First, let me say that I am not a big reader of fiction, aside from the occasional graphic novel. But when I ran into one of my old middle school English teachers at a local art fair, I decided to take a chance and pick up one of his books.  I started reading Skeleton Key, by Jeff LaFerney, one afternoon and I found myself sneaking away to steal moments here and there until I finished it the next day. My wife was impressed with my focus since I am usually found reading 5 or 10 various church books and memoirs all at the same time. I found the story compelling and characters interesting. I didn’t want to put it down. When I was done I immediately went to the Kindle store and bought Jeff’s first book, Loving The Rain. He recently signed a deal to re-release his first two books with World Castle Publishing and is hard at work on the third. I’m always glad when I have the chance to share a little space on my blog with great local artists. In this interview, Jeff shares a bit of his story and some of the inspiration behind his work. It is my hope that after taking a glimpse, you’ll find a new companion to spend a few afternoons with during this dreary, Michigan winter.

1.Can you talk a little bit about how your journey from teacher and basketball coach evolved into author of fiction books?

My journey started when I began building a classroom library for my students.  I started reading junior high level award books (like Newberry Awards), assuming they were the best and I would begin to learn to recommend books to my students.  Instead, I read so many books that I didn’t think were very good that I found myself thinking that I could do better.  Eventually that thinking spilled over into adult books, some New York Times best sellers.  I found that several of those were poorly written too.  But I didn’t have a topic, time, or motivation, so the idea of writing just kind of ruminated in my mind.  My son then transferred schools his senior year, resulting in my losing my basketball coaching job.  I’d had a very successful career but was a bit frustrated when I was unable to get another job.  During this frustrating time, I got an idea for a book.  Then my son graduated, and because I wasn’t coaching in the summer and I didn’t have all of his activities, I found that I actually had time on my hands.  Then I was rejected once again for a job and instead of fretting about it, I got motivated.  I had found the three things I needed and Loving the Rain just simply flowed from my mind onto paper.  It was amazing .

2. How would you explain the heart of your books to someone who has never read them?

Clay and Tanner Thomas (father and son) have parapsychological abilities.  I wanted them to be as normal as possible, so I gave a medical reason for their abilities and I made them ordinary people with ordinary lives.  Tanner is a star athlete.  Clay is a college teacher and coach.  Both are genuinely good people.  Clay spends the first book dealing with the consequences of the few times he actually used his powers in an attempt to fend off a criminal.  In the second book, he decides to use his powers for good.  Except for mind-control that they share, they otherwise have completely different abilities, so they need each other and depend upon each other.

3. Where do you find your inspiration to write?

Unbelievably to me, I find that I’m quite creative.  The ideas haven’t been hard to come so far.  I think of things in the most unusual places, at times, but at other times I get ideas while sitting in front of the computer.  I thought of the ending for Loving the Rain while in bed in the middle of the night on a cruise.  I wrote it on a notepad in the dark.   In the morning I could actually read what I wrote.   Sometimes my wife gives me ideas when we’re talking about the book, but usually she isn’t trying.  She just says something that clicks with me, and I get an idea.  Sometimes, I just believe that writing is simply what God wants me to do, and He gives me ideas.

4. The characters in your book do some wrestling with issues of faith. Why do you think it’s important to tell those kinds of stories?

I found that I simply wanted to be true to myself when I wrote the books.  For instance, I don’t swear, so there is no swearing in my books.  I love sports, and I like humor, so I include those things in my writing.  And I’m a Christian, so I can’t but help but write from a worldview that includes God.  If Clay and Tanner are believers, then they should have struggles like all believers have had—struggles like I have had.  I’m proud that I’ve written books that my 8th grade students can read and that my seventy-year-old parents are proud of.  I think it’s good that anyone can read my books and enjoy them without me preaching at them, but the values and faith lessons and real struggles are evident too.

5. Are their specific books that you had in mind as you wrote your “Clay Tanner” books? I mean, what other books influenced your writing?

No specific books really influenced my writing.  I like the way some storytellers can have a lot of different things happening all at the same time and somehow wind them all together in a satisfactory ending.  I wanted to do that.  I also like books with action, witty dialogue, twists, and lots of stopping off places (short chapters and such).  I think books should be enjoyable to read while also challenging the mind at least a bit.  I like Robert B. Parker, Harlan Coban, James Patterson, and John Irving, so maybe their styles influenced me, but not directly, I don’t think.

6. What kind of experience do you hope your readers walk away with after reading one of your books?

I want my readers to connect to my characters.  I love it when people tell me they didn’t want the book to end and that they felt in touch with my characters.  I would like for them to notice the themes but not be bogged down by them.  I want them to not want to put the book down because they are being entertained while their mind is kept active.

7. You initially published the books yourself, using an on demand printing service. Do you have any advice for people who might want to self-publish their own work?

Do your homework.  There are a lot of vanity publishers out there that just want your money.  You can self-publish at minimal cost, especially if you can design your own cover, write your own promotional text, and format your own book interior.  Books can be uploaded to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, for instance, for free, and companies like CreateSpace (Amazon) provide services while printing books on demand, so there are no requirements for number of copies, etc., and you can decide for yourself if you need their help.

8. Can you tell us a little bit about your new publisher, World Castle Publishing? How did signing with them come about?

World Castle is a fairly new company from Pensacola, Florida, with about 60 or 70 authors.  The owner is very hands on and accessible.  I was at a Farmer’s Market in Durand, where Skeleton Key is set, and I met a lady named Ren who had signed a contract with World Castle Publishing.  She gave me information, and I looked the company up on-line and called Karen Fuller personally.  She patiently answered my questions and suggested I look over her submission guidelines.  I submitted both books and she offered me contracts.  Ren’s book, Mercy, is doing well, and now that mine are republished, I’m excited about my future, as well.

9. How does community or collaboration have an impact on your work?

I love getting out in the community and selling my books.  Not only have I met a lot of super nice people who have purchased my books, but I’ve met dozens of awesome people who have given me advice, given me names to call, or invited me to other opportunities.  I’ve talked with authors and aspiring authors, and I’ve made some great new friends.  When I first started, I went to a “friend” who I knew had worked for a publishing company and who had written a novel or two of his own.  He literally told me that he wouldn’t help me.  I would never do that.  I believe I’ve helped just as many people as who have helped me, and I love that part of my work.

10. Where can people get your books?

I have a website  www.jefflaferney.com where there are links to purchase my books.  It’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as on their e-books.  There are links at the World Castle Publishing websites, as well, and purchasing options to have books printed on demand.  World Castle has now joined with a company called Lightning Source which distributes books for bookstores, so bookstores can order the books also.  I’ve also donated copies to several local libraries, so people will have the opportunity to read them without having to buy them.

11. Can you share a little bit about what’s next? Do you have a new book in the works?

I’m currently about 70% done with another book in the Clay and Tanner Thomas series called Bulletproof.  It’s set in Fenton this time.  There is a crime spree that Clay is motivated to solve with the help of his son, and at the same time he will be solving another old murder mystery of a ghost (from the Fenton Hotel).  I have another idea that I hope to be an Indiana Jones type of adventure except that it’ll incorporate time travel and, I’m thinking, a guardian angel.  I’ve done lots of research, but I have to have the idea approved by my publisher before I commit to working on it.  There will still be moral and spiritual lessons in both books.

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