Author Spotlight: D.J. Gelner

D.J. Gelner

About the Author:

DJ5D.J. Gelner is an independent author from St. Louis, Missouri. When he’s not writing, he’s also an attorney, entrepreneur, sportswriter, and radio personality in the St. Louis area. A 2005 graduate of Dartmouth College, D.J. continued his studies at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he earned his J.D. in 2008. He practiced environmental and antitrust law at a large, national law firm from 2008 until 2011, when he quit to pursue his career as a full-time writer.

He currently lives in Clayton, Missouri with his trusty dog, Sully.

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MF: Tell us a little about your books Jesus Was a Time Traveler and the Hack trilogy.
DJG: First of all, thanks for having me on your site, Missy! I appreciate the opportunity to chat.

Jesus Was a Time Traveler was a labor of love for me. As far back as college (I graduated in ’05), I had an idea for a series of short stories with the premise that if time travel is possible, then the current reality that we experience must, by necessity, be the result of whatever meddlesome time travelers had already gone back in time and done to chang the timeline. Otherwise, the paradoxes get far too complex, and you start to get into mind-bending notions like “well, if time travel exists, and time travelers from the future can change the timeline, how did we get here?”

JWATT took that idea and ran with it in a cohesive, dare I say entertaining narrative. I really had a blast writing it, and look forward to continuing the series as soon as I finish up the Hack books.

The Hack series is, at its core, a series about the secrets we keep, and why we keep those secrets. It certainly helps when I can attach that theme to something I know and am passionate about (baseball), and can “cast” all of the parts myself, but I think readers will be pleasantly surprised by what they find. I liken it to the movie Major League, with a couple of darker twists that (I hope) leave the reader wanting more.

MF: Has there been any backlash over Jesus Was a Time Traveler?
DJG: Surprisingly not! At this point, a little bit of backlash might help, but the response from Christian folks has been overwhelmingly positive. While I was writing it, my girlfriend at the time was very Christian, and she had some initial misgivings about taking a look as I completed chapters, but she read it and she absolutely loved it. In fact, she remains one of my beta readers to this day.

The same can be said of some of the early reviewers of the book—not that they were ex-girlfriends of mine, but rather that they were similarly religiously-inclined, and though they had their qualms, they read it and really enjoyed it. I think it helps that it’s clearly satire, and I’m not really mean-spirited about the premise of the book; everyone throughout gets skewered equally, so it’s tough to accuse me of being “biased” in one way or another.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m still anticipating that first one star review, but it’s heartening to know that the vast majority of folks who have read it (all complete strangers when they picked it up) really enjoy it.

MF: You turn to a different genre with the Hack trilogy. How did you make the leap from time traveling to baseball?
AP: A lot of writers who are more experienced than I am always say “write what you know.” So far, I haven’t had the privilege of traveling through time, though if there are any errant time travelers out there, I’m happy to listen to offers.

Once I finished JWATT, though, I knew I had to get out of the universe to decompress and let the characters breathe a bit. I played baseball all through high school, and wrote a major league baseball column for my college’s newspaper, so as opposed to time travel, which I really enjoy as a mental exercise and thought experiment, Hack was something that I knew firsthand.

It didn’t hurt that I covered the St. Louis Rams as a beat writer and columnist for the 2011 season, and got a behind the scenes view of how a major pro sports team operates. Though I don’t think any of the stories from Hack are lifted from real life, I certainly got some inspiration from being around a pro sports operation on a day-to-day basis.

MF: Humor is a staple of your writing. Do you find it easy to be funny?
DJG: First of all, that assumes that humor’s objective! For every person who says, “Wow, this guy is pretty funny,” I just assume there’s someone else who immediately thinks, “This guy is a lunatic. Who unlocked him long enough to type an entire novel?”

Given that preamble, eh, sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s not. I give a lot of credit to my brother, Grant: he’s one of the funniest guys I know. As kids, we spent long car rides spinning all kinds of ridiculous stories with one another, most set in the Star Trek universe. It was an organic improv class that forced us to always be on our toes. It also helped that we were always trying to make each other laugh. So even though it’s not “easy,” I do think that just using our imaginations and “being kids” helped a lot.

The other thing that helps is that I’m a stand-up junkie. I absolutely love stand-up comedy (favorite special: Dave Chappelle’s “Killin’ ‘Em Softly” from 2000), and meticulously go through every stand up special I can get my hands on, making mental notes of what kinds of setups and punchlines work, and which don’t. It’s a little different when writing, since you have to paint the picture with regard to facial expressions, tone, etc., but I’ve found that listening to Louis C.K., Seinfeld, Jim Jefferies, Adam Carolla, and others has really helped me with comedic writing quite a bit.

MF: Tell us about your writing process. Do you write with an outline or are you a ‘panster’?
DJG: I’m a little bit of both. I don’t write true outlines; I’m more of a mind-mapper. Some folks call them “bubble notes.” Regardless, I have a pretty good idea of all of the plot points of a book before I start, and I always have the final scene of a book at least in my head before I start. If I don’t, it’s a lot tougher to finish any given novel—I need that “endpoint” to work toward.

That said, once I get in the novel, I find that I’m more of Stephen King’s mindset as he describes in On Writing: “Let the Characters Go and See What Happens.” I’m not too married to the outline. I just use it as structure if I get lost in the story.

