction. I don't know that I'm a good enough writer to adequately describe how exciting and strange a day that was. The lowest? I think it was when I finished the 2nd (or was it the 3rd?) draft then realizing I needed to delete the last 100-150 pages of the book and start over.

What made you start writing seriously?

Way back when, I was an actor. I studied acting in college then moved up to NY to throw myself into that life. I went out on lots of auditions and there was of course a lot of rejection. I remember one night in particular. It was a couple years into my time in NY and I had just gotten home after slogging through torrential rains and cold after a lackluster 8 hours at my day job. I didn't feel all that well and I had an audition later that evening. Sitting there in my dreary little apartment, I knew there was no way I was going back out there to that audition. That's when it occurred to me that if I loved acting, really loved it, a little rain and cold wouldn't get in my way. I thought about what I did love that much and the answer was writing. Soon after that I quit acting and got to writing.

How great that you had a self-aware moment like that! How did you connect with your agent, and get that first book into the publisher’s hands? Has it been smooth sailing from there?

I got to Sara (The delightful Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger) through a run of the mill query. I read about her on Publisher's Marketplace, liked that she was very highly rated and seemed to represent my kind of stuff. Once I hooked up with Sara things have been, knock on wood, pretty smooth.

I love hearing when agents picked up writers through the slush pile!  Yay! Jeff, what has surprised you most on your journey toward publication?

Beyond that it actually happened? I guess that things happen very very slowly until something happens (like signing with Sara) and then they happen very very fast. The switch was extremely disorienting and extremely exciting.

What are you currently working on?

Well, it's currently called Magisterium though, again, that will almost certainly change. Maybe to The Queen of Birds. Maybe to The Air is a River Too. Who knows? It's a genre-bending story about a girl named Glenn who just wants to get back home but the world has other plans for her.

Ooo, genre-bending.  Not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds AWESOME! What are your writing habits? Do you have a set schedule or time of day that you set aside for writing? What do you do when you get stuck?

I write every morning before work from 5:51-8:01AM. I know that sounds totally bizarre, but I swear it's true. I have a tendency to be extremely rigid about schedules and for some reason those times stuck and now that's my window of writing almost without fail every day. Sometimes inspiration strikes or I have a deadline and I'll work outside of that time but it more or less stays in that box.

When I get stuck I try to at least write badly. Just keep typing at all costs. I think a lot of times the reason I get stuck is an aversion to writing something I know isn't good. I try to remember that, especially when writing a rough draft, it's all bad. The only thing you can do is keep moving forward. You'll make it good later.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Hanging in there. Honestly, that's the toughest thing. I wrote for 6 or 7 years after grad school and no one was interested in my work. No one. I can't tell you how many times I wondered if I should just bail and, I don't know, get a job at a bank or something. Whew! That's one seriously weird life change narrowly avoided.

How has the blogging and on-line community changed your connections with other writers?

Yes. I, uh, have them now. Before I was writing YA I was a playwright so most of my writer friends are from that world. Twitter and blogs helped me come in touch with a lot of great people in the kid's books world, especially the mighty ladies of the League of Extraordinary Writers blog, which I count myself lucky to be a part of.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

Probably this one.

It's my take on the reasons for the proliferation of dystopian books for kids.

Wow Jeff--I love this line in that post:

"I think that idea, the idea of being able to hit the reset button on a too complicated world, is what drew me to writing a book like this." 

That resonates with me.  Now, tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

Two really. Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising made me an obsessive reader as a kid. MT Anderson's Feed made me want to write YA.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

Well, when I'm not suffering from one of my frequent delusions of grandeur (Printz awards! Giant advances! A pony!) I think I'd just like to be the kind of writer you can count on seeing one good book a year from. If more than that happens that'd be great, but that's what I'm shooting for.

If you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like?

I actually like my writing space a lot. I write sitting on our couch with a computer on my lap, a cat at my feet begging for attention and my wife sleeping peacefully in the room behind me. It's all very still and quiet.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

Both actually. One large cup of coffee in the morning and then I move to tea during the day.

Oh, and do you NaNo?

Nope, never have. Is it fun?

I think it's fun.  I think others might think it torture.  Thanks, Jeff, for the fantastic interview!  

