an award-winning writer of humorous ads and commercials. A former Army cook who is still considered deadly with a spatula. And, YES, a wise-ass who, one of these days, is going to get his.
Hi Jeff! Thank you for being on my blog today.
The advertising business is a high pressure job. How did that prepare you for writing books?
I spent more than forty years writing humorous ads, commercials, outdoor boards and Lord knows what else. And, it was a great training ground for what I do now. I learned how to work against the pressure of a deadline; how to be funny on command; how to make sure that each and every word works – in other words, how to write without a lot of fat. I also learned how to defend myself and my work to people who either didn’t get it, or wanted it written their way. In short, working as an advertising copywriter taught me how to write fast, be really good at working with words, funny as hell and fearless when it comes to my work.
What brought you to the point where you decided to write books?
Every copywriter I ever knew had a desk drawer or a carton at home, stuffed to overflowing with short stories, plays, novels and screenplays they’d written, and I was no exception. Being a copywriter, winning a lot of silly awards and then becoming a creative director made me hungry to write my own stuff. To tell my own stories. If you’re a copywriter, sooner or later, you find you want – make that, you have – to paint on a larger canvas.
Early on, what author or authors influenced you?
I was a voracious reader; used to devour books. So, my list of favorite authors could probably fill pages. But here are the ones that come to mind first. Top of the list has to be William Goldman; the man is the god of putting characters, words and stories together. Among other things, he’s responsible for writing Boys and Girls Together, Magic, Marathon Man, No Way To Treat a Lady, Soldier in the Rain, Harper, and probably twenty other books, INCLUDING The Princess Bride. Plus the screenplays for any of these that became movies, along with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He’s also rumored to have script doctored Goodwill Hunting. ‘Nuff said. Other writers? Let’s see. Anything by Michener. Joe Heller. Leon Uris. James Clavell. Yes, even Ian Fleming. John Fowles. Dan Greenberg. Ludlum. Trevanian. Raymond Chandler. Dashiel Hammet. Faulkner. Michael Crichton. Some Hemingway. And God knows, there’s a lot more. Looking at the list, I’m obviously a sucker for great characters and a good story, told extremely well.
Does being a wise-ass pay off?
In what way? As a copywriter, it earned me a shelf full of silly awards for my alleged creativity, as well as the raises and promotions that went along with them. As a novelist, it might not have earned me much money yet. But my wise-ass nature has earned my books nothing but 4 and 5-star reviews, with pretty hard-boiled reviewers gushing about how funny my books were, and how they can’t wait for the next one to come out. And I’ve got to tell you, reading a 5-star review from someone who’s laughing so hard they can’t type is so damn gratifying it puts a nice warm glow on a meager sales day.
Are there parts of your life that are in your stories?
Not really. That’s the way the guys at Witness Protection want it. So, who am I to argue?
How did your story, Chump Change, which is about “Fish” Fishbein,” a bounty hunter and repo guy in La-La Land come about?
Hair of the Dog, the second book in my Adventures in La-La Land series had been out for about six months or so and was getting all 4 and 5-star reviews. Then my publisher announced they were going out of business. Which royally pissed me off and left me wondering if I even wanted to write another book again. About six months after that, all of a sudden, I was hungry to write another book for the series. And this time around, I got really ambitious. It was going to feature four times as many villains, a lot more murders and be funny as Hell. Then the thought occurred to me, what would happen if someone stole a small fortune in small change? Like, an armored car full of quarters. Which would be almost what the city of Los Angeles used to rake in from their parking meter racket. The rest is history. By the time I finished the first draft I had a gang of un-wise guys; a corrupt televangelist and fledgling porn producer; his wife and co-minister, who was nuts about winning toddler beauty pageants; her brother, the city of L.A.’s Parking Meter Czar; a defrocked talent agent; a porn shoot gone hysterically off the rails; a marching band full of naked Roman zombies; and a porn star who talked like Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes. Oh, and a slow-speed freeway chase involving a repo’ed Oscar Mayer Wiener Mobile and the armed and dangerous deadbeat who owned it. But please, don’t give away the surprise middle.
Tell us about, The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour?
