"I am man alive, and as long as I can, I intend to go on being man alive ... For this reason I am a novelist. And being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog."
D. H. Lawrence, "Why Novels Matter," (1936)
I am a husband, friend, retired educator, and to coin a phrase: a gentleman writer. My vocation for the past several years has been that of writing under the pseudonym of Jeff Lee in a manner analogous to that of a gentleman farmer: I am very grateful to be sufficiently blessed that I do not have to write to profit financially; I write because I like to do it. At present — novels, screenplays, and a blog, Growing Up Boomer: One Writer's Impressions of the Past Seven Decades — remain my focus.
It is when I am working on a novel that I am most content; at present, that novel is Consummate Confidences, the volume that will follow Pinctada in the Myers/Benton Chronicle (M/BC). Prior to beginning work on Consummate Confidences, I decided upon a different approach to the M/BC, which is in keeping with something I encountered when reading about Annie Proulx's justification for writing the 736-page Barkskins, which she characterized as “kind of an old-fashioned book ... It’s long; it has a lot of characters ... It’s different, but I think people probably miss those books that were written some time ago – the big book that was written with care.”
My non-scientific sample of one concurs with the notion that there are people who miss those big books written with care because I am one of those people, and it occurred to me that I had already written two "old-fashioned book(s)" in the form of two pairs of novels; however, I realized that each pair could be read as a single work. That insight allowed me to do what I have long wanted to do: compile (two) "kind of old-fashioned book(s)," each of which are diverting and long enough to hook a serious reader's interest and perseverance: Wave and Whirlwind and Pinctada.
The goal of writing novels was unknowingly born in in 1956, when at the age of 9, I discovered novels, the first of which were Stevenson’s Treasure Island, DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and an abridged version of Sir Thomas Mallory's King Arthur, the copies of which I read having been given to my father when he was a boy. At 11, during my first exploration of a high school library left behind at a newly configured junior high school, I encountered Joseph Conrad’s The Shadow-line, which cemented my lifelong devotion to the novel: the longer and more intricate the plot, and the more elegant the writing, the better!
Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Henry Fielding (The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling remains my favorite novel), Charles Dickens (my favorite author), Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky were among my favorite novelists during high school and college, and I still return to their works when I become bored with the minimalism and/or too prevalent fantastical settings of today’s popular novelists.
The preceding touches on the origins of Karl Myers, Wave and Whirlwind, and Pinctada, and much of my writing time in 2023 was committed to rewriting and then polishing those three novels in addition to 24 Minutes and the Helper. A serious reader over the age of 50 will recognize the homage my novels pay to 19th and early 20th Century novelists and to exotic settings.
There is something deeper, more seductive, that keeps me returning to my laptop to create novels. That something is the title of my current work in progress — Consummate Confidences — something that is at the root of each of my novels. It is my belief that — to varied but significant degrees beyond the lives each of us live in the light of day — all humans lead partially closeted lives characterized by two kinds of secrets. One kind are the secret thoughts that are never shared with anyone, thoughts that bubble up from the deepest shadows of our subconscious. The second kind of secrets are confidences. The title Consummate Confidences is a double entendre: a phrase open to two interpretations, one of which is usually risqué, but in the case of my novels, the two interpretations of the title are, first, a phrase that identifies a thing: consummate confidences are perfect secrets between or among confidants — secrets that stay secrets to everyone else. The second interpretation of the title is a phrase that describes an action; in this case, the action is demonstrating skill and flair in creating perfect secrets between or among confidants. The attempts to consummate confidences always end up involving subterfuge to blind the inquisitive eyes of our family, associates, friends, neighbors, and authorities. It is our almost certain and inevitable failure to achieve consummate confidences that provides the fodder authors use to create engaging novels and tell-all memoirs.
There are times when I wish to take a break from crafting the novel of the moment, and at those times, I work on adapting the M/BC to teleplays that comprise a "series" called Afloat. I have completed the screenplays for the eight episodes of a (at present, mythical) Season One, and a .pdf containing those episodes (as well as a .pdf of Surfaçage the pilot for the series PINCTADA, which is being adapted from two Novels in the Myers/Benton Chronicle) can be requested via the previous link. I'm pleased to say that the pilot episode, "Beanie's Dogs," received a TaleFlick "consider" as a "TaleFlick Pick." Thus far, that and $4.45 has gotten me a grande, caramel macchiato at Starbucks. In addition, I'm working on screenplays for another series based upon my novel Pinctada.
In addition to the responsibilities of everyday life and my writing, I spend time each day on that important corollary of writing: reading! My 2022 readings include: Vera Caspary's Laura, Proulx's Barkskins, Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel, Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns, Jane Smiley's Ten Days in the Hills. Sarah Kendzior's Hiding in Plain Sight, Henry James' The Wings of the Dove, Steinbeck's East of Eden, E.M. Forster's Room with a View, Donald Souder's Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck, a translation of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Begin Again by Eddie Glaude. Preceding that adventure, I was enlightened by American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment by Donald Pizer.
I've begun 2023 by reading The Three Daughter's of Madame Liang by Pearl Buck, Ken Hobbs' The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, and Vera Caspary's Laura.
