Jen: Today we welcome Jeffrey Perren to Romancing the Book. Jeffrey, will you share a short bio with us?
Jeffrey: Jeffrey Perren is an American novelist, educated in philosophy at UCLA and in physics at UC Irvine. The lure of writing soon outweighed everything, though.
He was born in Independence, MO right around the corner from Harry Truman’s house. But then, at the time, everything there was right around the corner from Harry Truman’s house. Right now he lives in Sandpoint, Idaho with his wife.
He wrote his first short story at age 12 and went on to win the Bank of America Fine Arts award at age 17. Since then he has published at award-winning sites and magazines from the U.S. to New Zealand. He has had short stories published at the award-winning sites Apollo’s Lyre and Mystericale.
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Jeffrey: Well, for my latest novel, CLONMAC’S BRIDGE an archaeological thriller and historical mystery, my inspiration was a real-life discovery.
I’ve always been fascinated by important archaeological discoveries, and I found this one particularly interesting. Maritime archaeologists aren’t common characters and they fit splendidly in the story I had in mind.
It tells us something about the level of technology in that society and shows the beginning of their rise out of the Dark Ages. Though there were many monasteries helping preserve classical works, they hadn’t applied them to life as later happened in the Italian Renaissance, and I was curious why. I found a fictional way to explore that question and create what I believe is a compelling tale at the same time. I hope readers agree.
Mari Quispe looked down from the peak of a hill above an archaeological dig near her home in Cusco, Peru. She was the official head of the project, largely owing the influence of her father, but she had no illusions. Few would follow her instructions without it, despite knowing she was the most knowledgeable investigator among them.
As her gaze crossed the dry expanse she saw her assistant climbing the hill toward her. She smiled down warmly. She waved a second then replaced her hand again over her thick eyebrows when the sun blinded her.
As she waited for Sandrine to walk up the rise, Mari looked off into the distance. She could see the tall rocks of Sacsayhuaman rising from the desert-like ground, some of them heavier than 100 tons. The sight of the Incan site made her smile, just anticipating what treasures she might dig for there in the future.
At last, Sandrine reached her and said without any chatty preamble, “I think we should shore up that section behind the corner.” She pointed. “I’m worried about the weight from the earth above.”
Mari nodded her agreement about the cave. “We’ve made good progress. Maybe too good.” She checked the angle of the sun. “Do you think it can wait until tomorrow, or should we clear everyone out now?”
She scrolled rapidly down a mental list of who would have to be contacted to do the work and how long it would take. She had enough men on staff to tackle it, but no one with the expertise except Sandrine and the three students. She didn’t want to spare them for that.
Sandrine read her mind. “It will wait, I’m sure. We can get a whole day in today.”
Mari thanked her and went off to find someone to take a message to town for the contractor. This high in the Andes and several miles from Cusco her cell phone was useless.
One of the local workers told her the contractor was at a small house a kilometer from the site. She trotted off to deliver it herself, reaching the shack in a few minutes. She knocked on the door and out came the man, the leathery skin on his face looking flushed from drinking too much Chicha de Jora.
She was still arguing with him, insisting over his drunken resistance that he start first thing in the morning, when a young man rushed up to her. He hadn’t bothered to knock on the open door, a serious breach of local manners. Mari suspected the reason. She turned to him, ignoring the barking coming from the contractor.
He said, “It’s collapsed! The cave!”
She rushed up the hill, her running feet barely touching the trail sloping to the dig. She rounded a turn a few minutes later to see a group of young men standing in front of the cave. She screamed, “What are you waiting for?”
Mari hustled forward to the now-blocked entrance, transformed by the cave-in to an avalanche of dirt, limestone, and shattered support beams. She tapped the stone beside the entrance with a hand pick and waited.
She heard a hollow echo, a good sign. The interior hadn’t collapsed, just the front. If Sandrine had been deeper inside she would be uninjured. Mari checked her watch. She estimated they had about two hours to dig her out before the air ran out.
Her time estimate had been too optimistic.
Three hours later it was nearly dark and everyone was exhausted. Mari was sure they were nearly through, though. They had opened up a hole big enough to admit adequate air. Everyone fed off her confidence and she refused to let up. She urged them on. An hour later, there was at last a hole large enough for a person to slide inside.
She pulled Sandrine’s upper body by the armpits between her own legs and onto her stomach, then she grabbed her around the chest. She scooted backwards, pushing with her heels, dragging her precious cargo along, careful not to bang her friend’s head on anything.
When Mari scrambled out after her, she saw Sandrine stretched out near the rubble, lying alone. The group of onlookers stood back several feet. No one was looking at the body. She was about to shout what idiots they all were but stifled it and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She worked at it for a solid two minutes, then paused to examine Sandrine’s face with the flashlight.
She could see the effort was futile.
Jen: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Jeffrey: Both. I make a very detailed outline, scene by scene like a screenplay, but it is probably very different from others in that it doesn’t contain much detail about scene goals, character changes, beats, and the like. Also, I feel perfectly free to wander away from it as the actual writing progresses. Often I modify it from the novel after the fact.
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Jeffrey: I read a dozen books on the subject and scoured literally hundreds of Internet articles over a period of two years. Unlike some, I’m not a fanatic for including every tiny realistic detail of a period or place, but what I include I want to be correct.
Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest? Most rewarding?
Jeffrey: Coming up with a good plot that engages and keeps the reader’s interest every single page is always the toughest for me. But I consider it an absolute obligation. I dislike novels that drift, relying on style or character alone to carry things along.
There is no easiest, but it’s all rewarding in the end.
Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received about your books?
Jeffrey: Recently, author Olga Nunez Miret said: “Mr Perren does not go for the tried and tested.” It would be hard to find a more gratifying remark.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Jeffrey: I’m currently working on a re-telling of the William Tell legend. I won’t say much more about that, except that it’s going to be considerably different from any that has been done before.
After that, I’m not sure what’s next, possibly another mystery along the lines of Death Is Overrated.
Long-term, meaning sometime in the next couple of years, I’ll be releasing the first of a planned trilogy on the Age of Discovery. The work is a multi-generational epic of the great heroes who forged links to every developed country then in existence, and who opened up the entire world to settlement and trade.