Crack the Spine Literary Magazine
Published by March 1, 2019
Jeffrey James Higgins
Location: Alexandria, Virginia
Education: I have a BS in journalism, from Boston University, and an MS in criminal justice, from the University of Cincinnati.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was six or seven years old. I remember sneaking out of bed to write, long after my parents turned off the lights. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and the desire to tell stories.
Do you write full-time?
I retired as a federal agent in 2017 and committed to writing full-time, something I hadn’t done since I worked as a reporter in 1989. I’ve developed a good writing practice and write or edit for at least six hours every day.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
In the past two years, I’ve written one nonfiction book, two novels, and eighteen articles. I study the craft of writing every day and I’m always trying to improve.
What is your ultimate goal as a writer?
I want to write and publish the stories I have running helter-skelter through my imagination. I have more than thirty novel ideas outlined, and my goal is two finish two or three books each year. I’ll only be satisfied when people have the chance to read them.
Tell us about your work in Crack the Spine.
Blown Away: A narrative nonfiction account of my first sailing lesson in almost forty years.
Is there a main theme or message in this piece?
It explores how sailing returns us to nature and reminds us of what it means to be human.
What inspired this work?
I was inspired by the spiritual and emotional healing my sailing lesson gave me. It came as a surprise. So did capsizing in the Potomac River!
Tell us about another project you have published or are currently working on.
I just finished a crime thriller, Unseen. Rookie Homicide Detective Malachi Wolf investigates a string of murders in historic Georgetown and discovers the victims are all connected to radical Islam. Chasing the killer, he exposes a terrorist conspiracy that threatens the United States, and becomes a target himself.
What inspired this work?
For most of my career I investigated narco-terrorism. This novel explores the Muslim Brotherhood’s infiltration of the United States and the evil among us. It explores how the lines between right and wrong can become murky.
Where/When can we find this work?
My agent, at the Inkwell Management literary agency, is reviewing it now and should submit it to publishers soon.
How often do you write?
Every day. I always have three writing projects going on. I simultaneously outline a new book, edit one I just finished, and write the first draft of another. Bouncing back and forth between projects keeps my creativity high. I set word count goals when writing and time or chapter goals when editing. Writing is a job and I try to treat it that way.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?
Self-publishing is both a blessing and a curse for writers. It creates the opportunity to get work published, but many self-published books don’t go through a rigorous editorial process. It’s hard to stand out among the noise, so I’m taking the traditional route.
How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete?
It took me two months to write the first draft of Unseen, then four months to edit it. I wrote at least twelve drafts, then made additional edits based on comments from my beta readers. I completed the first draft of my second book—Furious—during NaNoWriMo. I hope to finish editing it this month.
What is your usual starting point for a piece?
I create a high-concept plot first, because that’s the essence of the story. Character is critical too, so I develop character sketches and arcs before I begin writing. I’m a detailed outliner, which means I’m a pantser before I put prose on paper.
What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer?
I believe in writing what interests me and not worrying about how good it is until I finish the first draft. I keep reminding myself that nobody will read it until it’s ready.
What is your favorite book?
That’s such a hard question for a bibliophile, so I’ll cheat and give you two. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, inspired me to be a writer when I was a child. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, contains important philosophical and political messages, which are relevant today.
Who is your favorite author?
Cheating again… In narrative nonfiction, my favorites are Mark Bowden and Sebastian Junger. In fiction, I love Cormack McCarthy’s descriptive prose and Michael Crichton’s high-concept plots. Michael Connelly is my favorite crime fiction writer.
If you could have dinner with one fictional character, who would it be and why?
Dagny Taggart from Atlas Shrugged, because of her intellectual honesty, moral clarity, and courage.
What’s in that cup on your desk?
Caffeine, caffeine, and more caffeine. I drink French roast coffee throughout the day. I’ve heard water is essential for life, but I’ll stick with black coffee.
How many of your characters have you ended up killing off?
I’ve only written two novels, so I don’t want to spoil them, but my protagonists go through horrific crucibles and have to use their minds to survive. My characters are never safe and many are killed.
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
My wife, Cynthia Farahat, walking down the aisle at our wedding. She’s a talented author and the most courageous, brilliant, and caring person I’ve ever known.
Cats or Dogs?
I love dogs
Beer or Wine?
Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams?