Hi Jeff and welcome.
For those of you who don’t know a lot about Jeff Erno here’s some information from his bio:
Jeff started writing in the mid-1990s but did not publish his first novel until 2009. Several of his stories were originally posted on the Nifty Archive. One of these stories, Dumb Jock, became his first published novel. Later that year, a BDSM trilogy entitled Puppy Love was released. His other titles include The Landlord, Trust Me, Bullied, Second Chances, Twinsational, Another Dumb Jock, and two titles under a pseudonym. His publishers include Dreamspinner Press, eXtasy Books, Fanny Press, and Camel Press. Three of his titles are self-published.
As you may know, Jeff, on this site we like to have a lot of fun so tell us something funny about Jeff Erno that you have never told anyone (and it can’t be that your cat Gandolf smiles at you) 🙂
There are a lot of funny or weird things about me, but I’m not sure any of them are a secret. I am crazy about feet and socks, and when I’m writing BDSM I often include foot fetish scenes in my stories. I am compulsive about saving coins. I collect ceramic cats. I love to diagram sentences. I will not eat ketchup. I hate driving. And I’m squicked out by the sound of gulping or heels clicking on a hardwood floor. Is that enough?
What has been the biggest surprise in your writing career so far, since you published your first book?
Honestly, the biggest surprise has been that people would buy my books!
Your bio is very funny:
Jeff Erno is an author whose skill is not yet up to his imagination. He has a creaky, amateur-like writing style in which he only tells but never shows the story. His writing reads like a very bad “how to write” guidebook instead of demonstrating any degree of originality or uniqueness of style. He doesn’t have a clue what “subtlety of voice” means. His writing is okay but a little heavy-handed and stiff. His whininess is annoying, and he incorporates very odd meta-feeling, lecturey interludes in his prose. His central characters come across as hypersensitive wimps with no backbone and even less self-respect.
If you can get beyond these criticisms, you might like (or at least be able to tolerate) some of Jeff Erno’s stories. You may actually be one of the hundreds of readers who enjoy his style. Overall, he has a fairly high rating average on Good Reads and Amazon. He’s published twelve novels over the course of the past three years and will be releasing at least four more books in 2012. By-and-large he has received very strong reviews from review sites that feature mm romance, young adult, and BDSM.
Since you’re so funny why don’t you write stories that are “light and fluffy”?
I try to include humor in my stories, and often the feedback that I receive surprises me in that the reader comments on how funny a particular character is. I think one of my most endearing characters in a humorous way is Trevor in Another Dumb Jock. He’s the kind of kid who says things that’ll make you laugh right out loud.
As for light and fluffy, I think the Men’s Room series is my pretty serious attempt at not being pretty serious. These stories are light and steamy. They contain graphic and gritty sex and are far less heavy-handed in their messaging.
You write many young adult romances. I’d like to know what is it about this genre that interests you so much? Is it the challenges facing teens and young men from all corners such as issues with their peers, coming out to their parents, their friends, or society in general, or finding that first love? Something else?
As challenging as it is for gay teens today, I have to admit that in many ways I’m envious of them. When I was a teenager, coming out as gay seemed impossible to me, and because of the fact that I did not begin to openly acknowledge my sexual orientation until my twenties, I regretted my hypocrisy. I knew unequivocally by the age of thirteen that I was gay, but I lied about it, and I wonder if the direction my life’s journey took would have been affected had I been able to be honest in those early years.
When I finally began writing my first novel, I rewrote my own high school story, telling it as I wish it had been rather than as an authentic autobiography. The story resonated with a lot of readers, and this opened the door for me to write other stories in this genre.
One other thing… the issue of teen suicide and gay teen bullying is very near to my heart. This has also been a motivating factor in my decision to write YA stories.
Your stories cover a wide range of topics and I’m interested in what was your inspiration for Second Chances which is somewhat of a departure for you.
When I graduated from high school, I went straightway to college, studying to become a Baptist minister. During my junior year, I fell in love with a male student. This was extremely difficult for me because my identity as a young gay man was in sharp contrast to the religious doctrine within which I professed to believe. I dropped out of school, returned home, and pursued a career as a retail manager.
Twenty years later, I finally went back to school and finished my degree in business management, mainly because it was the field in which I had worked for so long. Being a businessman was never a goal of mine, though, and being a boss was something I absolutely abhorred.
