- Interview with Lee Maynard
In the interest of full disclosure, I've known Lee Maynard for about 50 years. I was a freshman at wvu, studying journalism, and Lee, fresh out of the army, was my photography instructor. He was barrel-chested, had a booming voice and a way of teasing talent out of the least-talented students, which I was. His sense of humor was refreshing in an instructor, and he appeared genuinely interested in his students. We've been friends ever since. Lee grew up in Crum and Kenova, West Virginia. He has started and sold several businesses, was the first and youngest Secretary of the West Virginia Commission of Manpower and Technology, was the national director of operations of Outward Bound, landed at Prescott College as vice chancellor and President of the Prescott Institute for Experimental Education. He designed a ski resort, created an outdoor gear catalog, and as a business consultant, has a reputation as a fixer. He currently is president of the board of The Storehouse, the largest food rescue/food share organization in the Western United States, which also ranks in the top 10 food pantries in volume in the United States. In his free time, he wrote and published Crum, Screaming with the Cannibals and The Pale Light of Sunset. He has recently completed the third volume in the Crum trilogy, which is as yet, unpublished. He has been published over 100 times in various publications, including Reader's Digest, to which he has contributed for many years. Lee currently lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Crum created quite a stir in West Virginia when it was published, and in fact was banned from one of the state's largest art markets for several years. I remember you saying that this was the best thing that had happened to you.
No one had ever heard of me, and they sure hadn't heard of Crum. Suddenly, people were outraged and said the book was derogatory about West Virginia. In very short order, everyone in West Virginia was arguing about the relative merits (or lack of them) of my book. The banning was negative publicity, but it was publicity, which translated into book sales.
In that backlash about Crum, people accused you of portraying West Virginia in a very negative way. Yet, when one reads your other [End Page 26] work, like The Pale Light of Sunset, there are always fond references to the mountain state. How do you explain the seeming discrepancy?
The kid in Crum hated the place—most of the time. There were moments. As he got older, things changed. We always remember things better, or worse, than they really were. Different ages, different emotions. I was then, am now, and will remain, fond of West Virginia. It's Crum that I did not like.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Probably in middle school. Actually, I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Had I announced that ambition in deepest, darkest Wayne County, my daily life would have been even more bullshit than it actually was. I was a jock. As a jock, I couldn't also say I was a writer, even though I could take care of myself. I thought about my first short story as early as junior high, although I didn't actually write it until I was in high school. The writing part was fairly easy; making myself do it was hard.
In the screenplay Crum, the narrator says at one point:
Twelve grades were in there—kids who rode in on the buses everyday. The halls were hard and hollow and the noise from the kids echoed and crashed. There was no gym, no auditorium. But there was a tiny library with two tables, eight chairs, one desk—and forty-three travel books. Jesse, he read all of them. Twice.
That was me. At my school, when you misbehaved, you got sent to the library. So I misbehaved a lot. No one bothered you in the library. And I read a lot. I got fascinated by things, specifically...