Jeffery Viles: “Keep an open mind”

Writers write. Do it daily, even if just for practice. Certainly that can be called perseverance or discipline, but if you make it an habitual part of your day, even if it’s just emails to friends or notes to yourself, you will improve. My business obligations require me to communicate often with my tenants. I […]

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Writers write. Do it daily, even if just for practice. Certainly that can be called perseverance or discipline, but if you make it an habitual part of your day, even if it’s just emails to friends or notes to yourself, you will improve. My business obligations require me to communicate often with my tenants. I try to make those emails examples of clear and concise writing, whether they’re two sentences or twenty. I doubt if my tenants notice, but I do.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffery Viles. Jeffery is a former journalist, editor and free-lance writer, who turned to serial entrepreneurship decades ago and now has returned to his first girlfriend — writing fiction. His debut novel, “The Sasquatch Murder (A Love Story)” earned rave reviews and national best novel finalist honors. With “PecuLIAR Fabrications” — “Short Fictions and Fake-News Christmas Letters” he offers a taste of fiction/humor at a time when we could all use a smile or maybe even a belly-laugh.

Thank you so much for joining us Jeffery! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I’m pretty sure my path is different than most authors working today. I got away from journalism and free-lancing many years ago, bought a small business and turned it into a large business called Midland Oil Company. I originally thought it might be a way to squirrel away a nest egg to allow me to keep writing and hopefully produce writing of value. But, I discovered I liked being a business guy, a capitalist, and an entrepreneur. I liked the challenge and success, frankly, of earning serious money. So it was natural to start other businesses and make them work out. That said, as I got older and maybe wiser, the urge to find time to write again did not go away. I only hope my efforts these days have merit.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

My first novel, “The Sasquatch Murder (A Love Story)” (as mentioned), was prompted by wanting to delve into the subject in a literary way with occasional bursts of literary language but still be totally accessible and a pleasant reading experience. There are many Bigfoot-Ate-My-Labradoodle books out there and this was definitely not going to be one of those. But what would be the hook, the main story line? It came to me at an odd time. I was golfing in Palm Springs with some pals and sunning by the pool, notepad in hand, trying to outline anything that made sense. Suddenly that little flash of inspiration struck. Why, of course, what would happen if someone actually shot and killed a Sasquatch and got it back to town? He’d be charged with murder because the creature was so human-like. Sasquatch murder was born.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

My biggest challenge is no doubt shared by many other aspiring authors, how do you find time to sit down and write? There are all the usual distractions — home, friends, entertainment, three glasses of fine wine — and in my case the biggest distraction of all, owning and running successful businesses. I’m not sure I have overcome these challenges yet because I still own and operate commercial real estate developments, but I’ve made peace with it and have learned to just sit down and, as I like to call it, “move the needle”. Even if I only write half a page and know I need to go back and make it better, at least I’ve moved the needle. Do that every day and before too long you’ll at least have a first draft of some kind. It’s obviously a matter of self-discipline, but it really helps make me sit down and write fiction if I know I’m okay with just moving the needle a bit.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was prone to write so much at one sitting I exhausted my thinking about where the story was headed. That led to skipping tomorrow and the next day because I knew I needed to have an idea in mind. A few times after skipping a few days I had forgotten my characters’ names and other details. I might start writing about a character only to look back and see I’d confused his name or something else about him. Eventually I was reminded of something that’s been attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although I don’t know if it’s original with him. “Stop writing only when you know what’s going to happen next. That way you’ll be eager to get back to it the next day.” I learned that approach works. And that it helps to review what you wrote yesterday before you start on today. Keeping notes as you go is helpful too. Some writers have a full outline before them when they start. I don’t. I try to make the characters vivid and let them tell me what they are going to say and do. My work seems best when I don’t try to control what needs to be written, the characters decide.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on a new novel with the working title of: “Mum” — “(Een Perfecte Moord)”. The location of a story is always very important and this one takes place in a small Idaho town populated by people of Dutch ancestry, hence the Dutch language subtitle for a perfect murder. There is a town bully who is a thief and a rapist and you can bet he’ll get what he has coming. But the entire town cooperates to remain mum about everything that happens. A little bit, perhaps, like the wonderful movie “Waking Ned Devine.”

