A Conversation With Literary Author Jay Lemming

A Conversation With Literary Author Jay Lemming

Today’s blog post is a little different – an interview with fellow literary novelist Jay Lemming, author of Billy Maddox Takes His Shot. I’ll let the interview speak for itself, but for more on Jay, visit his website at https://jaylemming-author.com.

Thanks for joining us, Jay. Can you tell us more about your experience as an independent author of literary fiction?

First of all, thanks for the interview opportunity, Mike. I’m relatively new to the indie world, truth be told, but the existence of so many talented writers is an inspiration. Social media is a great way to connect with other writers.

My experience as an indie author began around mid-2014. I had just gone through a separation from my wife and was in pretty low spirits. I knew I had to return to doing something that I loved, something for me and not anyone else. I had a mostly completed literary novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot. The struggles in my marriage made it difficult to write so now, freed emotionally from the relationship troubles, I was able to find my focus again and finish the book.

As I began to look at the publishing landscape, I realized it had been turned upside down by the rise of indie authors and the service providers who support them–editors, distributors, book cover designers, etc. I had a history of primarily poor experiences with literary agents (rejection, in other words) so I liked the idea of moving beyond the traditional publishing model and controlling my own path to publication.

So I did. Earlier this year, I finally published Billy Maddox Takes His Shot.

You describe Billy Maddox as a literary novel. Is that important to you?

Yes, it is but it has more to do with personal history than because I’m wedded to the idea that a book should belong to one genre or another.

In the late 1990s, I was studying modernist literature at Fordham University. I love the expatriates of the early 20th century–Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein and the VERY underappreciated John Dos Passos. To this day, the USA Trilogy remains one of my favorite reads of all time.

So I earned my Master’s degree in English and did well in my comprehensive exams by basically writing about “broken” or unattainable symbols in early 20th century literature, such as Woolf’s lighthouse and the clock in the Compson household that never tells the right time (Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury).

My professors wanted me to pursue my PhD but, quite frankly, I didn’t want to live a life of poverty that might have become my life as an English professor. I joined the Peace Corps and went to Sri Lanka to teach English. I always figured I would come back to the States and become a teacher. But life threw me a curve ball. When I got home to New York, the Peace Corps hired me to do contract marketing and promotional work. That led to another contract in the Washington, DC metropolitan region (where I live now), and the next thing you know, I’m entering the professional world as a marketer. Who knew?

But entering the business world also meant a radical separation from the world of literature and of the critical analysis of human experience that had informed my thinking until then. The people who loved the same thing I did weren’t around me anymore, and it was a jarring and isolating experience.

Writing what I call a LITERARY novel such as Billy Maddox Takes His Shot is my way of staying connected to that passion and that world. Even though I left university for economic reasons, that doesn’t mean my love of reading, analyzing and thinking about literature and human experience died. It simply inspired me to start writing literary fiction, which is about as close as you can come to classic literature.

And yes, I know a lot of what we call classic literature would have been considered genre literature back in the day. I AM generalizing.

Tell us how your interest in literary fiction led to this survey you’re conducting with other authors of literary fiction.

Last year, I signed up for an online course with successful indie author Nick Stephenson. He shared strategies with his clients for how to market your books, and one of his suggestions is to find similar authors online and build partnerships with them to share promotional opportunities. The only problem is, if you go into the Kindle store, for example, most of what falls under the category of literary fiction is traditionally published. So I was like, where the hell are the indie authors of literary fiction?

I couldn’t believe I was the only one. When I looked at blogs and Twitter profiles, I saw them. Meaning, I saw writers who considered themselves writers of literary fiction. But there was no central community, per se, unless I missed something. People like Jane Friedman and David Gaughran were putting out things here and there and I wanted to build on that foundation. It seemed like a fragmented group. So I launched this survey where I basically ask indie authors who write literary fiction about their books and what they think of the genre. Some don’t even consider literary fiction a genre. In any case, I wanted to create a meeting point for such writers no matter what they think literary fiction is or isn’t.

