Interview: Jeff Hirsch

This week, we’ll meet author and tutor Jeff Hirsch!

1.Tell us a little about yourself. Maybe something random that not many people know!

Let’s see here. How about we start with the non-random stuff first as a kind of baseline? I’ve been a full-time writer of young adult and middle grade fiction for going on six years now, publishing with Scholastic and Clarion Books. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and now live in the small but mighty state of Rhode Island. 

And now a few random things….

  • Before I wrote kid’s books I was a big old theater nerd. I have a BFA in acting and an MFA in playwriting. 
  • I’ve been moderately obsessed with circuses and sideshows ever since I was a kid. Several years ago I went so far as to enroll in the sideshow school at The Coney Island Sideshow where I learned to eat fire, drive a large nail up my nose and escape from a strait jacket while hanging from the ceiling by my ankles.
  • I’m pretty sure that Prince is the coolest man who has ever lived or ever will live.
  • My number one hobby is probably baking. My key lime pie and triple chocolate espresso cookies will make you believe there is something good and righteous in this crazy world. 
  • I volunteer several hours a week as a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line, an awesome organization that helps teens and adults in crisis 24/7/365.  If you’ve ever wanted to help others it’s an amazing place to volunteer. If you’re ever in crisis yourself just text ‘Hello’ to 741741

2. If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be? 

Probably to relax a little. Writing is the world’s greatest game of let’s pretend and, especially in the first draft, you should treat it like that. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in wanting to make big statements, and communicate big ideas, and wow people with just the right turn of phrase that our writing starts to feel forced and over determined. Best we all just chill out a bit. Have fun. Let it flow. Follow our whims and see where they take us. That’s the advice I’d give my younger self. It’s also the advice I give my current self on a regular basis today.

3. How did you break into the publishing world?

I kinda did it the old fashioned away I guess. I wrote many, many, many drafts of a book and then I sent out queries to agents. Several rejected me, several offered me representation. I chose one of them, the delightful Sara Crowe, did another draft of the book and then she sent it out to publishers. The winds of fortune happened to be blowing in our direction and we sold to the nice people at Scholastic.

4. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a YA novel called Unnatural Disasters. It’ll be out in 2018 from Clarion Books. It’s set roughly thirty years in the future where unchecked climate change is running rampant, causing political instability throughout the world. The book follows Lucy Weaver, a whip smart and sassy horror movie fanatic, who finds out on her prom night that World War Three is about to start. It’s about what you do, and who you become, when the world as you know it starts to crumble around you. 

5. What inspired you to write your latest book? 

Reading about climate change and what it’s going to do to the world. For me the scary stuff isn’t so much the rising sea levels and the ever worsening storms—though those things are super scary—it’s the secondary effects of those things. As governments struggle to keep up with the effects of a warmer world—droughts, heat waves, rising seas, frequent and more destructive storms—we could start to see political instability on a truly ridiculous level. More failed states. More wars. More radicalism of all kinds. Thinking about what it might be like to live in that kind of world is what inspired Unnatural Disasters.

6. What’s your teaching philosophy?

More than anything, my role is to help you write the book you want to write. It doesn’t matter what I want or what your friends or family or the forces of children’s publishing want. It’s about you. The way I go about helping is to provide focused and specific criticism highlighting both what is working in your manuscript and what could be stronger. I see my role as basically critic/cheerleader. I point you in the right direction and then hoot and holler from the sidelines as you head off into it.

Also, just so you know where I’m coming from with my criticism, this is how I would basically define a work of dramatic fiction….

Compelling characters living in a distinctly drawn world who want things (tangible or intangible, ideally both) deeply, take actions to get them, and face conflicts (internal and external, ideally both) along the way. At the end there is some kind of change.

If you want to find out more about Jeff’s class, check it out here and you can visit his website here.
Interview: Jeff Hirsch