While driving to work one morning at 5am, I began to speculate on what I would do differently if I had a chance to go back and relive my youth. Given a second chance at life, what would I do differently? Would I be brave enough to do anything differently, or would I make the same mistakes all over again?
That was the original thought process that led to the formation of this plot. By the time I got to work that morning, I had the outline for the story. I rushed into my office, locked the door and sat down to draft a synopsis. I included the names of all the characters, their bios, and a basic outline for the plot. It just seemed to all be there in a way unlike anything I’d ever created.
Second Chances took me eighteen months to complete. As you stated in your question, it is entirely a departure from typical material that I write, but it is one which I’m proud to call my own.
As you know, readers/fans ask their own questions of authors who are interviewed on this site and here are a few of them:
Eden Winters, another author, has a comment and a couple of questions:
Jeff, you’re such a sweet and warm individual, so unlike the mean and indifferent teens you wrote about in Bullied. (Loved that book, even though it did make me cry). You made me see how things can escalate and how normally decent people can turn a blind eye to cruelty.
Was that a hard book to write? Where did you draw inspiration from to so believably put the reader into the head of a bully?
Thanks, Eden! I have to admit that I am both an emotional reader and writer. I tend to judge the strength of a story on how it affects me emotionally. When I’m writing, if I’m not moved emotionally, I don’t consider it to be worth sharing. It’s sort of my litmus test. In that sense, yes, Bullied was difficult to write. It was a very emotional experience.
On the other hand, it was a series of stories that flowed very naturally for me. Unlike Second Chances, which I had painstakingly planned and outlined, the stories in Bullied came to me as I was writing them. I did not have a clue how any of them would end when I began writing them.
I drew inspiration from a variety of sources—real people I had known as well as people I’d read about or seen on the news,.
Jeff, your YA books are downright inspirational! I am wondering if you could share with us a time in your life where fiction was reality and you felt the effects of bullying and how you survived it? Thank you for sharing yourself with us through your novels!!
I wasn’t bullied because I was gay. I was too afraid to be open about my sexual orientation. This, however, doesn’t mean that I was never called a “faggot”. I was reserved and studious, kind of nerdy, and I was rather effeminate. By the time I started high school, I had a reputation for being smart and religious, and I used my religion as a cover for my softer mannerisms. I acted the way I did not because I was a “fag”, but because I was “special”. I was a gentler soul who was called to the ministry. LOL!
Anyway, a little later I did get a chance to spend quite a bit of time on my knees in worship… though I would not say I was being holy. 🙂
Seriously, in school I was bullied. Fortunately for me, there were some people who stood up for me. One of those people was the “Dumb Jock” who inspired my first novel.
Bogusia who lives in Poland loves your books and has a few questions:
I love your books please, keep writing more My favourite is ‘Puppy Love’
Did you always want to be a writer?
What’s next? What are you working on?
I was writing stories in grade school. When I was in the seventh grade, I begged my parents for a typewriter. This was before computers. I got one for Christmas that year.
In high school I mostly wrote really bad poetry. It was cringe-worthy, but I still have an entire journal of those sappy poems (all typewritten) saved in a binder. Some of them are extremely dark and sad. Since I was religious yet had attractions to other boys, I thought of these feelings as being a “demon” that was inside of me. I constantly prayed that God would change me.
After I dropped out of college, I abandoned my dreams of being a writer. In my mid-twenties, my life changed when my parents and grandmother took ill. I cared for them until they passed, all within a short time period. I was extremely grief-stricken at the time, and because of that grief, I did some stupid things. I lost my partner of seven years and was suddenly completely alone. Sadly the company I had worked for during the previous decade was going out of business, and it felt as if my entire life was ending. I tried to commit suicide.
During my recovery, a close friend made me sit with him and write a list of things I wanted to do before I died. Number one was to complete my degree. Number two was to publish a novel. Number three was to learn a foreign language. There were seventeen other things on my bucket list, most of which were far less daunting.
Systematically, I completed the items on my list—the major ones. And that is how I became a writer.
As for my upcoming projects:
In September, please look for America’s Next Superstar, which is a story about a young man who enters a national reality show singing competition.
I’m also working on the next installment of the Men’s Room series. This is a sexy, lighthearted series of stories that revolve around a bar in New Orleans. Book three will be titled Business Strip. I’m working on a story for a YA anthology. And finally I’m writing a spooky story called The Left Hand Path which I expect to have completed within the next couple of months.