What about the author interviews you have been conducting over the past few months?

So my outrageous goal for this literary fiction survey is to get 75 respondents and publish the results in one epic roundup post. But I can’t just collect surveys from 75 writers without continuing to remind participants it is there and challenge them to think about the survey and what literary fiction represents. Otherwise, this survey will just turn into the perpetual sound of crickets.

So I also asked the authors who participated in the survey if they wanted to be interviewed more in-depth about their ideas about literary fiction, and then I would publish the interviews on my blog on an ongoing basis. Indie author Rohan Quine encouraged me to stick with it, so I did. This was intended to keep the “presence” of the survey alive and well as I sought my 75 respondents.

So far, so good. More than 20 people have taken the survey and I have six published interviews with about five or six more in the queue. I have to say, there has been one group that has been amazingly supportive, and that is the Alliance of Independent Authors. Dan Holloway, who has a lot of respect within this community and is intelligent to the nth degree, came out as an early advocate. He was also the very first indie author I interviewed. For that support, I will always be grateful.

There are indie authors all across the world but I have to say, my experience is that the Brits have their shit together a lot better than indie authors in other countries. I mean, why NOT create an Alliance of Independent Authors? Orna Ross and her group have been amazing bringing this thing to life.

How are you going to get from 20 to 75 respondents?

More promotion to different communities within the indie author space; I’m starting to interview more Americans, such as yourself. I published an interview with Steve Bargdill a few weeks ago–another Yank. I also want to explore perspectives on literary fiction tied to authors who write about race, ethnicity, nationality and sexuality. So I have a lot of research to do to find those communities and then pitch the survey and questionnaire so that authors there will want to participate. I’m hopeful that, since I have benefited from participation already, this project will carry some credibility.

What about your own writing? Now that Billy Maddox Takes His Shot is done, is your writing done too?

Good God, no. I have also published a dark dystopian novella called The Curse of Jaxx, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m very much a fan of dark fiction and horror films that scare the crap out of me. I’m wrapping up some short stories related to Billy Maddox and then I have a collection of coming-of-age short stories called Death to the Children and Other Stories, and another novel called Wichita Snake in the works.

I really do have to get organized or I’m going to find myself surrounded by tons of half-finished manuscripts but nothing to show for it.

Jay, thanks so much for your time.

Thanks again for having me, Mike.

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Every author starts as a newbie, even if they held a job as a writer in some other capacity. The publishing business can be incredibly daunting for a newcomer: many authors work alone without much feedback, so their mistakes, while understandable, are also far too common. Thankfully, most of these mistakes can be easily avoided.

1) Not Paying for Editing

Think you can be your own editor? Think again.

Even the best author needs an editor to help clean up grammar or punctuation errors missed when self-editing. Beyond that, a skilled editor will find holes in the story or even where to break up large paragraphs into smaller, more digestible ones.

Of all the valuable investments an author makes in their business, editing is the most essential.

2) Telling Instead of Showing

The old adage “show, don’t tell” became a cliché for a reason. New authors frequently do it, because it’s in their comfort zone to deliver information that they want readers to know.

There are exceptions to this rule – sometimes we want our reader to know something directly from a character, and it can work. I did this intentionally in the first few chapters of my second novel, Jana, when the main character addresses the reader directly with key back story. But I only did it after opening with action and tension, and soon picked up the narrative again with forward-moving action.

If your story is told in the third person – which is the typical person most authors use – it’s essential to let your characters and their actions do the “telling” rather than actually telling your readers anything. Readers are smart; don’t spell everything out for them.

3) Never Reading Aloud

Want to find out where you’ve made a mistake, or where something doesn’t quite “sound right?” Read your manuscript aloud after you have polished and self-edited. Your errors will leap off the page. You might not know exactly what to call all of them, but you’ll have a much better idea of what to address. Don’t worry: your editor will find more, and that’s as it should be. Remember, you want your book to be as good as it can.

