When I joined the writing community on Twitter(#amwriting or #writtingcommunity), my aim was kind of twofold. I wanted to learn from published authors and also wanted to join in with people who are going through the same journey as me.
Jeff is the second kind, his journey has started but not yet complete. So, I caught up with him and asked him a few questions. The results, well-read for yourself.
1- Let’s start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself.
I’m a Director of Information Technology by day, managing the IT department for a law firm outside of Philadelphia. I’m a father of four and a grandfather of two and have been married for twenty years. By night, I’m a writer trying to sort his way through the myriad of information available to complete my first manuscript. I’m working on my first novel, which I finished many years ago but didn’t publish. At the time there wasn’t much information freely available for new writers and trying to learn about the publishing process was difficult at best. I considered self-publishing at the time but due to things going on in my life and the cost (for which I didn’t have the funds) I decided not to pursue it. Part of my decision involved a belief that I wasn’t a good enough writer.
Today, there’s so much more information available in the form of organizations that provide writer services, websites and mentor programs available that it’s much easier to learn about things like proper manuscript formatting, how to query agents and how to go about getting published.
My novel is a High Fantasy novel called Descendant that will be part of a series of at least three books. It has heavy Norse and Celtic themes, tying into the mythology of those cultures.
2- What does literary success look like to you?
Ideally, the goal is to become a full-time writer but I realize how difficult and unlikely that is. It’s something I’m still striving for, however. Literary success would be having my first series of novels published and building a fan base where I could release additional content to go along with them such as stand-alone novels, short story compilations, artwork and even maps of the world. I’m not opposed to writing in different genres but for now, this series is my pride and joy.
3- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning to write?
I’m more of the “panster” type of writer where I think of an idea for a story and start writing it without doing research ahead of time. With Descendant, I’m already knowledgeable in Norse and Celtic mythology (among others) and have been reading fantasy novels for many years. I didn’t have to do any research to get started. Once I started writing it, I ended up doing a lot of research on the cultures and societies involved as I want a touch of realism that readers can relate to. I’ve purchased and read books on history and culture and have used many different types of websites on those topics.
4- How do you select the names of your characters?
I like my character names to have meaning that ties into the culture of the book and the world they live in. There are a few that I make up off the top of my head. I typically use baby-name websites that provide the meaning of a name and a little history behind it. I’ve used a few different Irish and Gaelic baby-name websites and will jot down names I find while researching information or reading works such as the Poetic Edda. I believe having character names that fit the work is important for immersing the reader into your world.
5- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Great question. There’s quite a few that I’ve become more conscious of and strive to correct in my own writing:
– Show, not Tell: A lot of new writers, including myself, fall into the trap of telling the reader what is happening instead of describing what is going on. For example, if a character is hot and sweaty, instead of saying “he was hot and sweaty” you could say that “his shirt was drenched” or that “he wiped his forehead”, something along those lines.
– Too Much Exposition: Background information on your world is great, but pages and pages of it with nothing happening in between are boring for the reader. Instead, it’s much better to provide this information in small chunks as the story progresses. This is often referred to as “Info Dumps.”
– History or Background Prologues: (ties into the above). A lot of fiction writers, particularly in Fantasy or Sci-fi, write a Prologue that provides a world history or background information that is intended to explain everything in one shot. When writing about a fictional world or time period, you have to give background information so the reader doesn’t get lost, but doing so in a Prologue can have your book rejected very quickly by an agent. I’ve read discussions where even some readers will skip a Prologue entirely if they see one.
– Flowery Writing or “Purple Prose”: Many new writers want to show how well they can write and tend to overuse adjectives, adverbs, metaphors and big words (Thesaurus Abuse). Don’t try to say something in three sentences that can be said in one. If a character is walking into an inn, for example, there’s no need to write three sentences about it when one will do. Another problem is over-describing scenes that don’t have much to do with the plot or don’t move it forward. There’s no reason to spend two or three paragraphs describing a place that you’ll never come back to in the story or that really has no bearing on later events.
– Point-of-View Mistakes or “Head Hopping”: If you are writing a book where there are multiple points-of-view from different characters, it’s easy to get caught switching POV in the middle of a scene or without a clear break between characters. Or if you’re writing in Third-Person Limited (the perspective of one character), it can be easy to write from an Omniscient perspective where you provide information that that character is not privy to. I have had to correct some of this in my own writing. Another issue is not having a distinct voice between characters. If two characters sound the same that can be a problem. I’ll give an example here from my own book below.
“The main character, Alimaye, is a seventeen-year-old woman who’s learning about how big the world around her really is. She’s naïve and has had a somewhat sheltered life. She can be hot-tempered at times and like all young people, has dreams that may not be fully realized in the future.”
“Kellam, her mentor, is an old wizard whose experiences far surpass most people in the world. He’s book-smart but also wise and can come off as pompous at times, correcting people when he believes they’re wrong or being long-winded. The way I write Kelliam is different than how I write Alimaye.”
6- who are your heroes of the industry? And how have they influenced you in your writings?
I can’t say I have any real heroes that I look up to in the industry. I respect anyone who has the guts to write something and put it out into the world, knowing they’ll face a lot of criticism. R.A. Salvatore may be one. He writes what he loves, sticks with it and has done so for years, becoming a best-selling, successful author. His influence on me has to do with how well he writes characters. When you read his books, you become completely immersed into the character you’re reading about, understanding their motivations and emotions. I try to do the same in my book. I want my readers to empathize with my characters.
7- would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? And if yes, what name would that be?
I considered using my full first name along with my middle name or my first two initials, such as “Jeffrey Michael” or “J.M. Ehrmann”. I may do this in the future if I write in another genre.
8- What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
If I don’t like what I’m reading, I’ll put the book down and won’t finish it. I’m less likely to read a book from that author afterword. The best one I can think of is Ray Bradbury. I remember having to read a few of his books in high school and beyond and there were a few I simply didn’t like. Others like Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man grew on me and later I read more of his work on my own.
9- What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Homeland by R.A. Salvatore (I’m a big fan). Because R.A. Salvatore writes within a very specific setting used with the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, his series of books about the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden is probably overlooked by many people who think it’s just a “D&D book”. Although some of his books in this series and others are best-sellers, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how well he writes and how well he portrays the emotions of his characters.
10- why do you write?
I write because I enjoy it. It’s as simple as that really. I have a story to tell that I think people will enjoy and I enjoy telling that story. I’ve always been a creative person but art was not my calling. I was good at creating stories out of nothing and when I do so, for fun, people always seemed to enjoy them. When I was in high school, I was told by a few teachers that I was a good writer and that I should look into becoming one. I didn’t believe them. For whatever reason, it just didn’t occur to me that being a writer was something I could do as a career. At the time, my goal was to be a professional hockey player but I was also interested in psychology and computers. Eventually, life happened and I took classes in Information Technology as a way of boosting my income quickly to provide for my family. I don’t regret that decision as I do enjoy working on computers, but at this point in my life, I’ve learned that writing is a passion of mine and it’s all I really want to do.
Currently, I can be reached on Twitter (@galdrafodr – it means “Father of Magical Songs”, an alternate name for Odin), where I connect with other writers and am a part of the Writing Community there. I’m also on Instagram (@jeffehrmann) where I’ve posted excerpts from Descendant. I have a profile on Wattpad (@jehrmann) where I plan on publishing short stories related to the book and the world but currently have no content to read there. I don’t currently have an author website but this is in the works (jeffehrmann.com).
There we have it, an insight to a passionate man, feeling his way towards his own Valhalla.