Anthony Giardina on writing: "When I write fiction, I become the character I'm writing about, just as an actor becomes a character he's playing. You use parts of yourself, people you have known, things that have happened to you, but you're always aware that these things are being used to create a persona that's distinctly not you. Otherwise it wouldn't be any fun."
I am a husband, friend, and retired educator; my vocation for the past six years has been that of writing under the pseudonym of Jeff Lee.
It is when I am working on a novel that I am most content; at present, that novel is Daisy, a story that will be set in the same time period as is Pinctada (the novel duo of En Mer & Found and Lost in Paradise, which are volumes 4 and 5 of the Myers/Benton Chronicles). Go to the Novels page to learn more about the "Chronicles," including links to Amazon where each novel can be purchased in either Kindle or trade paperback formats. When I wish to take a break from crafting the novel of the moment, I have resumed adapting the Chronicles to teleplays that comprise a "series" called Afloat.
In addition to the responsibilities of everyday life and my writing, I spend an hour or two each day on that important corollary of writing: reading! In the past months, I've read Steinbeck's East of Eden, E.M. Forster's Room with a View, Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by Donald Souder, and a translation of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón from which the quote at the top of the page was drawn. Preceding that adventure, I was enlightened by American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment by Donald Pizer, which had been preceded by the satisfying achievement of devouring the massive and densely-descriptive The Alexandria Quartet, in which 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. At present, I'm revisiting Henry James' The Wings of the Dove.
The genre of my novels is 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 appropriately ended the Bart's mentorship.
Between 1998-2001, I completed seven grad-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 a school administrator, followed by serving as a state bureaucrat and then 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.
In 2014 and finally freed from tilting at the windmills of Public Education, I self-published Tuscarora and The Helper, and wrote and self-published The Innocents as the entry novel in a series: The Myers/Benton Chronicles. Since my emancipation from Education, I've written five additional novels for the M/B Chronicles, and while I have made little effort to seek representation (less than a dozen queries ventured in six years), I am finally at the point where, damn it, I want somebody who knows the business to read and realize the merits of The Innocents. The Innocents is based upon what my mother swore to me when I was twelve: the essential elements of The Innocents (that she had described to me then) were flat out true. I had long accepted Lois' assertion of truth, but over the past years, I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t her own venture into Historical Noir, created to dissuade my boyish interest in owning my very own rifle.
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 specialized in employment, compensation, and professional development.
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 a high school under the auspices of No Child Left Behind. The school, at that time, had a demographic of 30% 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, 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 educators.
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