Interview with Jay Lemming

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote, and the impact it had on you?
When I was in third grade, the teacher gave all the students a card with an unusual image on it. Nothing psychedelic like M.C. Escher--it was more mysterious, sort of like a Harris Burdick print. This was a writing lesson and each student was supposed to write a story about the image on the card.

My card showed a kid stuck to the ceiling of his bedroom. And he had this unhappy expression on his face. On his desk was an open vial of some liquid, the implication being that he drank something he shouldn't have and he floated up to the top of the room. Well, I didn’t have time to think through what I wanted to write about so I stole the card and took it home where I could write about it without any time constraints. Mind you, I was probably nine years old at the time. I still remember the sense of satisfaction I got from using my imagination to write a story. It probably wasn't more than three or four pages and I don’t think I actually finished it, but when you think about the lack of focus that a boy that old typically has, it was pretty incredible that I stuck to it.

I don't think I ever returned the card to the classroom either. Thank God my parents never found out I stole it. That would have been the end for me!
When did you first start writing?
I have always had an active inner world. That was compounded when I was 15 years old and saw someone fall off a cliff and die in upstate New York. I write about this in my blog post, Three Ways that Horrific Event Drive Great Literary Writing. Suddenly, having had this terrible experience, I basically began to examine two worlds--the external world, which can hold a lot of pain and disappointment, and the internal world where your imagination can help you envision the world as it’s supposed to be according to the human perspective.

Less than two years after the cliff episode, I took a creative writing class. This was during my senior year of high school. I had the most amazing teacher. I dedicate my first novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, to him. He helped me fall in love with writing. He was a tough teacher and a tough coach but possessed a certain kind of genius. I’m not the only one who feels this way--I’m still in touch with several friends from high school and many of them, who also took his class, also have a deep reverence for him. I loved the creative writing class; it offered a safe place for my imagination and to begin thinking of myself as a writer.
What is your writing process?
I spent many years writing every morning for about two or two and a half hours. And then, when Billy Maddox Takes His Shot was finished, I began querying agents and looking for representation to the book publishing world. That was the whole process before I got married and had a kid and it was very simple. That was all the discipline that writers needed.

These days, though, a writer needs to do so much more than just write. Now, you have to build an author’s platform including a website or blog, get active on social networks to build relationships with other authors and readers, market yourself with e-mails and newsletters and maybe even do some online advertising. So time management has become more challenging than ever before.

I still write most mornings and then work on refining my platform in the evenings. But I have a seven-year-old son and am divorced, and I have a full-time job, so I’ll just refer back to what I said a moment ago about time management.
What are you working on next?
I have two works in progress right now but am primarily focused on Green Bay Outsiders, a forthcoming novel that will be part of the Maddox Men series. It’s a coming-of-age novel; the primary character, Carl Daniels, will appear years later as the supervisor of Billy Maddox, the young Border Patrol Agent, in Billy Maddox Takes His Shot Green Bay Outsiders, as you might expect, takes place in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is about a young man who decides, upon graduating from college, that everything he’s been raised to expect will make him successful as an adult may, in fact, not do so. So he goes through a whole personal reckoning throughout the course of the book and many people who have expectations of him--his girlfriend, his friends and his mother--end up incredibly disappointed. You may want to check out a blog post I wrote called “Why Most Coming-of-Age Stories Miss the Point”.

I also have an outline for a horror novella called Under the Sea, though I won’t get back to that for several months. That is, until I finish Green Bay Outsiders.
What's the story behind your latest book?
See my answer above.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
A combination of factors. First of all, I was tired with all the rejection I was getting from agents who didn’t want to represent my work. Then in 2014, I went through a divorce, which led to a kind of soul-searching process. I realized I’d been spending years living a life I didn’t enjoy, so I had to ask myself: What would make you happiest? I was already a father, which was an absolute blessing. I have the greatest kid in the world and no matter what happens with my writing, he will always be first and foremost for me. But when I did have to answer, what would make me happy, the answer came very quickly: writing. I didn’t want gatekeepers involved. I didn’t want to have to rely on the whims of agents. My marriage was a bust. Some years back, I lost my job. I won’t say I’ve become bitter or mistrustful. But I wanted to do something I enjoyed without having to deal with anyone else’s participation (okay, maybe I’m a little bitter, LOL!). Along with my love of writing, I am also a marketing professional so indie authorship came most naturally to me. And no one could tell me no!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I could write an essay about the impact of each of these stories on my personal development and outlook but I will keep my comments here (fairly) brief.

The World According to Garp -- I read this novel during my senior year in high school and it was like a religious experience. John Irving writes about an individual's life and celebrates everything his protagonist, Garp, experiences--Garp's wrestling, his writing, his involvement in the women's rights movement, his at-times difficult relationship with his wife Helen and his mother Jenny Fields. Garp could have done or been anything, but the point of the story was, This is Garp and this is his life. I think it was the very first time I had ever recognized the possibility of simply appreciating a human life for its individual magic. And it ended in a sad way. But it's the way every life ends. The final line is "We are all terminal cases" or something like that. Amazing.

Crime and Punishment -- I also read this as a senior in high school. That was the year when I first realized how much power effective writing and storytelling could have. In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the protagonist Raskolnikov dwells on the problems of society so much that he ends up committing a horrible crime in the name of justice. He ruminates to the point of detaching his own behavior and morality from that of the larger society. What follows is a kind of Murders in the Rue Morgue detective story that ultimately (spoiler alert!) brings Raskolnikov to justice. I had never before read a story that was so weighty on the subjects of suffering and redemption, and those themes have always resonated with me so I just find them incredibly powerful to this day.

