You may remember Ross Jeffery from my interview with the staff of Storgy Literary Magazine. Ross is their Executive Director of Books and always has his nose in one. He is also a burgeoning writer who is part of Project †3 Dark and has just had his story Judgements published in Idle Ink.
†3Dark is the brainchild of author, editor, and book coach Joseph Sale. It’s a unique dark fiction project that showcases both the written and visual artwork of some of this century’s greatest creatives.
Ross Jeffery’s transcendent story Bethesda opens the project’s first issue called Dead Voices. I asked Ross to answer a few questions about the idea for this story and how he emerged from a bout of writer’s block that lasted 7 years. He also talks about the future of dark fiction and how to avoid the slush pile when submitting to literary magazines like Storgy.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
To be honest I think I have always wanted to do something creative. I guess words just clicked for me. When I was at school I had a fabulous Media Studies teacher called Mr. Peckett who looked like Harry Hill, but he was a phenomenal teacher. He opened my eyes to writing, to authors I’d never heard of and he pretty much showed me the power of words. From his guidance, I went on to study Media Arts and Video Production at University and a large portion of this degree was writing, writing scripts, essays and other works – so it’s always been there lurking in the background until it came into the foreground, thanks to Tomek and Tony. Now I couldn’t imagine my life doing anything else.
You went through a period of not writing that lasted for years. What caused it and how did you push past it?
I had been writing for years up to this point. I’d been writing about lots of dark and disturbing things, writing really graphic and spiritually dark material; because before I became a Christian this was the area of writing I felt at home in – I’d go for shock value all the time, there was no filter and no subject I wouldn’t talk about.
After becoming a Christian, I continued to write in this vein. My wife raised the subject with me and I had a moment of reflection and clarity. I stopped. Just went cold turkey. I didn’t write for seven years. Seven years. I of course made notes about things but I didn’t actually sit down to write for a long time.
After seven years, I felt God tell me to start writing again; so, I began writing and wrote the short story ‘Bethesda’. I put myself out there and sent it out into the world. Firstly I wanted to see if I was writing anything people wanted to read; plus, now I was writing with a freedom I’d not experienced before. In those seven years, I also read an awful lot of books, from a variety of authors and genres and I think if you want to be a better writer, you need to read anything and everything.
I sent the short story out and heard back pretty quickly. It was a fabulous feeling and it also connected with the publisher on a personal level so for me that is what being a writer is all about – writing words that move, effect and connect with people!
In Bethesda, you take an ordinary day at the beach and make it extraordinary. What sparked this idea in this setting?
I love reading the Bible, it’s full of so many wonderful stories – that in my opinion are as relevant today as they were when they were originally written. I’ve always loved the story about the pool of Bethesda and wanted to incorporate this into a story. It also came at a time where personally I was struggling with being Ill, not being able to do anything – I had a portion of my neck (vertebrate) removed and replaced by some artificial components but at the time I was writing I was crying out to God for help.
The beach itself was and is a place I visit frequently in Bournemouth when we go to see my wife’s family. It’s a place I always find peace and comfort and I thought – this is where I want to base my story – I wanted to re-image the story of the Pool of Bethesda and bring it into the modern age to a new audience who possibly have never heard of the tale before.
Project 13 Dark is a collection of dark fiction. What kind of writing do you think fits into that category? What future do you see for it?
I think Project 13 Dark’s premise is brilliant. Dark fiction is all relative. Life is difficult, life is messy and at key moments in our lives we will all find ourselves clawing at the walls trying to escape the darkness. I am a huge fan of dark fiction (transgressive fiction). I love the writings of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis and think this is the type of writing that I would associate with Dark Fiction and if we can use these guys as our measuring stick we won’t be going far wrong. I can see the future for Dark fiction really kicking on – as long as there is a reason for the dark, I don’t have a problem!
At Storgy you read and review a lot of emerging and well-established writers. What do you feel is the key ingredient that makes a story good?
At STORGY we read and review a lot of books, short stories and other writings from emerging and well-established writers and we all look at things differently – it’s such a collaborative place to work and I work with two amazing guys who have helped my writing to no end (Tomek Dzido and Tony Self). I want a story to punch me in the face, that first page has got to either knock me out or blow me out of the water. If I don’t have that hook, I don’t want to read on. I also love stories that look at the real life, look at the things we often take for granted – I also love a flawed character, we are all fallible – that’s what I love to read about.
What is the ultimate goal of your own writing?
