Jeff Haws, Author
I met Jeff Haws in the same Facebook group as Ellen Smith. While Ellen was fiercely private and quietly kind, Jeff was…not so quiet. He reminded me of my loudest brother who always had a knack for picking the quietest moments growing up to charge in to a room to declare something honest but also at least slightly disturbing. Jeff had a comment or an answer for every query posed to the group, and he could be counted on to be as equally helpful as he was contrary and funny.
Jeff Haws isn’t just a funny guy, either. He is an award-winning (former) journalist who travels (pre-2020) the nation watching his favorite baseball team play. While I won’t hold his love of the Atlanta Braves against him per se—he does live in Georgia, after all—I applaud his drive to mark items off his bucket list while he’s still young enough to not worry about all the beer he’ll be tasting interfering with his water pill.
Now Jeff’s about to commit his biggest mistake of 2021: subjecting himself to my terrible introduction and answering my questions. *evil laugh goes here*
The Alessandra Chronicles
Before I jump into the questions for Jeff, let’s talk about The Alessandra Chronicles. It is definitely a book for adults, and I’ll offer a trigger warning here before continuing. Aside from the subject matter so closely resembling the COVID-19 pandemic, there is sexual assault, violence, and mature themes.
Alessandra is a town in North Georgia that has survived a deadly, worldwide plague.
I already know what you’re thinking: Jeff didn’t have to go far to come up with that. The thing is, though, he wrote book one in 2016. A little eerie, right? It gets worse.
Not only is it a trilogy (so far) about a worldwide plague and its effects on humanity, it’s about a plague to which the only way to survive is to maintain strict social distancing rules. Every resident of the town is forced to wear a steel ring around their waists whenever they step outside of their homes. And people must social distance within their homes as well.
“…cohabitation [is] banned. Marriages dissolved. Families torn apart.” That’s straight from the description. Read the whole description here.
In a world where everyone is feeling powerless, how many will grasp for power any way they can? Even if it comes at the expense of their fellow townspeople? It’s gritty and dark and everything you expect from a post-apocalyptic novel written for grown-ups.
Jeff Haws on the unintentionally prophetic post-apocalyptic trilogy.
Mindy: Social distancing wasn’t a thing before 2020. Where did the idea for Solitary Apocalypse (book one, for those wondering) come from?
Jeff: I don’t know. My mind is weird. It’s an odd place to live, I can attest. But the entire 250K-or-so-word story came from one word: Space. OK, sure. I can explain more. There’s a local alt-weekly that has an annual short story contest. For the contest, they always give one word as a prompt. I’d been thinking about writing a book, even though I barely even read books, because … hell, I don’t know. I thought it’d be more permanent than the crap I’d been writing. But then I saw the prompt and thought, “Screw it. I’m gonna try this.” Worst that happens is I suck, and I hate it. Turned out, I didn’t hate it at all. Still probably sucked, but one out of two ain’t bad.
And that story was essentially a super tiny baby version of what eventually — a couple of books later — became the first book of the series and then, later, the full series.
M: Clearly you’re a compassionate human who cares about the suffering of his fellow man. What was it like to see bits of your book play out before your eyes on a global scale?
J: 2020 was really weird. Yeah, yeah. Tell you something you don’t know. But it’s true. It’s strange to think someone’s gonna run across this book in a few years and think, “Oh, this jackass clearly wrote this as a response to COVID.” He’s not gonna look at the publication date, and I’m gonna show up at his front door to explain it all to him, but he’s not gonna believe me, and that’s gonna frustrate me, and I might egg his house.
Wait … What was the question? Oh yeah, I’m compassionate, blah blah blah. Um, yeah, I’m about as far from prophetic as anyone has ever been. Fortunately, I’m not one of those people who says they don’t believe in coincidences. I’m a huge believer in coincidences. Everything’s a damn coincidence. This series certainly is. I can’t explain this crap.
M: What was your thought process when the pandemic started to truly unfold globally?
J: “2020’s the absolute worst.” With respect to this series, though, I started wondering if Audrey didn’t have a point. It’s interesting to consider if your villain might have been … well, right. At least, right-minded. Given the science as it’s played out with COVID, I could see someone reading this and thinking, “Um, why’s everyone so pissed at Audrey? She’s the world’s first and most passionate advocate of social distancing!” And ya know what? I’d love that if so. I’ve always said that everyone’s the hero of their own story, and I hate the idea of my villains being “evil.” You should be able to at least understand what motivated them to do whatever crazy shit they did.