I have another quote from your bio 🙂
Jeff writes in a deliberate, easy-to-read vernacular, firmly believing that grandiloquent prose is pretentious and intimidating. He ignores a lot of the established rules, maintaining that when more information is needed, it’s time for an info dump. Nothing is worse than not knowing what’s going on in a story. If the author fails to explain the background, the reader is left scratching her head. He writes characters who are exaggerated, mainly because real-life people are exaggerated. He writes effeminate gay male characters because some real-life gay men are effeminate. He writes about people with low self-esteem because a lot of people really have low self-esteem.
You are your own critic but how do you handle reviews that criticize your work? While most of us have pretty thick skins, it must be galling to spend months, even years, writing a book and then receive negative reviews.
My bio is deliberately self-deprecating, and the first paragraph is a compilation of negative comments I have received from reviewers on Good Reads and Amazon. I do take the criticisms seriously, and in the beginning I would often cry about harsh reviews.
At this point, I know that not everyone is going to like my writing style. Not everyone is going to like me. Fortunately, the vast majority of reviews I have received have been positive, and I’m always striving to improve. To those who do not happen to like my work, I’m thankful they gave my book a try, and hopefully in the future something I write will appeal to their taste.
What has been your most defining moment in your writing career so far? What’s your biggest fear?
I view my writing career as just beginning, so I’m not sure if I’ve yet had that “defining moment”. I think that writing is a skill like any other—it improves over time. Every one of my stories is meaningful to me for different reasons.
Career-wise, my biggest fear is failure. I do not want to have to go back to working retail full-time. Personally, my biggest fear is growing old alone.
There have been a lot of changes in this genre since I started reading it almost a decade ago. As a writer, how has the landscape changed since you were first published 3 years ago?
I like to think that it is improving. Publishers are striving to improve their editing, their cover art, and the overall quality of material that they release.
Your latest book is We Danced from Dreamspinner Press. What can you tell us (briefly) about this book?
We Danced was originally inspired by a country western song of the same title. A southern bar owner is closing up one night when a woman knocks on the door. He informs her the bar is closed but she tells him she left her purse behind when she was there earlier. He had found the purse and put it behind the bar, so he invites her in while he retrieves it for her. They get to talking and finally a slow ballad begins to play on the jukebox. He tells her he will return her purse on the condition that she dance with him. A romance ensues and by the end of the song, they are married.
In my literary version of We Danced, the story is about a gay bartender named Rex who encounters Josh, a young veterinary student who happens to leave behind his cell phone.
The story itself is more about what happens between this first meeting and their final dance on that barroom dance floor. Rex has a little boy, his nephew Tyler that he has adopted. Ty is only seven years old, and he is the focus of Rex’s life. Soon he becomes the world to Josh.
I fell in love with Ty while writing the story, and I hope readers do too.
Now on to more fun. The boyz in the hot tub would like to know if you have ever said to yourself “damn I’m hot.” If not, why not? (Of course they think they’re hot – must be the temperature of the water – so they believe every guy does.) 🙂
Hot? No. Cute? Yeah, when I was in my twenties. I was very small, about 120 lbs. By some people’s standards, I’d say I was cute. I was a lil sub boy like Petey in my Puppy Love series.
The guys would like you to visit them in their palace (read hot tub) and in order to prepare their little potions they are asking if you have hair on your chest. I have no idea why so please don’t ask me. 😆
Nope. Never had chest hair, and if I had, I’d have shaved it. (The boys say that a better idea would have been to pluck it) 🙂
To end the interview here’s another tidbit from Jeff’s bio:
Currently Jeff lives in southern Michigan with his all-white cat Gandolf. He identifies as an openly-gay, 45-yr-old man. He has no plans to change his writing style, so if you don’t like sensitive, highly emotive, somewhat whiney protagonists, don’t waste your time with his stories. If, however, you enjoy emotional reads with larger-than-life heroes and sugary-sweet, happy endings, you may well
love his feel-good romances. His stories do contain messages because he believes that fiction can and should be about more than just entertainment, and he understands that there will always be someone anxious to stand up and complain about his lecturey meta-bits. To this he says, “To each her own.”
Thanks Jeff. I appreciate you taking the time for this interview.
Thank you for having me.