Lee Maynard

Lee Maynard

Lee Maynard is the author of Cinco Becknell, Magnetic North, the crum trilogy: Crum, Screaming with the Cannibals and The Scummers, and The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and Hallucinations in an Imagined Life.

How did you come to your decision to write a memoir?
I didn’t decide, the material decided. There were all these little stories that cluttered up my mind, hiding there in my brain, and the only way to get rid of them was to write them. If I didn’t, they would always be there, getting in the way.

How did you decide which life experiences to include?
Most of us go through stages in life when things happen to us - you know, it's odd what we remember as important. Sometimes, when we think back, it’s not the dramatic points - it’s a tiny thing that gets embedded in our minds. For the most part those things are what I wrote about.

What difficulties did you come across while writing about your childhood?
The difficulties were admitting things - telling things I had never told anybody. Emotions and fears that I think will seem trivial to some readers, but everyone has those things, and admitting them is the difficult thing. The admissions process of being like, "Did I really feel that way? What a wimp!"

What is it like giving an audience full access to the bent inner workings of the Maynard mind?
Its cheaper than psychiatry! Actually, I really don’t mind that at all. Everything is relative, even the states of our mind. When audiences realize how bent my mind is, they can go home and feel good about themselves. They aren’t as nuts as they thought they were.

Does the quality of your voice in writing come naturally to you?
I’m not sure what does come naturally to me and what doesn’t. It has to do with the central light of writing: I want to tell the best story I can tell, and to do that, there has to be emotional movement within a story. People say what the hell is emotional movement? I am not sure, but when you read some people’s work, some go on and on and on and you just want them to get over it! There always has to be a physical and emotional movement to the text, and I think that keeps it chugging along. There is light in writing, but light comes in all shades. I think of writing frequently as light or music - when I read a particular piece I always come up with an emotional feeling and usually it has to do with light.

How is writing prose different from writing journalism?
It’s really simple: as a journalist, I can’t lie. My degree is in journalism and I had a professor named Paul Atkins at the J-school [of West Virginia University], and he was probably the best journalist I had ever known. If you had one word in a story that you could not substantiate then Atkins pencil flew across that page like crazy, and it was posted on the bulletin board for everyone to see. I wrote for 20 years for the Reader’s Digest. If I put one word of untruth in a Reader’s Digest story, my editor would have ordered my journalistic execution! Here’s an analogy: If you are going to a formal affair where you have to wear business clothing and you’re sitting there, you have to be careful how you sit, and you must pay attention. Then it’s over, and you get to take off all that stuff and put on a pair of shorts and get a gin and tonic - the first part of that is journalism and the second is writing prose. You get to take off all the crap and do what you want to do. There is a discipline in journalism, and prose of course, but the discipline is different... I like journalistic writing, but I would really much rather be a prose writer, because there aren’t any boundaries. You can write what you what.

What was it like having Crum banned?
My first reaction was about 30 seconds of rage and indignation. I was like, my god, who would do such a thing? Then I thought, hey, I’m in some good company - Twain, Faulkner, Maya Angelou, Shakespeare - they have all had their books banned at some time, in some place. There is always someone trying to regulate your life, telling you what to think and what to know, and in the final analysis, I really appreciated being added to that list. Ultimately, it didn’t bother me at all. I loved it.

What are your future plans?
I am at the moment working on a third part of the Crum trilogy.

Any workshops planned?
No workshops at the moment. I enjoy workshops, though. I am not a conventional teacher. Anyone who has been to one of my workshops can tell you that I am just trying to dig out the story. It’s amazing the questions you get. When you peel off all the junk they ask you - do you write standing up, do you write naked? (Although Hemingway did both.) When we peel away the peripheral, the central question that comes up with young writers is, how do I find my voice? Man, I don’t know the answer to that. The answer I give is to keep writing a lot. I think the voice is in there somewhere and it will come out, and the only way to do that is to keep on writing over and over again. If you’re good enough, you will find your voice. Just keep on writing.