Book Nerd Interview
I’m originally from the suburbs just south of Richmond, VA. Mom was a nurse. Dad worked in the tobacco industry. Growing up I always knew I wanted to do something artistic but it wasn’t until I started writing poetry and short stories in Junior High that something really stuck. Towards the end of Junior High I attended the University of VA’s Young Writers Workshop, which is basically writers’ camp, for a couple summers. If you’re a teen into writing definitely check it out.
I wrote throughout High School but was also pretty wrapped up in the process of becoming a big ol’ theater nerd. I wrote stuff and directed plays and performed in shows like Indians, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Taming of the Shrew, The Man of La Mancha and various others.
After HS I went to study acting at East Carolina University then moved to New York right after that to ply my new trade. A few years later writing reared it’s head again and I left NY and headed out to UC San Diego where I got an MFA in playwriting.
A year or so after grad school I started reading books from writers like M.T. Anderson, KL Going, and David Almond and was blown away by the quality of writing that was going on for teen audiences. I was hooked. The first book I wrote was an adaptation of my play The Real Names of Rock Stars. It was about a teenage girl who runs away from home to become a rockstar under the tutelage of a 6 foot tall drag queen named Veronica Tresbien. It was a learning experience. Basically what it taught me is that I really really loved writing books for teens but shouldn’t necessarily be writing books about teenage girls who become rockstars while under the tutelage of statuesque drag performers. Luckily that’s a lesson you really only need to learn once. I stuck that book in the drawer (where it shall remain until the end of time) and six months later I had the first draft of what eventually became The Eleventh Plague.
Now I’m back in New York with my wife (Super rad sewing blogger Gertie) and I’m working on my next books!
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
So many reasons. The one that leaps to mind is that reading can be a kind of practice in empathy. I think that time spent immersing ourselves in the points of view of fictional people very different from us yields lessons that we can be carry over into the real world.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
That despite working in a creative profession I am incredibly, perhaps weirdly, focused on structure and schedules and deadlines. Even though I’m a full time writer without a boss looking over my shoulder I work almost the exact same schedule that I did when I had an office job: Start writing by 9, lunch at 1, write until 6.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
That since you can never anticipate what readers or agents or publishers are going to want from one day to the next, the only thing to do is just write what you want.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
More than anything else, don’t forget that writing is supposed to be fun.
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
I think the biggest stumbling block is comparing yourself to other writers. It’s poisonous and something we’re all prone to. All you can do is be conscious of it and give yourself a little talking to every time you hear that mean little voice ask why you don’t have this person’s success or that person’s reviews.
Can you tell us when you started The Eleventh Plague, how that came about?
I was going through a period of being a bit of a news junkie when I started 11th Plague. Then, like now really, it seemed like not only were there an extraordinary amount of things going wrong in our country but we had become so polarized that we had completely lost our ability to fix any of these things. My frustration caused me to imagine a giant red reset button that would start society all over again and give us a second chance. Of course the question is if we got that second chance would be use it to make things better or would we just make the same mistakes all over again?
For those who are unfamiliar with Jenny, how would you introduce her?
Hi! This is my friend Jenny Tan. I’m really sorry she punched you in the face. Won’t happen again.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Read every genre you can possibly get your hands on. You never know what you’ll end up loving.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
Ha. It’s actually one of these. But I’m not saying which. :)
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
Hmm. Venice was beautiful in an otherworldly kind of way. Edinburgh was amazing. But I have to say I love my hometown in upstate New York the best.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
File clerk at a funeral home.
When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
It’s entirely possible that I told my dog Rosie that I loved her about 10 minutes ago.
When was the last time you cried?
The last time I saw Finding Nemo. That movie just kills me.
Where can readers stalk you?
Twitter. Definitely Twitter. I spend an unhealthy amount of time there. Come say hi! I’m @jeff_hirsch
In the aftermath of a war, America’s landscape has been ravaged and two-thirds of the population left dead from a vicious strain of influenza. Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family were among the few that survived and became salvagers, roaming the country in search of material to trade. But when Stephen’s grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma after an accident, Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true. Then Stephen meets strong, defiant, mischievous Jenny, who refuses to accept things as they are. And when they play a prank that goes horribly wrong, chaos erupts, and they find themselves in the midst of a battle that will change Settler’s Landing--and their lives--forever.
This unimaginable world that author Jeff has created is far different than the one we live in now. Stephen and his family are scavengers living in an environment that is reminiscent of the world in the dystopian movie Mad Max. The writing style of Jeff will strikingly grab the reader and place them right in the middle of Stephen’s unfriendly world. The descriptions have so much depth that readers will have an exact idea of how this kind of environment affects the people that lives in it. Readers are given a clear vision and can almost feel and taste the aftermath of a war that plagued a thriving country into nothing but a ravaged land.
Readers will enjoy that although Stephen is the hero in this story, he is more of an indisposed hero. He is reluctant to get himself involved in bad situations but there are times that it is simply unavoidable. This attribute makes him seemed real as he makes decisions that he ultimately knows will have consequences. His sole encounters in this altered world are recorded in great details and readers are given a realistic look at the things people will do to each other, even when there are chances to be better. The Eleventh Plague is a well-crafted story that should be of interest to boys and girls alike. This YA adventure will pull readers into its compelling plot and leaves them feeling entertained.