We interviewed Jeff Van Valer for our May 2019 Issue #5. Enjoy!
Interview with Jeff Van Valer
Jeff Van Valer’s creative writing career started when he went away to summer camp and found weekly letters home a required activity. After much practice at this, he sent letters of his own accord (using rolls and rolls of stamps) to family and friends.
He dabbled in stories in high school and college and even wrote a novel after college graduation. The novel’s story was grand (he says), as long as the reader committed to the eighty-page expository seminar that was the story’s beginning. Not surprisingly, readers didn’t commit to the cause, and this first effort has not been published.
Later, he attended medical school and residency and has been at work as a physician ever since. He practices neurology and sleep medicine in Muncie, Indiana, where he serves as an assistant professor in the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology. He lives with his wife, Luci; two kids, Martha and Joe; and that cliché of American suburbia, the golden-doodle, a very sweet dog named Fletcher.
Mountain biking and playing drums are two of his passions. Creative writing serves to pervade and control much of his free thought and time. It breathes life into him like no regular hobby ever could.
Jeff, you are the perfect author to interview for our Transitions theme. Your book, The Light in the Trees, is about summer camp and some boys who get an adventure of a lifetime. Tell us a little bit about the book.
Thanks for featuring me in The RAC Magazine! The Light in the Trees is probably best defined as a coming-of-age psychological thriller. At its beginning, Ted, the story’s twelve-year-old protagonist, shows up for his third summer at White Birch Camp. Shouldering more burden than just his duffel bag, Ted is in for eight weeks of dwelling on his mother’s death months before. That, and worrying his dad is trying to dump him. As Ted stumbles into the summer, he meets two new friends and a pretty girl named Karen who likes to talk to him. Then he catches the eye of his darkly-charismatic cabinmate, a kid they call Hoss. The two spar briefly, and Ted holds his ground. Before long, Hoss begins to admire Ted. Over time, the story’s hero finds he cannot avoid Hoss’s attention. In order to protect his friends and possibly Karen, Ted must face the young sociopath’s criminal and eventually deadly manipulations.
How did you come up with the storyline? Is it from your own experiences at camp? How does Book 2, White Birch Graffiti, tie into the first book?
I had an idea for a book a long time ago. I finished it in the 1990s. It is a rudimentary edition of my recently released White Birch Graffiti. Back in its old, unpublished (and wholly ignored for twenty-plus years) form, this novel exposed its backstory in flashbacks. For a long time (something about being busy in medical school, residency, and private practice), I felt strongly that those flashbacks could not stand alone as their own story. But I decided not long ago they could. The result was released in March, 2018 as The Light in the Trees. If this first book is insidious as a thriller, White Birch Graffiti is more, say, in-your-FACE. (Finally a book I’ve been tinkering with since the early 2000s has merged into the same series as the former two. Minor characters in the first two books have become the main characters in the third, whose tentative title is The Unwilling Captain.)
Tell us about your nonfiction book, The Devil’s Tricycle. The idea of correlation between caffeine, migraines, and insomnia sounds intriguing.
As a neurologist, I see a lot of new headache patients. As a sleep physician, I’ve become interested in managing insomnia and have become fascinated with the world’s most-common drug of abuse, caffeine. It occurred to me one day that the three of these problems, poor sleep, caffeine abuse, and migraine headache disorder share an elegant symmetry. Caffeine worsens headaches and sleep loss; insomnia leads to more migraines and caffeine use, and migraines themselves are often treated with caffeine and disrupt sleep. Each of these three things perpetuates the other two. Each reciprocal interaction can be likened to a rolling wheel. With this three-wheel motif, I coined the title The Devil’s Tricycle. The book deals with how to understand these interactions and how to stop riding The Tricycle.
Being a physician, assistant professor, and a writer must keep you busy. What do you and your family like to do for fun?
Below is a screen shot of some fun we had in Seattle (Terry Marchion!!) a few years ago and a ride further back with my son, Joe, in Indiana’s Brown County State Park.
What Readers are dying to know:
Chocolate OR Nuts? NUTS
Sunset OR Sunrise? SUNRISE
Mountain Cabin OR Beach House? MOUNTAIN CABIN
Read in Bed OR Read on Couch? COUCH
Watching a Parade OR Being in One? WATCHING
Baseball OR Football? BASEBALL live and FOOTBALL if on television
Thanks again, Jeff, for spending time with The RAC Magazine and our Readers. Best wishes for all your future endeavors!
Thank you, The RAC Magazine!!
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