What is the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

“PecuLIAR Fabrications” is actually a mash-up of short stories, fake-news Christmas letters, brief word pictures that make you ponder, and even a few fabulous recipes related to a French meal the characters in one of the stories enjoy. Something for everyone. The most interesting story? Impossible to choose from your labors of love. Is it the average Joe who is having a bad evening being assaulted by deer and wrestling a pro wrestler turned preacher? Or the Caribbean fisherman trying to understand postpartum depression? How about the faithful brother prowling the Oscars with a gun in his belt? Or the old man speaking his life story into a tape recorder? Or any of the others? You read them. You choose.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That the range of experiences we all have is vast, and that there are many viewpoints from which to judge those experiences so keep an open mind.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each. 1.

  1. Before all else, know yourself. If you have a clear picture and thorough knowledge of yourself, you’ll be able to know the region you want to write about and also the world at large. Before writing about Sasquatch and knowing the story would take place in the Pacific Northwest, I made a solo trip there and inhaled every detail I could find including a solo hike into a national forest. That area is so dense and dark with enormous trees it showed me how such creatures could escape detection if they wanted.
  2. Think about a character and jot down some details before you introduce the character. Get to know the character before you write about him or her and that character will be more vivid and may be able to tell you where to go and what should happen. I invented a protagonist, Jake Holly, who was a youthful widower and rode a horse almost daily into the great woods just to escape civilization and his own grieving. This was to be how he accidentally shot a Bigfoot. But Jake told me he wanted to be more layered, more complex, so he became something of a Renaissance man by planting a commercial organic produce farm and starting violin lessons.
  3. Keep going when you write. Initially you’re just trying to produce a first draft. When you’re stuck, change the scene and keep going. We’re all movie-oriented in this day and age, so readers will easily accept and understand a scene change. I do this often, and then sometimes go back later and improve or complete what was happening just before the scene change.
  4. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Just know you’ll come back later and improve things. Get it down and keep going. A draft is just that, something to come back to and improve on. I work with the idea that fiction is never finished, just abandoned at some point and declared done.
  5. Each time you come to the word “and” in your writing, think about changing it to a period. Short sentences usually work best, but should be overlaid with the occasional longer sentence so the writing begins to take on a rhythm. I read everything out loud when I’m ready to move on, in order to listen for that rhythm.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Writers write. Do it daily, even if just for practice. Certainly that can be called perseverance or discipline, but if you make it an habitual part of your day, even if it’s just emails to friends or notes to yourself, you will improve. My business obligations require me to communicate often with my tenants. I try to make those emails examples of clear and concise writing, whether they’re two sentences or twenty. I doubt if my tenants notice, but I do.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I probably draw inspiration from everything I’ve ever read. I certainly make a written note any time I read an idea, a concept, a conclusion, that could be incorporated into my own thinking. I’ve got pounds of those notes stowed away. But I’m always impressed by good writing that jumps out from the page during the telling of a good story. I have little desire to pontificate, or to read fiction that strives to solve the great questions. Some of the writers whose prose stands out to me include: Denis Johnson (“Tree of Smoke” and others); Raymond Carver (all his stories); John Irving (Garp); William Styron (“Sophie’s Choice” and others); Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides); Cormac McCarthy (No Country…All The Pretty…and others); Edward St. Aubyn (“Lost For Words”); Willa Cather (The Nebraska Trilogy); Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“One Hundred Years of Solitude”) — his influence can be noticed within “PecuLIAR Fabrications” in the story, “Day of the Butterflies”; John Updike (all the Rabbit stories); and certainly Papa Hemingway himself, who set the bar for short, punchy sentences.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

America’s experiment in democracy has devolved into sharp partisan politics and infighting, yet it’s still the best system ever devised. I would establish a third party, the Middle Party, which would specialize in polite discussion and debate, respect for a variety of viewpoints, and try to elect no career politicians whatsoever. Indeed, maybe we need to have congressional duty be like jury duty, where anyone generally qualified might be called to serve for a brief term and then go home. No far right or far lefts welcomed. No agendas except to run the government from the middle.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Although I’m not especially active on social media, I am on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. What I would really want readers to do is visit and comment if desired on and

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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