Interview with Z Jeffries Author of The Hide and Seek Chronicles
Hello fellow bookworms and thank you for stopping by! If you haven't heard yet, this week is Self-published Authors Appreciation Week! Today's Book Talk features an interview with self published author Z Jeffries. When Z Jeffries first reached out and asked me to read Chase: The Boy Who Hid, I honestly wasn't sure if I would like it. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, but I dove in and decided to give it a try. What I found was a book filled to the brim with action and a diverse cast of characters. And I cannot stress enough how great this series is! I'm now happily reading book four Gamble: Two Lives Away that I will review for you all later this week!
Z Jeffries approach to creating an inclusive story is fantastic. The Hide and Seek Chronicles will teach kids and teens about social and racial bias. They'll learn alongside the characters how their actions affect others and how to do better. And this series is just as fun to read for adults as it is for the younger crowd.
1.) What was your inspiration for the Hide and Seek Chronicles?
The Hide & Seek Chronicles came from a mix of pop culture, boredom, and an interest in sciences.
Growing up, I loved kids’ adventure movies of the 80’s. Films like the Explorers, Flight of the Navigator, and The Monster Squad really got my imagination going. But I didn’t really write back then, so rather than expressing myself, I was (and still am) a big daydreamer.
While I was bored mowing lawns, I’d entertain myself with vivid daydreams of a top-secret hi-tech hide and seek game going on all around while I did chores. I imagined the trees and cars in my neighborhood morphing to reveal they were really cutting edge camouflage technology.
Somewhere along the way, this idea merged with a news documentary I’d seen about DARPA, the R&D wing of the Department of Defense, which held contests between public and private sector organizations to advance technology, like AI, self-driving cars, and walking robots.
So I had the idea of an 80’s movie-style sci fi adventure about a game of hide and seek run by DARPA. Then I sat on this idea for DECADES. I tried writing once in the aughts and again in the teens, but I wasn’t ready as a writer to finish a novel. By the time I was a good enough writer, I’d come to understand more about bias and privilege, that people who weren’t cishet white boys were excluded from the adventures movies I loved. So, I approached the adventure through the lens of a young man expanding his horizons and learning about personal prejudice at the same time he infiltrates a billion-dollar military competition run by the government.
2.) Did you edit out any scenes you wish you could have kept?
I rewrote this book many, many times, so it’s hard to pinpoint an aspect that I wasn’t able to polish and fit in.
There is a prologue depicting SteelCut’s final game that is available exclusively through zjeffries.com/samples that didn’t fit, as it wasn't seen through Chase’s eyes.
There was a draft I wrote in which the mechanic character Harpreet really resented Chase becoming captain and let him know it, but it took away from the fun of the team. I hope I did manage to keep the seriousness of addressing Chase’s biases and internalized racism even when lightening Harpreet (one of my favorite characters).
3.) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Hide and Seek?
The reaction of young readers has been the best! Kids are such voracious readers, and really don’t have a filter when it comes to critiquing stories. The feedback from young readers has been so positive, it really makes me feel good about approaching this big sprawling adventure with such a big social message, not just for teens, but for kids nine and older.
4.) How has the publishing process been for you?
Indie publishing is such a strange trip. I queried book one for about a year with the goal of getting traditionally published. Maybe it was the upper MG/Lower YA readership, or the genre of sci fi with no superheroes, video game aspect, or dystopia, but Chase didn’t find a home with any agent.
I found the freedom in that, being able to write the story I wanted, to finish the series with all of the wacky, over-the-top ideas I could fit in. I’m definitely still learning how to show off my brand of action-packed speculative fiction that addresses social biases and fits in as many tropes as possible.
Supportive blogs like Behind the Pages have been so supportive and an amazing resource for finding great readers.
5.) Did publishing your first book change your writing process at all?
I’ll definitely be writing in more established genres and readerships moving forward, but nothing really affected my writing process as much as writing has. I’ve been going for about four years now producing 300,000+ words a year and I can see and feel the improvement.
The doing of the task has improved my ability to do the task.
6.) Did you have a certain goal in mind when starting the series, or a message you wanted your writing to send?
I wanted to really confront the racism I’d internalized as a part of speculative adventure tropes. Adventures shouldn’t be limited to little straight cis white boys! So I tried to parse out how someone who has internalized bigotry could really change, and what that would look like in a STEM setting.
7.) Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Always. I wrote incredibly detailed fiction for school projects growing up. Embarrassingly detailed. I’ve always written something -- poetry, short stories, plays, pilots, and screenplays. I’m finding that prose novels is probably my favorite medium.
8.) Who is your favorite author(s)?
My favorites are Vonnegut and Jemisin, who I just think are the bee’s knees and will be taught in schools for years.
I love the fantasy novels of Carol Beth Anderson, the sci fi short stories by Alexis Ames, and am just discovery some genius sci-fi comedy of Carmen Loup.
I will also read just about anything by Charlie Jane Anders, Matt Wallace, and Sarah Gailey.
9.) Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
Write. Write so much you don’t have to worry about cutting an entire chapter, throwing away a novelette, or shelving a whole book. If you're words are cheap, you’ll be able to produce so many, it won't hurt to shave off excess when revising.
Find a community. It can be hard. Very hard. I spent over a year unsuccessfully building an in-person critique group before finding an established one. I also have the support of some great authors through Twitter. Find or build a support system, a task easier said than done. But please don’t give up. Critique of peers elevates the work of all parties.
10.) What are your favorite writing tropes?
Starting a book in the middle of intense action
A character doesn’t call another by their real name or proper title until a crucial moment
A silent character stops being silent
An animal companion winds up having a big surprise reveal
11.) Outside of writing, how do you like to pass the time?
Being a Dad! I’m the SAHD of a fearless, kind, whip-smart little toddler. And as it’s getting more and more obvious that she will one day rule the world, I’ve got to put in the work now to make sure she’ll know what she’s doing!
I also love gardening, cooking, composting, and cheese (but not all together).
About the Author
Z Jeffries appreciates and sends love to every reader of every word he writes, even this one. This dad, husband, and dogfather is the author of the Hide & Seek teen sci-fi series. He's written plays performed by and in small theatres across the country, and has published some of those, some poetry, and some wicked dark adult fiction (dun-dun-DUN) under other made-up names. He writes exciting adventures brimming with inclusivity, heart, and imagination for nerdy readers of all ages.