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A dozen or so years ago, I had a partner and we owned a small ad agency. One of our clients was this huge association for trailer and RV oowners. It was like the triple A, but with a social side. I used to love to sit with the executive director and hear stories about some of the shenanigans that went on at their yearly member jamborees and conventions. I mean, nothing could fire up a night of X-rated hootin’ and hollerin’ like a heavy storm, a rain-soaked field stuffed with a couple of thousand RV’s and trailers, hundreds of liquored-up WWII and Korean War vets, and thigh-high mud. Which started me thinking up a story about three BFF’s, a humongous RV, gallons of Chardonnay and a magical mystery tour around the western US. Along with a quest to find the perfect place to bury the body of the waste-of-skin boyfriend of one of them, who’s frozen solid and stuck in a big freezer in the belly of the rig.
Do your books usually convey a theme or message?
Not really, other than L.A. can be a hugely entertaining and funny place in which to live. And, if you think your life is a couple of clicks past nuts, check out what Fish Fishbein, my series MC has to deal with on a daily basis throughout the Adventures in La-La Land series.
Writing a book is one thing, when did you start looking to get your work published?
I finished the first draft of The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour during the summer of 2005. Then I started sending out query letters to every literary agent I could find. Six years later, I had amassed a collection of more than 500 rejection letters. Most were form letters saying, thanks, but I don’t work in your genre; or, I only represent non-fiction; or, I love your book, but don’t know any editors who work with comedy; or, you’ve got such a unique voice that I don’t have a clue how to sell you, or to whom. And, that doesn’t include the hundreds of others, who never bothered responding in the first place. So, in 2011, I said the hell with the “publishing” industry and put my book up on Amazon, as an eBook.
What was your ambition for your writing career to start with and what is it now?
There are two things I’m extremely good at and passionate about: cooking and writing. And there’s no way in Hell I’m ever going to open a restaurant. I mean, that way lies madness. I love to write and keep people entertained. That’s my ambition. The more, the merrier.
Who do you read?
Funny, between first drafts and a ton of editing, then all the administrative foo-fah that goes into constantly marketing and supporting my work, I don’t even have time to catch a bad reality series on TV, let alone read. The last book I read was several months ago, titled MASTERED. It was written by K. L. Silver, a very good friend of mine, who’s a damn good writer and works primarily in erotica. Aside from my own work (I do dozens of polish drafts before I publish anything), that’s the list. And here you probably thought that being a writer was all about A-list parties, hanging out with other celebs and either getting hammered with Capote and Hemingway, or tearing across the country with Kerouac in a hot sedan full of blondes, burgundy and benzedrine. As if…
What advice would you give to your younger self?
1. Sit up straight, clean your plate…and keep your eyes and ears open. Because you never know where or when you’re going to see something or hear a line you’re going to want to use in a book.
2. Don’t write to please other people. The world already has plenty of Ian Flemings, Steven Kings, Woody Allens and Ludlums. And it doesn’t need – or want – another one. Find your own voice, your own unique way of telling a story. And once you’ve found your voice, never, under any circumstances, let it go.
3. Pay special attention to anyone who’s ever pissed you off, let you down, made you feel crummy about yourself, turned you down for a date, or given you an STD. Because as a writer, you’ll get to have the last word and the last laugh. I’ve written four books and am working on my fifth. So far, I’ve murdered an ex-professor who hated my guts and a former close friend who tried to rip me off, and made countless horses’ patoots out of other former friends, dates, bosses, drill sergeants and even a relative or two. Lemme tell you, it’s good to be the king.
Jeff, you have two other books, what is happening with them and will readers get a chance to read them?
When my publisher went out of business, I had two books with them, which were selling on Amazon. Hair of the Dog and Bird Boy. Since the publisher had put them up, their Amazon pages immediately disappeared, along with their pages on GoodReads and every other online EBook seller. I’ve gotten the rights back to both books, and in myspare time, I’m getting them in shape to re-publish. This time around, I’ll be self publishing them.
What are you writing now?
I’m about 20,000 words into the first draft of Fish Fishbein’s next big Adventure in La-La Land. Since he and his two assistants are heavily tattooed Harley riders, the best place for them to find a murder victim has to be in the middle of the biggest, loudest, druken-est biker rally on the planet. Yup, fasten your seatbelts. The boys are off to Sturgis.
Where online can people find you and your books?
Here are the links to find my books:
We’re at the end of our interview. I want to thank you, Jeff for being here. I SO enjoyed talking with you. Such fun.
My pleasure, JD. I had a huge amount of fun doing this interview. ~Jeff Lee
Again, Jeff Lee’s Website is : http://jeffleewriter.weebly.com/