Jeff’s Mini Bio
Jeff took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to write
full-time and is now a Wall Street Journal bestselling author. He is,
most importantly, a husband and father, a devout member of his
church, and is occasionally spotted roaming hills with oak trees and
granite boulders in California or in any number of the state’s
majestic redwood groves. He is the founder of Deep Magic: the
E-zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction (www.deepmagic.co),
a bi-monthly e-zine featuring amazing short stories by established
& new writers, interviews, and writing craft articles.
He welcomes hearing from readers: jgwheels /at/ gmail dot com
The Writing Bug
stuck in my mind over the years. It was at the school library at Miller that I first found The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I read
the first few chapters and thought I had the entire story figured out. I knew who the main characters would be and how it would end. So predictable. Then Terry killed off all of those characters. Gulp. I was hooked, reading late in the night each night. One night, I woke up my brother to try and tell him what was going on. He didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm. By the end of the book, I wanted to cry. That moment is still fresh in my mind. I wanted to write stories that made people feel. I wanted to create places and characters that would move readers emotionally as I had been.
Dungeons & Dragons
dice and fighting monsters. But what I enjoyed most about the game was being a Dungeon Master and inventing stories. I used the platform
of D&D to create adventures and then sent my friends and siblings on these elaborate plot-lines as if they were living inside a fantasy novel.
I had no scruples bending the rules of the game if it helped improve the story. And more than once my friends would hurl dice or Lego
blocks at me when I’d end the session at a cliffhanger and with the words, “That’s all for today.”
every week, for two years. After returning to the Bay Area, I needed a job and ended up working at Intel as a temp. My computer skills and
typing speed surprised the recruiter. Gina and I were married in 1994 and lived in a duplex on 10th Street in downtown San Jose. My
college years were spent working at Intel and studying at San Jose State University, where I took as many creative writing classes as I could
while focusing on a major in history. It was in college that I was introduced to Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman and learned from
that trilogy about the sad fate of the last Princess of Wales. Penman’s trilogy moved me so much that I wrote her a lengthy letter praising the
work and its impact on me. I was startled to get a wonderful reply letter and we struck up a correspondence and eventually became e-mail
‘friends’, long before Facebook. Sharon would visit California occasionally for book tours and conferences and Gina and I ended up having
dinner with her several times. Sharon sent me signed hardcover copies of all her books which I proudly display now on my bookshelf. What
an amazing experience and a great mentor. I still remember losing my hard-cover edition of her book When Christ and His Saints Slept
because I had set it on top of my car and it had blown off. I was crushed, but I wrote to Sharon to see if she had any more hardcover copies
of it, and she sent me a new one with a warning to keep it buckled in the backseat the next time.
During my college years, I wrote Landmoor six times. From scratch. I’m not joking. I was learning the craft of writing, finally, but I did not
do a good job of thinking through the plot well enough in advance, and sometimes I would paint myself into corners, or new ideas would
strike me half-way through the story requiring a major re-write. Landmoor was based on some of the early D&D adventures I had created
with my friends in high school, probably enough material to fill ten books. What I lacked was the skill to translate those adventures into
literature. Even today, I can’t believe it took that many tries to finally have a version of the novel that I really liked. The good thing is that I
cut my teeth on that novel and began to hone my instincts and my process: one night a week; one chapter a week; repeat until done. The
sequel, Silverkin , was only written once.
While starting the process of getting Landmoor published, I continued to write new books. One of my history classes inspired the plot of
the Minya series and I wrote it in a unique way. My friends were recruited to become major characters in the novel, and I would send them
a few pages at a time and then ask them to pick how the characters responded to the situations. I would then write some more and we’d go
back and forth and occasionally cross paths and not even know they had “met” each other until later. I also completed the first draft of a
series called Kingmakers and thought about turning that into a series of books too.
While this was going on, my best friends Jeremy, Brendon, and I discussed a long-time dream of creating an electronic magazine where we could publish fantasy and science fiction stories from new writers. We had been kicking the idea around for years and finally decided to band together and create one. Things were moving forward when 9/11 happened and we put the idea on hold. I moved to Rocklin that year, and we found ourselves in different parts of the country but still with the same idea. We decided to give it a try and named it Deep Magic after a reference in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and launched in June 2002. That experience changed me and it changed my writing.
First of all, it introduced me to a new group of friends and readers who volunteered to run the monthly e-zine. It also provided a flood of manuscripts to read, and it was reading through these that I began to see errors in my own writing along with clichés and common mistakes new writers make. We began publishing regular writing craft articles to help ourselves as well as our readers, and I had the privilege of interviewing many of the top-name authors, editors, as well as agents. We enlisted artists all over the world to contribute cover art for Deep Magic. Our covers were awesome and so were the stories. Readership started off small and then grew to over a thousand monthly readers, primarily through word of mouth. Running a monthly e-zine along with full-time jobs was not easy for any of us, and I found my one-night-a-week often swallowed up in the efforts to keep the e-zine going. Most importantly though, I learned by leaps and bounds. I decided to self-publish Landmoor and Silverkin, using Deep Magic as a platform to gain some visibility with readers. We also published two anthologies, called Deeper Magic.