M: Tell me about the research that went into this book, particularly how you decided the people would respond throughout the trilogy.
J: Whew. I research this stuff to a somewhat unhealthy extent. You don’t want to see my Google history. Believe me. If you did, I’d probably be doing this interview from prison, and I’m not sure if they’d let us do an Instagram Live version. That seems like it’d be against prison protocol, and that’d be unfortunate.
But, anyway, yeah. I did a lot of research into epidemiology. How do viruses spread. What mitigates it? What do scientists recommend? In an ideal world, what would a sterile world look like? The idea was, OK, what would be good to do? And then, how might a crazy leader dial this shit up to 11? And Audrey loves dialing things up to 11.
I think the research I did is a big part of why it seems so prophetic-ish right now. It’s not a coincidence that what Audrey tried to do lines up with what experts recommend now during a real pandemic — that’s what I read they would recommend. But I finished the damn thing in February 2020. I didn’t know we were on the cusp of a real pandemic. I mean, what the hell? How absurd is that?
M: I know you don’t particularly enjoy series and didn’t plan for Solitary Apocalypse to be book one of a trilogy. But. Will there be a book four?
J: No. I mean, well, “No” is the short answer. The long answer is … “No.” Well, that’s actually not much longer. I should be realistic here. The realistic answer is probably “No. But, um, OK. Sure. I mean, if a publisher came to me and said they’d give me $250K if I’d write a Solitary Apocalypse prequel, I’m not gonna be that snobby jackass who says my creative integrity wouldn’t allow it. Good lord, yes. Where do I sign? Let’s see how Stephanie and Michael get together! It’ll be like Ross and Rachel!”
Jeff Haws on his journey from journalist to author.
M: What led you to journalism, and what pulled you in to writing fiction?
J: Oh, god, I love journalism. If the world weren’t so cruel, that’d obviously still be what I was doing, as a grizzled sports editor somewhere, berating my staff mercilessly and loving every minute of it. I love everything about it, other than the modern job instability, lack of pay, ridiculous hours, inappreciation of the work, etc. But the actual work itself? Especially on deadline? Still nothing I love to do more in this world. And I’m better at that than I am at novel writing, and probably just about anything else I regularly do.
But, alas, the industry crumbled beneath me. And I needed a creative outlet. Writing fiction seems to fill that pretty well. One thing I’ve noticed that makes it easier is that, many times in journalism, I was hamstrung by my sources giving me shitty quotes (And you could argue, not illegitimately, that bad quotes are the interviewer’s fault … Pressure’s on, Mindy). But there’s no such thing in fiction. If your quotes are bad, there really is no one to blame but yourself. Just make up some new ones, damn it. Stop bitching. No excuses.
M: So many people assume authors choose to become an indie author because of rejection from agents and publishers. Why did you choose to be an independently published author?
J: I’m a control freak. I mean, honestly, that’s most of it. The stories I’ve heard about the trad process could curl the hair of someone who wants to publish the book they actually wrote. So I take full control of the process. Could I make more money the other way? Hell if I know. It’s certainly no given. But maybe I’d be the next [Insert name of famous, successful author here]. Would it be my book, though? Guess it depends, eh?
M: If there’s one thing you could tell a young person about authorship, what would it be?
J: Don’t concern yourself with sales numbers or put any significant budget into promotion until you’ve published at least 5 novels. Just put your head down and write as much as possible.
M: How do you find time to write?
J: I wake up really damn early, when I can write while it’s dark, and the only noise is our dog snoring a few feet away. No responsibilities. No expectations. Just do it every single day. It’s not easy, but it is simple.
M: Is there another book in progress right now or an idea brewing?
J: Yes! I’m 70,000 words into my next book. Hoping like hell it’s a standalone. Not everything needs a sequel.
M: What are three things most people don’t know about you.
- I love octopi, and always vow to eat them before they eat me.
- I spent two years line dancing on a TV show in the mid 90s.
- Gregory Peck is an old cousin of mine, and he’s pretty awesome.
You can read the Alessandra Chronicles for yourself.
Jeff Haws is an award-winning former journalist whose writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miami Herald, Arizona Republic, New Orleans Times-Picayune, and many other publications. He lives in Atlanta. And three of Jeff Haws’ favorite books are 1984 by George Orwell, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The three authors who rarely let him down are Gillian Flynn, Harlan Coben, and Colson Whitehead.