-- World of Writing Interview --
* Jeff Rasley is a retired lawyer, adjunct professor at Butler University teaching a class on philanthropy, Himalayan trek leader, author of 9 books and over 60 magazine/journal articles.www.jeffreyrasley.com He is a board member of 5 nonprofits and has appeared as an expert guest on over 70 broadcast shows. His latest book is MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY 1969; Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Viet Nam, Civil Rights, and Football
Q: Who inspired you to pursue a career in writing?
My mother was a journalist, columnist, and city editor of our hometown newspaper, The Goshen News. So, I spent time with reporters and editors as a child. The reporters and editors were all frustrated writers – they wanted to write books. In college I wrote bad-adolescent poetry but was on the editorial board of a literary journal. So, I learned a bit about good writing and editing. My creative writing professor was Richard Stern, who was Saul Bellow’s close friend and sometime-personal editor. He encouraged me as a fiction writer, although he described my college attempt at a memoir as “a magnificent failure”.
Q: How does writing help you make a difference in the world?
Each book I’ve written either directly addresses or circles around the theme of, and conflict between independence/freedom vs. commitment/community. I took for granted the value of community growing up in a small town. Having since lived in London, Chicago, and Indianapolis, I’ve experienced modern urban life and how difficult it is to develop and maintain communities in our transient, alienated, and virtual world. But, we are social creatures who need communal participation to thrive. But, we also need personal freedom and independence to develop a strong ego and creative self. I highly value what I have gained from adventuring out into strange places in the world and some degree of self-reliance. The tension between independence and commitment is felt most strongly in love relationships. And, what would we be without love?
Q: Can you tell us what editors typically look for in a query letter or project proposal?
My last correspondences with agents and editors seemed to be as much about “platform” in social media as the quality of writing. Other than an occasional article, I no longer seek publication by a traditional publisher. The industry has changed in a way that the advantages of direct publishing outweigh the advantages of seeking (and possibly finding) a publisher for a “mid-list author”. If I was famous, the scales would probably tip the other way, because I could demand an advance that might outweigh what I enjoy about publishing through the company my wife and I have created. But control and working at my own pace is more important to me than the potential benefits of working with a traditional publisher.
Q: What do you do when you are not writing?
I serve on the boards of 5 nonprofits; so much of my time is devoted to philanthropic endeavors. My wife and I travel a fair amount and I usually organize and lead a trekking or mountaineering expedition in Nepal each year. I regularly engage in recreational activities which combine physical fitness with enjoyment of the outdoors, like kayaking, swimming, biking, rollerblading, etc. I teach a course in the Honors program at Butler University on philosophy & philanthropy, and lead a weekly discussion class at Indianapolis Friends Meeting. Not to mention regular dining out with friends, playing in two volleyball groups, and sharing a glass of wine with Alicia on the river bank behind our house. Life is good and full, and I do not miss practicing law, which I did for 30 years.
Q: What gave you the idea (inspiration) for this book?
This book is a work of truthy fiction or fictional memoir. It’s based on my experience of playing on a football team, which People Magazine called “the worst team in college ball”. The narrative is about the struggle of the star of University of Chicago’s football team to cope with the cultural revolution on campus, a 2-year losing streak, and a girlfriend who hates football. All of which I experienced, although I was not nearly as great an athlete as my fictional stand-in. The protagonist tries to resolve the universal conflict between independence/personal freedom and commitment/community. (What is Love?) The cast of characters is inspired by people I met during the 4 years I lived in Chicago, such as, a gay football player, mill-worker-Renaissance-scholar, Communists, racists, and Muhammad Ali. History and historical photos are sprinkled throughout the book.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in writing your non-fiction books?
The fundamental challenge is dealing with the insecurity of whether I really have something worthy to write and is the message worthy to be read by others? Then, all the craft issues arise involved with writing, organizing, structuring, and editing to create a finished work worthy of publication. For the books I’ve published through our family publishing company, Midsummer Books, how to create a cover that represents the theme of the book, how to describe the book, which genres/subgenres are most appropriate, and which distributors to use. Finally, how the hell to get anyone to notice it,
Q: What impact do you hope this book will have on the reader?
I started writing this book, because I wanted to re-live and enjoy some of the crazy-meaningful experiences I had at the University of Chicago. Then, I got into historical research about American football and the University, which I found very interesting. So, I wanted to create a work which delves into the issue of freedom/commitment on a very personal level, but make it an enjoyable read by setting it in wacky environment while sharing history I learned. So, I hope the reader has fun while learning some history and thinking about the tension in relationships between personal independence and commitment to others.