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."
BOOKSIGNING AT BROWSEABOUT BOOKS in Rehoboth Beach
December 18, from 1:00 to 3:00
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 write to profit financially, I write because I like to do it. At present — novels, screenplays, and a blog, Growing Up Boomer — remain my focus.
It is when I am working on a novel that I am most content; at present, those novels are Daisy and Mobtown, both of which follow Pinctada in the Myers/Benton Chronicles. Go to the Novels page to learn more about the M/B Chronicles.
When I wish to take a break from crafting the novel of the moment, I work on adapting the M/B Chronicles 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 can be viewed via the previous link. I'm pleased to say that the pilot episode, "Beanie's Dogs," has received a TaleFlick "consider" as a "TaleFlick pick."
In addition to the responsibilities of everyday life and my writing, I spend time each day on that important corollary of writing: reading! In the past months, I've read 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, and a translation of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. 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've changed gears and have headed back to the 1800's, back to my greatest literary icon: Charles Dickens. During the "aughts" of this century, after having read most of his novels over the previous decades, I read (or listened to audio versions as I drove around Pennsylvania for the Department of Education) each of them four times. In those years, I literally read no one else. Doing so, did not affect my writing style, but it did influence me in two ways. First, Dickens' work convinced me that while an engrossing plot is essential, it is character development that fascinates me, both as a reader and a writer. Second, Dickens' perseverance is a model to which I aspire.
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 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.
In 2014, finally freed from tilting at the windmills of Public Education, I self-published Tuscarora and The Helper, and wrote and self-published The Innocents. The Innocents, as were the previous two 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 Chronicles was born.
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 series. To that end, I have dramatically rewritten The Innocents, retitled it to the more appropriate, Myers, and changed the setting to where my wife and I reside for many weeks of the year— Lewes, Delaware — which is also the setting of what is intended as the last novel in the series: 24 Minutes (which I wrote before the series was complete so that I would know how The Myers/Benton Chronicles ended in case I died before I could compete it! ... Because no one knows if s/he has 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 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 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 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