Jeff Wheeler: Richly Riveting Fantasy That You Can't Put Down!

I can’t even begin to say how excited I was to meet and visit with Jeff Wheeler.  After having found one of his books purely by accident (one of those “on sale for a day” things) it only took a few pages and I was hooked!  His writing is rich and so tightly written that even a cynical professional like myself  must sit back in amazement. In person, Jeff is open and warm,  easy to visit with on almost any subject.  His down-to-earth attitude is even more endearing considering he can converse on almost any subject in history  and weave stories in conversation on any topic until one is absolutely enthralled and wanting to learn more. Well informed, well-traveled and well-read, Jeff is someone everyone would enjoy getting to know!

InD: Let’s start with your background first. Tell us about the child, Jeff Wheeler.
Well, the short version is I was born in New Jersey but grew up in Silicon Valley, California. It’s in the middle of all the tech companies and is a beautiful place, but the traffic is horrible! The high school I graduated from is one of the top places because that area has some of the best schools in California and it’s how many students get into the Ivy League schools.
InD: Was it as expensive to live there as it is now?
Oh, yes. Even when I was a kid, I knew I could never afford to live in my hometown.
When my wife and I bought our first house, it was 40 miles east and I was commuting three hours to get into the Bay Area for my job at Intel. The tech companies are so big and attract so many talented people that it raises the property values. It is just crazy.
InD: But, you are not living in the Bay Area now...
No. We ended up moving to the Sacramento area. Then, after I became a full-time author, we moved to the Rocky Mountains, where we live now.
InD: Were you a big reader as a child?
Not when I was a little kid but my reading really picked up in junior high. That was when I found Terry Brooks, the author of the “Shannara” series. In every other book I had read, I could predict what was going to happen so they were kind of boring to me. He had so many twists and turns and cliffhangers, they literally kept me on the edge of my seat. I would devour everything he published. He was really the one who sparked my desire to be an author. I wanted to make other people feel the way he made me feel, so from high school on, my goal was to be a full-time author. I wrote five novels while I was in high school, just for practice. I wanted to get a handle on how to do it. I was writing thrillers back then.
InD: Did you read many books before you discovered Terry Brooks?
I read stuff by CS Lewis and Lloyd Alexander, but reading was not a hobby for me until I found Terry Brooks’ work. I always gravitated to fantasy, though.
InD: Have you ever met him?
Actually, yes, I have. I took a creative writing class where we had lunch with him.
InD: Did you, like, fan boy through the whole thing?
[laughing] Not then, I tried to keep my composure, but a few years ago I was on a panel in Seattle with him on stage. I got a picture of him and me and some of the others who were there. It was like little-ol' nobody me, up there discussing books with Terry. Now, that was crazy!
InD: That is awesome! Did you tell him he was the one that got you into writing?
Oh yeah, and when "The Wretched of Muirwood" was published by Amazon, I actually asked him if I could send him a copy and he said yes. He read the very first chapter after I took that writing seminar with him. I asked him for his feedback and he gave it to me. So, that was pretty cool.
InD: So, tell us about those five books you wrote in high school—did you do anything with them?
No, I didn’t do anything with them, but I still have the manuscripts. I refuse to let anybody look at them because they are horrible! I have friends who threaten to sneak into my house, find them, and digitize them. I would NOT want them out there! But, while I was in high school, I submitted one for publication. It was rejected but I was starting the process when I was seventeen years old. I wanted to learn what you had to do to submit a book to a publisher. That was important to me. I knew the odds of getting a publishing contract were small, but I thought if I started young it might increase the odds of it happening.
InD: Wow! But, in college you didn't major in writing, why not?
I debated between being an English major or a History major and I decided I would probably end up teaching either in high school or college, so I took every writing class I could but just as electives. I just found that history sparked my imagination more than literature did, if I had to teach. Anyone who reads my books will see that a lot of my ideas have come from episodes in history I researched over the years.
As I worked toward my goal of becoming a college professor, I was putting myself through school by working at Intel. I received my Masters in History and was accepted into a PhD program, but as I studied the academic type of writing, I realized it just sucked my soul out of my body. I did not like academia!
InD: Academic writing is not creative!
No, not at all. Every time I talked to my professors about being a novelist, they would say, “Why don't you write a history book?” I would usually say, “Those are NOT nearly as fun to write.” I ended up not going into the PhD program, although I was accepted. I liked what I was doing at Intel, so I figured I would just make that my career and hopefully it would also give me time to write and publish my own books.

Read the entire interview in the April 2020 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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