Of Human Bondage -- I read this as a sophomore at Virginia Tech. I was pretty sensitive as a young man, probably much more so than I needed to be, but as a result, Of Human Bondage really reverberated with me. The protagonist, Philip Carey, has a clubfoot, which was a stand-in for the writer, Somerset Maugham's, stutter. That is, Philip had a painfully obvious physical defect that challenged his self-confidence. In some ways, this is a kind of Garp story too which simply takes the reader through an individual's experiences. It is about a young man's upbringing in a somewhat hard household, his quest for genius as a painter in Paris, his ill treatment at the hands of a manipulative woman and, ultimately, his discovery of a kind of quiet happiness at the end of a story. Philip's level of sensitivity echoed my own when I read it, which is why I found the story engaging even though we had such radically different personal experiences.

Atlas Shrugged -- To say this story rocked my world is the understatement of the century. I read this as a senior at SUNY Binghamton. Ayn Rand continues to be judged in a harsh light for her philosophy of absolute self-reliance, which drives this long novel. But there's enough power in what she believes is the practical application of work and persistence as a reflection of individual character to be meaningful. When I was a graduate student of English, I asked my professors why her writing wasn't part of the canon. I was told it was because her books were treatises more than novels, which I guess I can see. But I still think the ideas she addresses about identity and responsibility, no matter which side of the argument you fall on, are important to discuss. Atlas Shrugged is worth reading for John Galt's speech alone.

The Gunslinger -- Stephen King wrote book one of the Dark Tower series when he was a young man. He didn't yet have the versatility for complex world-building as he would in later works from The Dark Tower series. Still, he still does an effective job of simpler, post-apocalyptic world-building through the story of gunslinger, Roland Deschain. "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed". That is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable opening lines of a story.

So that's it. Perhaps not surprisingly I read all these books as a young man when my personality and world view were being formed. I would recommend these stories to anyone however, regardless of whatever phase of life people happen to be in.
Who are your favorite authors?
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Cormac McCarthy, John Irving and Thomas Wolfe are some favorites though there have been amazing books by authors that I absolutely loved, such as Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. And Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand has always been on the map. I have respect for what Toni Morrison has accomplished. Stephen King helped take me through some rough times in childhood, which you'll hear a lot of his readers tell you.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley about 60 miles north of Manhattan. If you've ever been to the Hudson Valley or seen photos of the Hudson Highlands, you may be familiar with the bend in the river just south of Newburgh and north of West Point. The mountains drop right down to the water on either side of the water. It's beautiful and riveting and that's where I grew up.

As far as its impact on my writing, I’ve already mentioned the creative writing teacher I had, who made a big impression. And up above I also reference one of my blog posts, Three Ways that Horrific Experiences Drive Great Literary Writing. When you see someone fall off a cliff and die, well you know, that kind of experience sticks with you.

My parents and sister still live in the Hudson Valley, and I visit often. I still call it home, too, through I’ve been living in the Washington, DC area on and off since 1999.
Describe your desk
I have a desk in my bedroom where I should write. But I prefer to spread my computer and papers out in the dining room because I have a window that lets me look out into Rock Creek Park. Fortunately, the view doesn’t distract me too much. But the knowledge that nature and trees are right outside (and no traffic!) helps my thinking and writing process. If I were to write at my desk in the bedroom, I would have a window that looks down on a street. That’s not as conducive to inspiration.
How do you approach cover design?
I just wrapped up the third cover from the Maddox Men series. I first developed the cover for Green Bay Outsiders, which is my current work in progress. Then a month ago, I did one for Billy Maddox Takes His Shot. And then, only a week ago, I finished the cover for Billy and Darla. I used a talented and much-recommended cover designer on Fiverr. Most indie authors who have “made it” say you need to invest in a personally designed cover, and I get that. But when you’re starting out or are in mid-stream, you need to balance all aspects of (and investments in) your author’s platform, and the reality is that I’m not yet making enough money from my indie author business to let me invest in personally designed covers.

But what I’ve gotten from the Fiverr designer, in my opinion, is excellent. There are some restrictions based on the service she provides but the vivid colors and images, the landscapes and the branding that makes all the book covers obviously part of the same series…well, I just couldn’t be happier. I’ve even started thinking about my stories differently just because of how the covers turned out and I’d bet money that every indie author (no matter what approach they take to cover design they take) will tell you the same thing.

I did have an earlier version of a cover for Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, but when I realized (after the fact) that it would be part of a series, I realized I needed to move on and go through a redesign. I didn’t hesitate. I just did it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It's too soon to tell. For the most part, I’ve published mostly on Amazon. But the more experienced I get in the indie author industry, and the broader my sense of strategy becomes, the more I realize the opportunities available through broader distribution to other retailers. And right now, I feel Smashwords is an investment that will help my career in the long term.
Published 2018-01-13.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Billy and Darla (A Maddox Men Story)
Price: Free! Words: 14,890. Language: English. Published: January 13, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Coming of age, Fiction » Literature » Literary
18-year-old Billy Maddox is heading to Tucson’s Motel 6 for a night of mindless fun with his ex-girlfriend. He quickly finds, though, that Darla Littlefield's penchant for trouble-making has steered him on a collision course with local law enforcement. Billy and Darla, a short story from Jay Lemming's Maddox Men series, shows one young man's journey to maturity over the course of a single night.
Billy Maddox Takes His Shot - A Border Patrol Novel (The Maddox Men Series)
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 84,400. Language: English. Published: July 1, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Coming of age, Fiction » Literature » Literary
Billy Maddox Takes His Shot is a Border Patrol novel from the upcoming Maddox Men series. The story follows Billy Maddox, an angry and scarred 23-year-old man, whose first days on line watch haunt him with memories of his brother's death on the Southwest border. Billy's marriage is also failing. Can Billy turn his life around in the same border environment where it all started to go wrong?