4) Failing to Have a Reader Platform

If you Google the title of this article, “Five Mistakes New Authors Make,” you’ll find plenty of other articles on the subject. But start reading them, and you’ll find that most articles of this type deal entirely with the mechanics of writing…something covered by points one through three here.

However, you won’t always find many practical tips for how to get your voice heard in the din of other new authors, old authors, and everyone else in between. Building a platform for your author business – and it is a business – means doing all the things you need to do to be heard: developing a line of communication with readers and followers by creating an email list, leveraging social media, and so on. You know, all those tacky “marketing” things so many sensitive authors don’t even want to touch, and that even fewer know how to do effectively. Mastering the art of marketing, or having someone to help with it, is essential.

5) Never Planning for the Business of Being a Writer

Want to build a business, not just a book? You should. The business of being an author involves much more than simply having a platform. Self-published authors are frequently overwhelmed, trying to be their own marketing department, public relations firm, and bookkeeper, but that’s just the start. They soon realize it takes a village to build a book, and they need a team.

Fortunately, there are companies out there who can walk authors through the entire publication process while providing world-class marketing and business coaching. Find out more by checking out our services or call (813) 528-2622.

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I was recently reading another author’s blog, and saw a post about the writing process, and in particular the naming of characters. I wondered, Are people really interested in reading about this?

I couldn’t help thinking that only writers are so interested in other writers’ processes that they’ll read a whole blog post about it. But who knows, maybe readers are also fascinated by the mechanics of putting a book together. My own work is so character-driven that I figured I’m best off writing about how the characters came to be.

Then I thought about it and realized that all three of my novels had major dissimilarities in terms of the way the characters came about! Brothers’ Hand, my first novel, was very organic: I started the book with no outline, no plan, no character sketches…just scenes that unfolded naturally. It was only after I’d written a scene or two that I went back and did any planning.

My second novel, Jana, is the only one of my three novels that’s in the first person. As I have said to many people, this 24-year-old lesbian character started talking to me in my head and didn’t shut up for about two years. I don’t think I ever wrote out her motives, her character traits…anything. She was (and is) as real to me as anyone I’ve ever known.

For Miles of Files, I wanted to paint with a broader palette, and I actually had a few things in mind. For one, I wanted to have tiers of characters like Charles Dickens did in Dombey and Son: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  The tertiary characters are mainly commentators, who pass on information about primary and/or secondary characters. I wanted to make sure each character was unique and different enough from the others that the reader could easily identify them, so I went through the Myers-Briggs personality types and assigned them accordingly.

Interestingly enough (to me, anyway), my protagonist was not the same profile as me; I’m an INFP, and my INFP character was a female secondary character named Pamela Mae Swenson. I’m not sure if I realized that her initials spelled PMS until later on, but I didn’t change them.

So there’s a tiny bit of insight into character. What about all of you out there? Do you have stories to share about your favorite characters? Or secrets you’d like to share?

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It’s been crazy busy for me lately, and this blog got neglected because Monday – my normal blog post date – was the 4th of July holiday. I know, I should have worked anyway, right? Isn’t that what everyone does these days? Work any day and every day?

Well, the heck with that. I took the 4th off and spent it with my wife, who finally had a whole two days in a row off. Man, in America, we work way too much. Europe’s got the right idea (well, except for that Brexit thing).

A lot of the busy-ness is in the Sahno Publishing newsletter, which you can get for free every month, along with a free copy of my ebook Marketing for Authors. Just go to the main page here and sign up for the email list and download the book.

For those who haven’t signed up yet, here’s a little sample of the content of the newsletter for this month:

So that’s all the news for now. Stay tuned for updates. You can also follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSahno for the latest with Sahno Publishing. And don’t forget, if you’re in the Tampa Bay area, stop by and say hello and get an autographed book on September 17th!

 

 

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