I guess I would be happy if my writing continued to connect with people. If I were able to forge a career in writing that would be a bonus – but for me my main passion at the moment is STORGY Books our independent publishing arm of STORGY Magazine. We recently published the anthology Exit Earth featuring twenty-four short stories and critically acclaimed authors such as James Miller, Michael Carey, Courttia Newland and Toby Litt.
I am still writing and if recognition of my work comes from this, that’s a bonus.
Who is the writer you most admire and why?
Chuck Palahniuk all the way! I owe this guy so much, he opened my eyes to what writing should be. I remember reading Fight Club for the first time, before the film had come out and it blew me away. The way he is able to reinvent himself time after time is astounding – he’s such a huge catalogue of books and I have read every one, and he just keeps on blowing me away! Even his foray into colouring books was a masterstroke and shows the man knows what he is up to. Plus, I was also privileged enough to interview Chuck and he was such a great guy, his insights into writing really helped and just speaking to one of my writing idols was something I’ll never forget – and the signed copy of Fight Club he sent me afterwards shows that the man is all about his fans!
What advice do you have for new writers who want to submit to literary magazines and anthologies like Project 13 Dark?
Make sure you are writing for you and not the paycheck or the competition (they help, don’t get me wrong). Write about what matters to you, your honesty and personal experiences transfer so much better onto the page than trying to make stuff up. Write about what you know when you can. When you can’t, research! Also, you need to make sure your work is shit hot! I don’t want to be reading peoples work that is littered with spelling or grammatical mistakes. Treat us with respect people. We are taking the time out to read your work for publication. The least you can do is put across or submit the best you can do! Review and edit, and when you think you are going to send it off, leave it for a few days, read it again and do a final edit!
Will you be writing any novel-length fiction in the future? Why or why not?
Personally, I would love to. I have a few ideas floating around and also got about 60,000 words into a project but have since put it on the shelf and not looked at it since. I have a bit of a problem, that is that my mind is always so active. I come up with ideas for stories all the time. I carry a note pad around with me wherever I go. I use it to write ideas down when they spring into my mind. I write down bits of dialogue I hear from people’s conversations. I put down things I have observed in nature – everything goes into this book. I guess at the moment I am happy in the short story realm. I have an idea I am fleshing out at the moment for a possibly novella length piece, but the short story is where I call home. I love its boundaries and its rules, its functions and the impact a short piece of fiction can have. That’s not me writing off the novel thing, I just at the moment don’t have the patience to write something that long. I need to get rid of some of the clutter in my mind first to free up the time and space to focus on a novel.
And what everyone wants to know – what can we look forward to from you?
Well exciting news is that last year my story Bethesda was published by Project 13 Dark, I had a story in the Anthology Exit Earth by STORGY Books called Daylight Breaks through and at the start of 2018 I had a short story accepted for publication in Idle Ink (being published at the end of the month 29th January 2018) called Judgements.
I am currently working on a short story that I am so excited about, something I can’t wait to share with people. It’s based on something horrific that happened to me, but the idea and concept of the story is something that has really been pushing my writing boundaries (homelessness and mental health). It’s really challenging and there are a lot of moving parts but if I can pull it off I will be thrilled with the outcome and how it has helped me become a better writer. I’ve immersed myself in the writings of Chuck Palahniuk, Charles Bukowski and Dan Fante to help me get into writing about a flawed character, so hopefully some of their greatness will be gleaned and help me write a character that is believable and people can connect with.
As mentioned above I will be trying to plan my novella length idea at some point this year, it’s a little like Bethesda as being rooted in the Bible, but I am looking at the story of Moses and the plagues and seeing if there is something there – a modern retelling of some sort!
But at the moment I have a book full of short story ideas that I would love to flesh out and possibly try to submit to other magazines. I’d also just love to hone the craft I love so much a bit more before delving into the full novel!
Keep reading and writing and when you think you have it nailed, read some more!
Ross Jeffery is a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Most often than not found collaborating with Tomek Dzido and Anthony Self with either pen or camera. He is an avid reader of an eclectic mix of fiction and is a lover of the short story form. He is hard at work with his own collection of short stories and a novel for publication in the near future. Ross has been published online at STORGY Magazine and Idle Ink and in print with STORGY Books Exit Earth (Daylight Breaks Through) and Project 13 Dark (Bethesda). Ross lives in south Bristol with his wife and two children. If you would like to follow him he’s on Twitter @Ross1982.
Connect with Ross
Twitter – @Ross1982
Instagram – rossi_bozzi
Website – www.storgy.com