Author Interview "Jeffrey H. Baer"
While writing fiction and songs for most of his life, Jeffrey H. Baer was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2002. He believes in encouraging others on the autism spectrum to discover and use their unique gifts.
Mr. Baer lives in Coney Island with his girlfriend Karen and works part-time for a Manhattan-based security systems company. He is the author of two novels--A SONG APART, about a rising young pop star who meets and falls in love with her unlikeliest fan, and THE STRICKLAND FILE, about a college graduate coping with harsh office politics at his new job.
Please give our readers a brief description of each of your books and the inspiration behind them.
Back when MTV still cared about music, they aired a short interview with Public Enemy leader Chuck D. They asked him about group members casually meeting fans, to which he replied “For us it’s thirty seconds. For them it’s a lifetime.” So I wondered, what if it were more than “thirty seconds for us”? and I had the premise for A SONG APART. It reverses the gender roles of idol-meets-biggest-fan stories, as college student Kevin Derow hooks up with do-it-yourself recording artist Shannon Kistler. Their love of music becomes a defense against a society that disapproves of their personal life choices.
THE STRICKLAND FILE was inspired by the most difficult office job I had, as receivables manager for a trade paper publisher. Our CFO seemingly resented employees helping him keep the books, but he saved his worst for an undergraduate performing an allegedly thankless job. Nobody, be it a rookie or a seasoned veteran, deserves that treatment while making a living. But Gary Strickland strains to keep office politics from swamping his personal life, which will include fatherhood and marriage in that order.
First, let’s talk specifically about your book “A Song Apart.” Your story follows two main characters Shannon Kistler and Kevin Derow. Please share with our readers how you were able to develop such memorable characters.
I approach it the same way as most authors—I let the characters flesh themselves out. I had only a vague sense of what made Shannon and Kevin tick, but they surprised me as I worked toward a finished draft. Shannon especially surprised me by taking her sudden success for granted when she should’ve developed respect for her musical craft. I built upon those changes to make Shannon and Kevin more complex, but whether they’re memorable is up to readers.
Now, let’s talk about your book “THE STRICKLAND FILE.” In this book, the main character Gary Strickland has to make some very tough decisions about both his personal and work life. What challenges did you face while writing the storyline for this novel?
One early challenge came as I started the rough draft. I still had some raw emotions from working at the publisher, and it interfered with which words I typed. Sometimes I thought I was trying to write a perfect manuscript the first time out, which simply isn’t possible for anyone.
I’ll admit to wondering whether a novel about a mundane aspect of our lives would resonate with readers. Most members of America Online’s Writers Café gave me virtual backwards looks over a subject no one would want to read if they already endured it in real life. One chatter was aghast after he read a draft of “a novel about accounting;” he insisted THE STRICKLAND FILE needed hit men and car chases.” Even science fiction legend A. C. Crispin, who often chatted with us mortals, couldn’t grasp my brand of social commentary. But I’m not a quitter, and I pressed on with a story that was worth telling.
You're a native New Yorker and both of your novels are based in New York City. Do you think growing up in New York has an impact on your writing style? If so, tell us how?
Kevin and Gary certainly have greater awareness of the Big Apple than I had at their ages. And since these novels are about people who want or don’t want to fit in, Kevin and Gary’s New York can seem dark and foreboding even in peaceful moments, dictating how the other residents interact, hinting at the cost of violating their hometown’s unspoken rules.
Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a special hangout or any writing rituals?
I write on my home computer while listening to internet radio–mostly old school R&B with some 70s pop thrown in for good measure. I’d like to get a Microsoft Surface so I can work outside my home and boost my output.
Have you ever experience writers block? If so, what are a few tips that you can give to other writers in regard to getting out of a writing slump.
At the risk of bragging, I don’t encounter writer’s block. But sometimes I’ll slog through a difficult scene, like a funeral or family members at each other’s throats. In those cases I’ll simply try to put something on the screen and beef it up when I revise the story.
You’re both an autism patient and advocate. As an author, does being autistic impact your writing?
Absolutely, and mostly my philosophy. I read many bestsellers over the years and understood why they were so successful. But autistic people see things differently from those called “neurotypicals,” and I realized some fiction should also speak to the people who read bestsellers. I challenge myself by raising some mundane aspects of everyday life to reading level. Fellow writers cringed at the idea of reading about their awkward teenage years or their daily job grinds, and that was enough to convince agents they couldn’t sell my work. But I plow ahead anyway, hoping readers gain some perspective.
What do you find are the most rewarding aspects of being an author?
The reviews, of course. Whether they’re positive or critical, there’s always something to learn from them. I’m especially pleased when a reader gets the novel’s message. And the royalties help when it comes time to
pay the bills.
What advice would you give to someone asking about self-publishing their first book?
Educate yourself about the process. Do your research and figure out which service is best for you. Find other self-published authors and get their insights about marketing books. Above all, don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith because no matter what, you’ll land on your feet.
What are you working on now?
I’m seeking out marketing opportunities–arranging book signings, local media appearances and internet outlets (including Writer’s Life magazine, of course). Then it’s back to DESPERATE PEOPLE, a satire of Sidney Sheldon’s bestselling formula. Wish me luck; I’ll need plenty of it.
A SONG APART: Rising pop singer Shannon Kistler never expected to see college student Kevin Derow on a Manhattan street wearing her concert shirt. But she offers gratitude in her own way, leaving her biggest fan in shock. When the two teenagers meet again six days later, Shannon slips Kevin her phone number, and the unlikely romance begins.
Soon they find they have several things in common: lonely childhoods, a passion for music, and making unpopular choices about their own lives. The public cannot take Shannon seriously as a teenaged recording artist, but she risks her sudden success by making some public mistakes after breaking into a soulless music industry with unusual ease. Meanwhile Kevin loses respect of family, friends and coworkers over the girl he idolizes–and unwittingly blows the lid off a payola scheme devised by Shannon’s record label, threatening her career and his own freedom.
THE STRICKLAND FILE: Gary Strickland is astonished to lose his job before proposing to his childhood sweetheart Angela and braces for a lengthy search through the maze of New York City companies. Three days later Alex Schneider, a successful trade paper’s CFO, hires the recent college graduate to collect unpaid amounts from advertisers. But no sooner is Gary wedged among stingy clients, selfish coworkers, and his frazzled manager, than he and Angela learn they’ll become parents before husband and wife.
Three months later Gary’s company-wide invitation to his engagement party inadvertently enrages Alex, who then manipulates the young and unproven employee to protect his own fragile position. After Gary’s moral fiber takes a thorough beating, he finds Alex’s file suggesting he’s a hostage to upper management. Now Gary must abandon his livelihood before the office politics crush him, or remain for his family’s sake and risk a future defined by…THE STRICKLAND FILE.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
www.facebook.com/jeffrey.baer.7 (personal page)
www.facebook.com/ASongApart/ (A SONG APART)
www.facebook.com/Jbaernovel41/ (THE STRICKLAND FILE)