Everyone remember to leave a comment here, before heading over to Jeff's blog to give him some love.


  1. Awesomely superb interview!

    Jeff, you have a cool journey to publication. Acting, NY, and Sara Crowe. You live the writer's life! Are there times when you still feel you're walking up a steep hill or is it one big level playing field?

    Great synopsis for The Long Walk Home!

  2. Thanks again, Jeff! I want a PONY too! :)

    Jeff--how did you keep yourself writing during the process? What got you through when you wanted to throw in the towel?

  3. Hi guys!

    First thanks to Heather for having me. I think this is the first time I've ever actually been interviewed. So exciting!

    I'll be dodging the responsibilities of my day job all day to answer any questions you may have.

    Good question Jonathon. I guess selling a book feels like getting to the top of the hill that opens up your view to all the other hills you still have to climb. I still wonder if it's good enough. Will people like it? Will they buy it? Can I grab a hold of this opportunity and really make the most of it? It's incredibly exciting but there is that feeling of new pressures. The challenge of it all is exciting.

    Hi heather! You know, people have asked me this before and I don't know that I have a great, or at least definitive, answer. Pure stubborness? I think that's a part of it. A need to prove myself. A competitive drive. A general love of the simple act of writing. It's all those things mixed up I think.

  4. Thanks for the interview, Heather and Jeff. It is wonderful to get to know you, Jeff, and I'm excited to look for your books. They sound great! I love the answer to Heather's question in the comments, pure stubbornness and loving the act of writing. It is very reassuring!

  5. Hi Tina. Great to meet you too! Yes, I sometimes think I'd be nowhere without some pure bullheadedness. I am a Taurus after all....

  6. Hi Jeff! I'm from Charlottesville VA with family in Richmond! Very cool to meet a successful someone from my own neck of the woods!

    Congrats on everything you've accomplished so far! And in case the Richmond connection wasn't stalker enough, I am SO glad to hear that you had the same moment of WTF? over dystopia and post-apocalyptic stories that I had.

    Honestly, if I get another 'in the wake of The Hunger Games... rejection'... It's so frustrating to be told that everything good about my book is also everything that reminds them of something like Suzanne Collins. On one hand, I'm sooo flattered... on the other, I'm rending my hair because I'm flattered... and passed up... And like you, I was working on mine before this whirl wind of dystopia came along.

    All that blather said, I LOVE dystopia and I'm glad to see so much variety of it out there! I'm enthralled by the concept of your book and will eagerly be waiting to get my little hands on a copy.

    I agree with Tina. 'Pure stubbornness and loving the act of writing.' Boy it makes me feel so good every time I hear someone who's 'made it' say that. It validates all the times over the years when I've gotten strange looks while trying to explain to someone that I WANT to be 'working' on writing, that it isn't 'work' to me, even though it's very hard work. You know?

  7. A. Grey--this comment reminds me of why I love you so!!

    I, too, am excited to read Jeff's book.

    And after your description of your writing, I'd love to read something of yours as well.

    If you ever need a crit partner, you know where I am!!

  8. Hi A. Great to see another Virginian!

    You make a great point about working in a genre that is currently hot. It helps you in some ways, hurts you in others. I think about this alot when it comes to my book coming out. Will the dystopian angle draw people in or will they be tired of it? Who knows? I guess all we can do is write it the best we can. People will react how they react. Can't do much about anything else.

    Yep, we just all have to hang in there! Strange looks be damned!

    Thanks for coming by!

  9. Well Jeff... I can now promise you at least two people will be drawn to your book... :)

    But seriously, I think dystopia is only going to grow, despite the wobbling of 'been done' it's suffering right now. I think it's like a period of growth in a way, where we're leaving the 'ideal world' type stories behind for the ones where life is a challenge, but you get to start over, as you said earlier, and have another chance at things.

    I feel it's the same in urban fantasy. The faerie tale stories have been set aside (not forgotten really, but momentarily abandoned) and in their place are faeries and monsters that fit into our world and challenge us about our own place in it. Very cool stuff to read, and even better if you're into writing it!

    Heather... I just might take you up on that. Despite the good feedback on Evernow, I decided to change the ending up, including adding in a character that was thought dead since very early on in the book, and I'd love totally new eyes to hit the ms before I start querying it again...