One of my most satisfying reading achievements was the devouring of the massive and densely-descriptive The Alexandria Quartet during Covid seclusion in 2021. It is this work that first renewed my interest in writing long novels. In the Alexandria Quartet and his other works, Lawrence Durrell has perfectly captured the allure of fulfilling the responsibilities attendant upon crafting fiction, which, of course, is founded consciously or unconsciously upon the author's actual experiences. As Durrell's alter ego observes: "each fact can have a thousand motivations, all equally valid, and each fact a thousand faces. So many truths which have little to do with fact! Your duty is to hunt them down. At each moment of time all multiplicity waits at your elbow."
Although my novels are genre-defying, if I had to select one, it would be upmarket, Historical Noir. Noir has been the inevitable destination of my writing given the early experiences of my life, the time period that impacts many (most?) writers of fiction from which a writer's subconscious mind creates perfectly disguised characters, settings and plot lines. James Ellroy, in the introduction to Otto Penzler’s The Best American Noir of the Century, characterizes Noir as: “The wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad ... it canonizes the inherent human urge toward self-destruction ... The thrill of Noir is the rush of moral forfeit and the abandonment to titillation.” What fun!
I've been writing avocationally for decades. From 1985 to 1998, Peter Bart and his then wife, Leslie "Blackie" Cox Bart, were mentors who encouraged me to take my writing seriously. The Barts encouraged me to write screenplays, a few of which were sought (via Writers Showcase) and read by studio development types. None were optioned, but the feedback was handwritten, and included invitations to submit anything else I might create, but in 1998, divorce ended my long marriage to Blackie's BFF, which subsequently and no doubt appropriately ended the Barts' mentorship.
Between 1998-2001, I completed seven graduate-level creative writing courses, self-published a novel (Angel in the Valley) which evolved into Tuscarora over the ensuing decade, and I wrote a handful of short stories, two of which were accepted for publication in very minor journals; nonetheless, I ultimately abandoned the economic uncertainty of being a writer for the steady pay and promise of a substantial pension that was associated with being a school district and then school administrator, followed by serving as a state bureaucrat after which I paid my way as an educational consultant. Writing went to a back burner during those twelve years, although I did manage to draft another novel, The Helper, in my spare time. The Helper has been significantly rewritten and reflects an effort about which I find myself feeling a bit proud.
In 2014, finally freed from tilting at the windmills of Public Education, I self-published Tuscarora and the original edition of The Helper, and wrote and self-published The Innocents. The Innocents (as were the two previous novels) was an opportunity to practice the craft of writing novels, but as I immersed myself in developing the protagonist, Karl Myers, I realized there was much more to this man's life and his progeny than could be encapsulated in one novel. As a result, The Myers/Benton Chronicle was born.
To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of writing is the continual polishing of my existing work. To that end, I have dramatically rewritten The Innocents, retitled it to the more appropriate, Myers and now Karl Myers, and changed the setting to where my wife and I now reside for about half of each year: Lewes, Delaware. Lewes is also the setting of "volume last" in the M/BC: 24 Minutes, which I wrote before the series was completed so that I would know how the M/BC ended in the event I died before I was able to compete it (because I don't know if I have 24 minutes, hours, days, months, or years left to live!)
Thanks very much for reading this far! I would be very grateful should you choose to read one of my novels, my compilation of short stories, or my posts on Growing Up Boomer, and when you have completed the read, I would love to hear from you using the Contact Jeff Lee Byrem section below. And please, if you find my work worth reading, please share this website with other readers.
Notes on my career as an educator et al: I served in the classroom (middle and high school Biology and Life Science), in a district office (science specialist, assessment specialist, and curriculum supervisor), as a high school principal, as a Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction (DPI) bureaucrat, and as a consultant who worked with challenged charter schools in Philly. In addition, from 1978 through 1984, I was an HR specialist with a major Philadelphia retailer (Strawbridge and Clothier) and with the University of Delaware where I managed employment, compensation, and professional development of 900 support staff.
In the classroom, my assignments primarily involved working with economically challenged students. At the district level, I developed and wrote curricula for over two dozen high school courses, developed and presented numerous curriculum and assessment training experiences for faculty and administrators, and developed and managed an assessment program that included end-of-course assessments for sixteen academic courses. I was appointed to a principal’s position with the specific charge of restructuring Brandywine High School (Delaware) under the auspices of No Child Left Behind. The school, at that time, had a demographic of 30% white working class students, 30% advantaged white students, and 40% disadvantaged students of color, the latter group having been revealed by NCLB to have, in fact, been left behind.
For two of the four years of my work on behalf of the Pennsylvania DPI, I managed the development and review of improvement plans for over 800 failing schools across the Commonwealth, again under the auspices of NCLB. In conjunction with these responsibilities, I worked with a lead manager to develop the conceptual structure and function of the online instrument used by Pennsylvania schools that had been required to develop improvement plans; along with the manager, I was involved with the development and presentation of related training that was presented to over 1500 Pennsylvania administrators.
As sole proprietor of ESAI Consultation, I served on the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education's committee that was charged with supporting the development of a Waiver for NCLB, and on behalf of the Pennsylvania DPI, I served as an Academic Recovery Liaison charged with supporting the improvement efforts of identified Philadelphia charter schools. My years as an educator are summed up in the title of a memoir: Education Follies: Four Decades of Tilting at Windmills for No Apparent Reason.
The author at Roosevelt Inlet in Lewes, Delaware, 2016