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The ‘Unreal’ Life

Burke man fulfills life-long dream with publication of first novel.

Donald Jeffries of Burke is a Realtor, coach and information systems specialist. At 51, after more than 20 years of frustration and persistence, he is also a published author. Jeffries’ book "The Unreals," which he describes as a "sci-fi conspiratorial fairytale," came out in May 2007.

"I felt numb, seeing all those books with my name on them," said Jefferies, about his November book signing at the Fairfax Barnes & Noble. "Even now, I still have that same numb feeling, a feeling of disbelief."

Jeffries rewrote "The Unreals" several times, but the basics have remained the same since he began writing it. The story revolves around a mysterious disappearance and a hunt that reveals numerous conspiracies and strange encounters. "The book is that of a much younger man. I was in my 20s when I wrote it," he said, adding that the book’s target audience is older teens to 20-year-olds.

Jeffries, who has lived in Northern Virginia since his family moved here from Washington, D.C. when he was 2, cannot remember a time when he was not fascinated by the written word. "I was always at the top of my class in reading and always very confident in my own writing," he said.

At an early age, he received the typewriter he had been begging for to write his stories. He also wrote poetry and songs. "At one point, I wanted to be a songwriter," Jeffries said. "I had the idea I was going to be the next Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen."

What remains one of his favorite reads is the book that he discovered when he was around 13: Bram Stoker’s "Dracula."

"My friends, who had also read the book, and I, formed this club with the intent of writing our own vampire story in the same journal style as Stoker," said Jefferies. "Whenever we would meet to review what we had written individually, however, we kept discovering we were just recreating our favorite character, the all powerful Van Helsing, over and over again, but affixing different German sounding names."

Jeffries also has a long history of being involved in sports, both as a player and as a coach. He grins when he explains that he has given some of the characters in "The Unreals" the names of long-ago, obscure baseball players.

IT WAS ABOUT two decades ago that Jeffries wrote the first draft of what would become "The Unreals."

"I actually typed up the first draft 20 years ago," said Jean Jefferies, Donald’s wife. "It was all in long-hand on yellow legal pads. … It was before the children were born and he wrote at night."

Typing the story wasn’t just a labor of love; Jean Jeffries enjoyed her husband’s work. "He’s a very good writer and tells a good story," she said. "Also, some of the characters are based on friends and his co-workers and I enjoyed getting little glimpses of their expressions or descriptions."

Donald Jeffries cannot remember how many rejections he received through the years. "Sometimes, I would get frustrated and stop sending out for a while, but I would start again," he said.

Adding to his frustration when Donald Jeffries first started trying to publish, prior to home computers and the Internet, was the expense of making hundreds of hard copies and the time-consuming trips to the post office.

"You had to make all queries by snail mail and what I still find especially frustrating is having to send a S.A.S.E. [self-addressed stamped envelope], which in essence means you’re paying to have your work sent twice," he said.

Many publishers now accept both e-mail queries and Internet submissions, Donald Jeffries said, and he found the publisher of "The Unreals," StoneGarden Publishing, through an Internet search. "Smaller publishing companies, like StoneGarden, are often more willing to take a risk on an unknown and will publish without an agent, so you don’t have to worry about agent fees."

When a writer goes with a smaller publisher, Donald Jeffries said, the writer needs to be prepared to do a lot more of the leg work. "Smaller publishers don’t have the budget or the time." Using e-mail as a marketing tool, Donald Jeffries has marketed his book to many U.S. libraries and Ireland’s Dublin Public Library System bought five copies. "I contacted the library systems of as many English-speaking countries as I could," he said.

Kristofer Stamp, the owner of StoneGarden Publishing, said that his company rejects approximately nine out of every 10 manuscripts it receives. The majority of submissions are poorly written and need too much work to be publishable.

Stamp decided to publish "The Unreals" because it was a well-written piece of fiction that had life to it. "I wasn’t going to let this one slip to another publisher," said Stamp, in an e-mail interview.

Donald Jeffries is writing another story that he described as more tame and different from "The Unreals." He started the story after an agent in a writing contest called early drafts of "The Unreals" as "too long and too complicated for a first novel. You need something shorter for your first publication."

He is also trying to market some children’s stories. Donald Jeffries’ advice to writers is to never give up and to keep confidence in one’s work.