I’ve also found that I tend to look for callbacks to seemingly innocuous details that I subconsciously leave behind earlier in a book. I think that has something to do with watching so much Seinfeld and standup: I try to leave no loose ends. It probably also stems from being a heartbroken Lost fan; I need my answers, darn it! Now, whether you get all of the answers in one book or in a series is a different matter entirely, but I never want to leave readers hanging like the Lost folks did. If I do, I’ve failed as a writer.

MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
DJG: Great question! The toughest criticism I’ve received was that a couple of my characters were a bit like “cardboard,” not fully developed. It was doubly tough because it was criticism from a friend of mine who is an avid reader, and who’s opinion I greatly respect. It was triply tough because I pride myself on creating dynamic characters that leap of the page.

That said, the best compliment I’ve received was probably from other folks who’ve said, “I really love how complex the characters were in JWATT!” and “I can’t wait to go on another adventure with them!”

Either that, or I’ve received high praise that JWATT is like “Doctor Who meets Edgar Rice Burroughs,” or “The Da Vinci Code combined with Back to the Future.” I LOVE Back to the Future, so I consider that the highest of praise!

It just goes to show you that ultimately nobody “in the business” (writers, editors, publishers, etc.) knows what the hell they’re talking about, good or bad. Really, it’s about the reader’s experience, and once the book’s in the reader’s hands, the author has little control over that. All we can do is write great stories that readers will want to tell others about.

MF: What do you read? What do you re-read?
DJG: I read a lot of non-fiction: I’m currently working my way through Bill Clinton’s My Life—it’s great so far. His recall is incredible, though, as the former president has been known to do, it’s funny how some parts of his (usually laser-precise) memory are fuzzier on certain topics rather than others.

I also make time for fiction, and I’ve been trying to read a lot more indie authors lately. Hugh Howey’s Wool was fantastic—really would highly recommend it to the eight or so sci-fi fans out there who haven’t picked it up yet. And Stephen King remains one of my all-time favorites.

I’m not a huge re-reader, but I do like to pick up Catcher in the Rye from time-to-time to remind myself how relatively simple language can result in amazingly complex themes—I think that’s part of the allure and the power of that book through the years.

MF: What is your favorite writing tip or quote?
DJG: I’m a huge fan of that Stephen King tip above—get in your characters’ heads and don’t be too married to an outline to sacrifice good story for plot.

MF: Do you have any advice for other writers?
DJG: Do something that forces you to write, a lot, for at least fifteen weeks or so. When I covered the Rams, I did a weekly NFL Power Rankings column that poked a little bit of fun at all thirty-two teams, and offered some serious analysis, as well. It was a fan-favorite, but it was a monster column: 5,000 words, every Tuesday, for seventeen weeks. This was in addition to the five other columns of around 1,500 words I was writing, radio appearances, and attending practice and getting quotes from players.

Before that experience, I would site down at the keyboard, type five (double-spaced) pages on the novel I was working on, and think, “Oh man, I’m spent. My brain feels like mush.” Now I look back and realize I was probably barely at 1,000 words! Consistently chipping in 5,000 words in a single day helps build amazing writing discipline; now if I’m anywhere under 3,500 for a given day, I feel like a slacker. “Butt in chair,” though not sufficient for a writer, is certainly necessary.

MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
DJG: Great question! Certainly not the world of Wool, or actually a lot of fiction that I read for that matter, since it tends to be darker. It would have to be somewhere in the future, since I’m curious about where we’re headed and what kinds of advances we’ll make as a society in the years ahead. If Star Trek novelizations count, that would likely be the best, but short of that, maybe Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It’s always been a dream of mine to set foot on Mars (or any other planet or moon—basically any giant rock in space other than the Earth), and though the Mars he created isn’t any picnic, I think the feeling of being on the forefront of human achievement would be absolutely exhilarating. It’s what allows me in the craziest recesses of my mind to consider that maybe, just maybe, some day I’ll achieve that dream, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. If it keeps me writing in the meantime, so be it!

Hack 1-3 Narrowed Author 0753 “We all have our secrets. Including Hack O’Callahan, the most successful baseball manager of all time. An ornery old cuss who’s “set in his ways,” when he discovers he has liver cancer, he doesn’t tell anyone, and instead opts to manage the minor league Hoplite Magpies for one final season.

Little does Hack know, he’s not the only one keeping secrets in the Magpie clubhouse…”

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kindleA2000Time travel. Every sober scientist thinks it’s utterly impossible.

Of course, Phineas Templeton is no sober scientist in any sense of the word. A quirky English chap with a taste for fine scotch, Dr. Templeton builds a time machine at the behest of his mysterious Benefactor. His mission? To meet Jesus Christ Himself, and garner all of the fame, recognition, and accolades that writing an epic time travelogue would bring.

Unfortunately for Finny, Jesus is actually a fellow time traveler, a hippie named Trent from Colorado. While He explains that the past is fixed and immutable (“What happened, like, happened, man…”), Dr. Templeton realizes that he’s made a horrible oversight in his calculations, and wallows in self-pity as he can’t return to his own time period.

The only way home is to follow a list of very specific instructions his Benefactor has hidden on the time machine, which sends him on a madcap, at times hilarious voyage from watching his hero, Sir Isaac Newton, be berated by a high school physics teacher, to hunting dinosaurs, to rescuing two colorful American soldiers and fighting Nazis hellbent on his destruction.

All the while, Phineas is left to question his Benefactor’s true intentions. Just who is the shadowy person pulling the strings of a conspiracy thousands of years in the making? And why is Finny so key to their machinations?

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