By Julie McDonald / For the Chronicle
Imagine ‘Vikings’, ‘The Last Kingdom’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ – all cast in novels but without the sex and swearing.
It’s close to the entrance fantasy worlds created in more than 30 novels by Jeff Wheeler, a Wall Street Journal best-selling author who will teach at the Southwest Washington Writers’ Conference at Centralia College Sept. 9-10. His books – a niche between young adult and fantasy – have sold more than 5 million copies, and most have garnered several thousand five-star reviews on Amazon.com.
Although I haven’t been a young adult for decades, I love reading novels like this. Maybe I’m just young at heart – or I just like to escape the real word. I devoured the books of Suzanne Collins, Sarah Maas, Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth, James Dashner, Kristine Cashore and others.
I also didn’t consider myself a fantasy reader until I opened a free e-book by Vancouver author Jill Williamson called “By Darkness Hid,” the first in her Blood of Kings trilogy. She hooked me.
Then, about a year ago, my sister first told me about Wheeler and his books.
“I started reading books by Jeff Wheeler about eight years ago, and he’s been my favorite author ever since,” said Jackie Young, a Longview banking executive who is particularly fond of the Kingfountain series.
“The worlds that Jeff Wheeler creates in his books allow me a short escape. I can visualize myself in another world. His books always contain enough detail to allow viewing, but also enough action to keep the story moving.
Jackie and I have similar reading tastes, so I looked up the reading order of Wheeler’s books, which he conveniently lists on his website at https://jeff-wheeler.com/reading-order, and I dove. I started with “The Queen’s Poisoner”, the first of the Kingfountain series. Since then, I’ve purchased nearly two dozen of his novels, and I hope he continues his prolific writing – three or four books a year – so that I never run out.
At the September conference, writers and non-writers alike can learn from a man who describes himself as “a teenage high school geek who wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons as a way to tell stories.” He grew up in Silicon Valley, California and studied history in college with the idea of becoming a teacher. Instead, the father-of-five worked 21 years in research and development manufacturing, staffing, market intelligence and corporate real estate at Intel Corp., but he put in three hours every Wednesday evening to write.
Wheeler self-published her first novel, “The Wretched of Muirwood,” in 2011. The success of her Legends of Muirwood trilogy prompted Amazon Publishing’s sci-fi/fantasy arm, 47North, to offer her a contract to publish. his next trilogy in 2012. With two trilogies published by 47North and another contract in progress, he left his job at Intel in 2014 to devote himself full-time to writing.
In September, Wheeler will teach two masterclass sessions on Friday, September 9. “Worldbuilding 505: Stop Living in Your Head and Start Writing the First Chapter” will teach writers how to develop settings that become characters in the story using ingredients such as magic, politics, culture, geography, economics, and religion. And he will focus on how to exploit the opportunities for tension that each brings to the table.
During the second session, “The How of Creativity,” Wheeler will discuss how creativity is like a muscle that writers can practice and develop. He’ll share creative tips from Collins, Stephen King, Pixar Studios, Carnegie and a famous fighter pilot.
Then, on Saturday, September 10, Wheeler will deliver a keynote address on “Your First Million Words.”
“I found on my journey that I had to write and pitch my first million words before I had practiced the craft enough to be successful,” Wheeler said. He described the keynote as “finding the will and the time to pursue the lonely road taken by writers”.
He will also lead two workshops. In “The Five Questions (aka Wowing the Editorial Board)”, attendees will learn how to make it easy for editors and publishers to say yes to your manuscript using five questions and answers that Wheeler uses whenever he pitches a book or a series.
“Even if you’re a freelance writer, knowing the answers to these questions can help improve the story before it’s even written,” he said.
The second workshop will focus on “Understanding Amazon”. Admit it, Amazon is the gorilla in the publishing world today, selling more books than anyone else among its other products. This workshop will help writers understand the independent publishing market, the difference between Kindle Direct and Kindle Unlimited, how royalties are paid, and what it’s like to work for an Amazon Publishing imprint.
Wheeler, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in the Rockies, enjoys creating clean fantasy stories that inspire people. In the past, he ran Deep Magic: The E-Zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction, a quarterly electronic magazine that published short stories and novels by fantasy and science fiction writers around the world.
In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, practicing martial arts (techniques he employs in the fight scenes in his novels), and spending time with his family and church.
Our committee of volunteers is still listing more than 40 workshop proposals to fill 18 slots. It’s exciting to provide authors, readers, and others with the opportunity to learn while raising funds for the Centralia College Foundation. All proceeds benefit the foundation. Anyone interested in sponsoring the conference can contact Joyce Scott via email at [email protected]
I’m excited to meet Wheeler and learn from him and more than a dozen other presenters at the eighth annual Southwest Washington Writers’ Conference. The first registrations will open in April. For more information, see the website at www.southwestwashingtonwriters.com.
Julie McDonald, personal historian of Toledo, can be contacted at [email protected]