A Million Words
An interesting turning point happened in October 2004. I happened to stumble across an advertisement for a writing seminar being held in Corte Madera, California. It would be taught by Terry Brooks, the man who had inspired me with the vision of becoming a writer. Words can’t express how much I looked forward to that class and for the opportunity to have Terry read a chapter from a book I’d written and critique it in the class. I debated which of my novels to use and settled on the first book in the Minya series. During the class, Terry offered unflinching criticism of each sample, and my confidence began to waver. He gave Minya some strong comments, which were helpful, and I was amazed at how fast the time went by. We broke for lunch to a nearby café, and I sat alone at a table, thinking about what Terry had said and pondered what to do about it. Terry entered the café and bought his lunch. I watched him, wondering where he would sit and eat. He glanced around the room, observing the scene a bit. Then he saw me sitting alone and came over a joined me at the table.
I had lunch with Terry Brooks. It was an amazing opportunity, and I don’t know if he even remembers it. But we talked about my writing and we talked about not giving up. He said, very kindly, that I was already a decent writer and encouraged me to keep working on my craft. On the way home that day, my mind was spinning. He had said something in class that continued to rattle around in my brain. It was a quote attributed to Stephen King that went something like this: the first million words are practice for becoming an author.
When I got back home, I did some math. I counted the number of words in The Shadyrock Murderer all the way through to Silverkin, including the re-writes. Adding it all together, it was just over one million words. I stared at my computer screen for a long time. All of this had been…practice? While driving to Corte Madera, I wondered which series would be the launch of my writing career. I realized, if I was being brutally honest with myself, that none of them would be.
The Wretched of Muirwood
So I made a decision. I would take everything I’d learned over the years and start with a brand new novel, the first book of a trilogy. I had the story arc idea from something I had learned in history from Sharon Kay Penman’s books. I wove it together into a world I had already invented for a novella for Deep Magic, and started there. As I began researching more into the world, I decided to flood my mind with some of the classics: Pride & Prejudice, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Les Miserables, just to name a few. I analyzed the stories for character development and plot development. I even re-read Elfstones of Shannara again and loved it every bit as much as I had the previous times.
The Wretched of Muirwood was born. When the novel was done, I submitted it to over thirty agents. A few looked at it. The rejections daunted but did not stop me. I continued to write the trilogy, completing one novel each year. I let friends and family start to read it. The feedback was encouraging. When I was nearly done, a friend of mine from Lynbrook asked to read the first two books. She devoured them and then demanded to see the third book, even if it wasn’t done yet. I made her wait a few weeks as I finished it, but the feedback was wonderful. People wanted to read it. They wanted to share it.
Self-Publishing & KDP
I decided to self-publish the Muirwood trilogy through Amazon’s Createspace service in 2010. They helped design the covers and format the series. My biggest regret was not using the editorial service. I released the Muirwood Trilogy in 2011 and watched the sales start to build. Reviews came in and the majority were positive and thrilling. Then near the end of 2011, I decided to enroll in the Kindle Direct Program. That, by far, was the best decision I made in my writing career. Sales exploded for all of my books. On April 19, 2012, I received an e-mail from David Pomerico, the new acquisitions editor at 47North. He had seen the feedback for Wretched of Muirwood, read it himself in an evening, and wanted to discuss the possibility of becoming a 47North author.
It was unsolicited and came as a complete surprise. I told David that I was very interested. In January 2013, the Muirwood Trilogy will be published by 47North. In February 2013, my new series Whispers from Mirrowen, was launched.
Post Script: January 2017
After publishing the Mirrowen Trilogy with 47North, I talked to them about going back to the Muirwood world. The idea was to mirror the previous success by publishing the books back to back instead of years apart. David left 47North for Harper Voyager and Jason Kirk became my new editor. We worked out the terms of the deal which would allow me to quit my day job at Intel in order to write full-time. I spent a year writing three novels and then published The Covenant of Muirwood trilogy. I wasn’t sure I would be able to maintain the pace, so this was a risk on my part. But I’m so glad that I did it and haven’t looked back. Having the freedom to write books at my own pace has been a dream come true. On the heels of that trilogy, I was approached by Jet City Comics to consider doing a graphic novel based on the world of Muirwood. I suggesting using my novella called Maia which was the origin story of the Covenant of Muirwood series. I worked with several fantastic artists and script writers to pull together a visual interpretation of my world and we launched Muirwood: The Lost Abbey when it was done. After that project, I collaborated with Jason on my next project, what I had tentatively dubbed the Kingfountain series. I took some more risks with this series by making the protagonist and 8 year-old boy. Each book would chronicle a different part of Owen’s life, leading to his rise to power. After Jason read the manuscript for The Queen’s Poisoner, he loved it and submitted it for the Kindle First program and it was accepted. I had to keep this top secret and couldn’t leak to my fans what my new project was or when it was coming out. Talk about torture! Then on March 1, 2016 it arrived as a surprise announcement to my fans and to millions of Amazon Prime members who had the opportunity to read it for free. Over 125,000 people read it through that program and it was like a boulder hitting a lake. Because books 2 and 3 were already in progress, there wasn’t much wait for The Thief’s Daughter and The King’s Traitor. So far, the Kingfountain series has exceeded every milestone compared to the original Muirwood series and enabled me to hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list twice. As I was finishing the final book, I realized that the story of Kingfountain wasn’t going to be over. I saw the next generation and what they were going to face. So I contracted again with 47North to bring the next three books out in 2017 starting with The Hollow Crown, all the while writing a backstory novel that pre-dates Queen’s Poisoner and tells the story of a Fountain-blessed girl named Genette. The Maid’s War came out in January.
What’s next? Wait and see! I still have many more stories wriggling around in my brain. I’m grateful to each and every reader who has discovered my along this journey. I read all my reviews because it gives me a small little opportunity to connect with you.
All the best,