I have the pleasure of teaching a class in the children's organization at my church and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the father of a couple of these children is an author! So I'm pleased today to share an interview with Chris Seifert, an attorney and author with degrees in law and journalism. He also has a beautiful family and a great sense of humor. Be sure to check out his website and follow him on Twitter.
When did you first start writing? Do you remember what inspired you?
I think I’ve always been interested in stories, although it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it was that got me writing. When I was six years old, I wrote and illustrated a series of stories I called “The Adventures of Wally the Walrus.” I still have a first edition copy of “Wally the Walrus” somewhere with all my old elementary school papers. Later on, one of my friends and I hatched the idea to write an outer space adventure based on our playground escapades. We never made it very far with that one, but writing a book was clearly something I was interested in doing all the way back then. It wasn’t until I got to high school, however, that I started to truly focus some of my storytelling ambitions and develop a few more of the tools in my writer’s toolbox. I must say I had a fabulous English teacher who gets much of the credit for that.
Who are your favorite authors? Are there any particular genres you're drawn to?
I consider myself a science fiction fan first and foremost. As I was growing up, “Star Trek” was something that captured my imagination, and I confess it’s never really let go. The problem was I always found it difficult to get my hands on books that portrayed that same kind of optimistic “Star Trek” future I was craving (there are an awful lot of dystopias out there), and so I’m probably not as well-read in the science fiction genre as I’d like to be. I mean, I’ve read some Carl Sagan, some Isaac Asimov, some Arthur C. Clarke, some Orson Scott Card, etc., but the one science fiction writer who really inspires me is Ray Bradbury. Not that Ray Bradbury always paints a rosy picture of the future. Often it’s quite the opposite, but he’s somebody who takes you to another world and then just kind of overwhelms you with the force and beauty of his language. I actually think J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is the book I’d point to that best embodies the kind of wide-eyed optimism I value. It also occurred to me recently that I’m drawn to stories about friendship and loyalty, which is probably why Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books are some of my other favorites. Jerry Spinelli, Kate DiCamillo, and Gary Schmidt are a few contemporary children’s/young adult authors I admire. Oh, and I love Harry Potter, but then who doesn’t, right?
When you sit down to write a novel, what do you do first? Do you outline? What does your process look like?
I’m definitely an outliner. You don’t make it through law school without becoming an outliner. For me, endings are critical. A great ending can elevate an otherwise ordinary book in my opinion. So, I start with the ending. Where is it these characters are going to end up? What’s the pinnacle of their adventure? Once I have that vision in my mind, then I ask myself how they’re going to get there. So, I guess you might say I sort of reverse engineer it. I also try to pick a topic I’m extremely passionate about. For example, a number of years ago, I wrote a novel about two teenage brothers who are obsessed with football. Well, I’m obsessed with football, and so it was fairly easy to channel that excitement and energy into a novel. As for the process, I’m afraid a big part of writing is just being willing to put in the time and do the grunt work. When I was writing my football novel, I would close the door to my office at work every day at and write for an hour. Some days, the prose I produced in that hour was absolute garbage. (I was comforted knowing I could always go back and polish during the revision process.) Other days, I couldn’t believe how easily the words flowed. The key was consistency, chipping away at it a little bit at a time. I’ve found that as I do that, I come to a point where I reach what I consider critical mass. I look back at what I’ve written, and I realize I’ve made it this far, and I’ve still got enough in the tank to see it through. Then, once I’ve finished a novel, I’m armed with the knowledge I’m capable of doing it all over again. That’s been an empowering experience for me.
Do you see any parallels between your career in law and your creative writing? Do these two parts of your life feed each other in any way?
This is a tough question. I wouldn’t exactly say there are parallels, but, yes, my legal career and my writing career certainly do feed and inform each other. When I went to law school, I looked around and thought to myself, ‘My goodness, all of these people are brilliant. I don’t belong here.’ No question many of them were brilliant, but what I soon found was that the writing skills I’d learned as an undergrad (I majored in print journalism) served me well in law school, and I was able to earn much better grades there than I had anticipated. On the writing side, I’m a believer in the old adage, “Write what you know.” When I sat down to write my science fiction novel, The Rocket Riders, I had to acknowledge I’ve never been to outer space. But what I could say is I get excited about outer space. Then I went about writing a father/son story about a boy who dreams of a future career in outer space and a dad who had those exact same dreams once – but set them aside for the greater good of his family. The dad became instead – you guessed it! – a lawyer. So, while I’m writing this over-the-top outer space adventure on the one hand, on the other hand I’m writing something very intimate and autobiographical about the choices I’ve made in my own life and the reasons for them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m immensely proud of what I do as an attorney. My job matters, and I get to contribute to society in a meaningful way, but at the same time I gave up something I was excited about (journalism) to, in part at least, provide a better, more stable life for my family. With Rocket Riders, I was writing what I knew – and touching on some themes I think a lot of people can relate to. Plus, I sprinkled in a bunch of inside lawyer humor for good measure.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on a young adult fantasy novel with a good friend of mine. I’ve never tried collaboration before (at least not since elementary school). I’m such a control freak as a writer that I’m sure I’m a horrible teammate, but it’s been a fun experience so far. I’m also brainstorming ideas for a couple of sequels to The Rocket Riders. I’ve always been vehemently opposed to the idea of writing sequels, but as I consider how dear to me these particular characters are, I feel a desire to spend some more time with them, so I’m looking forward to going back to that well soon.