Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Interview with suspense novelist Jeff LeJeune

My special guest today is author Jeff LeJeune. We’re chatting about his Christian suspense novel Postmarked Baltimore.

Jeff LeJeune was born among the sugarcane fields of Jeanerette, LA and attended Hanson Memorial High School nearby in Franklin. While studying at McNeese State University, a deadly bacterial disease rocked his spiritual world and continues to haunt him in indirect ways to this day. For ten years he taught and coached at the high school level in Lake Charles and Austin, and he is now writing books and pursuing a Master’s Degree in English at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

Welcome, Jeff. Please tell us about your current release.
Author Jeff LeJeune's early-life struggle with religion and love is at the forefront of this tragic yet beautiful story. Perry Burns, a beloved Catholic priest, is rocked by a letter he receives from Noelle Rose, his lover in a former life. Perry is tormented by regret and the sacrifices he has made for God, and both his conscience and a mysterious stranger practically force him into the trip down memory lane that will stir up every thought and feeling he has worked so hard to repress. Heaven and hell are on the line, and once again, Perry must choose.

What inspired you to write this book?
I wrote this at a time in my life filled with confusion and spiritual turmoil. I felt, at the same time and depending on my mood, the very best of men out there and the very worst of sinners. This internal war stemmed from a cacophonous combination of things, but really it all boiled down to my lacking the emotional intelligence to trust God’s love and commit myself to the love of another.

That said, I began at the same time a love story entitled The Candlewax Romance and a play called A Gentleman Named Lucifer. These works would, respectively, explore the two central conflicts inside me. Eventually, however, the two stories converged, and I combined the initial writings of each into a new project called Postmarked Baltimore, begun in 2006. The story explores the dynamics of love and faith in a way especially relevant to the inner struggles I’ve experienced.

Excerpt from Postmarked Baltimore:
June, 1974.
They’d planned to go to a 1920s theme party even before Perry’s anger began creeping back into the relationship and exploded over important Joe things like Joe Namath and Joe Thomas. She’d forgiven him, of course, because she loved him and had long committed to him in the till death do us part way. If there was one thing Perry did not do, it was manipulate her kindness, or not consciously anyway. He knew he could, but it wasn’t one of the hundred vices to scratch off his bucket list.
He’d been sincerely apologetic and had talked to Noelle about Willie Spikes and Jenny the Waitress. His hard bones seemed to splinter like broken glass and he fell into the chair in the middle of the apology. She smoothed out the rough edges yet again. Getting it out and hearing her soothing words was like the soothing medicine Phoenix Jackson goes to retrieve for her grandson. She talked to him about some research she’d been doing on a mental illness he might have. He would be glad to go to a doctor, he told her. Just the mere fact that she said “mental illness,” thereby assessing him as mad, without setting him off into a rage showed him something. It showed him he was improving because once upon a time an assertion like that would have looked more like an accusation to him.
And you would have unleashed holy hell on her, wouldn’t you have, Teacher.
The fight was behind them now, or at least it was for Noelle. They played the 1920s part from the shoes all the way up to the hair. Perry was handsome, no doubt, but it was Noelle who stole the eyes of everyone when she walked in. He had to admit that he’d never seen her more beautiful. He didn’t want to say it, but she even looked different, like a completely separate woman all-together. Yet it was still undeniably her.
A local musician was on the stage, playing a light tune on the piano. Perry led her to a table near it, and they ordered drinks. They had to sit close to each other to hear above the music.
“I hope I make you happy,” she said.
“You’re my breath,” he said.
“Will you love me when I get pregnant and fat?”
“Will you love me when I’m tired from taking care of the kids and can’t love you like I want?”
“I like the name Ellen for a girl.”
“Me too.”
“What about our son?”
“Patrick,” he said after a pause.
“Think we’ll have more?”
“Doesn’t matter. As long as I have you.”
“You’re never getting rid of me.”
“I promise,” she said. “You’ve made me such a better person.”
Perry wondered how this was possible. How could it be that Joan of Arc could learn anything from the devil? How could the dirt learn anything from the hooves? But that’s what Noelle did, and that was what separated her from every woman he ever knew: She didn’t just shake his world up. She transformed galaxies. And she was a model of humility in doing it.
“You ever wonder if it’s all just a fairy tale, that we’re gonna wake up one day and none of it’s real?”
“It’s real,” he said.
“It’s beyond me, this love I feel for you,” she continued, slipping into a monologue to which Perry was well accustomed, but one he’d rarely witnessed with her. She was truly in another world tonight. Maybe she was a different woman. It made him appreciate her even more, that with just one trip back to the 1920s she could emerge even more buoyant than she’d been before. “How you look at me, how you make love to me. So many go without this. What makes us so special?”
Perry just squeezed her hand and kissed her on the head. Immediately that didn’t feel right. The head kiss felt like he was kissing someone below him. And he certainly wasn’t the hooves. He took her chin and press his lips to the side of her mouth, avoiding her thick red lipstick.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You think anybody else is doing this same thing at this very moment?”
“I sure as hell hope so,” he said.
Even when their drinks arrived, he didn’t take his eyes off of her. He had that look on his face she knew. He had something up his sleeve.
“Didn’t you say you used to sing in high school?”
Perry stood and walked toward the stage, toward the piano player.
“Perry, no!”
Perry smiled slyly at her right before he whispered something in the pianist’s ear.
Immediately the pianist transitioned into singing for Noelle, calling her name to the melody.
Noelle! Oh-ho-ho Noe-hellllle!
Perry didn’t even look at Noelle as he smiled his way off the stage and back to the table next to her, which was already occupied by several guests. They loved it, these strangers privy to one of those rare movie scenes played out in real life, and their smiles and approval were practically pushing Noelle out of that chair. He took a sip of his drink, still not looking at her, still with that playful, brash look on his face.
The pianist continued to belt away at Noelle’s name, with such soul and conviction that some of the men in the room started singing along.
Noelle! Oh-ho-ho Noe-hellllle!
Finally she summoned the courage to stand. A huge round of applause greeted her; a few men even cat called.
“What do you wanna play, honey?” the pianist asked.
Noelle stood nervously in front of the 1920s microphone for a moment. Then she looked at Perry. Something must have melted inside her then as she watched him lounge there, drinking his cocktail with his legs crossed. Like a true 1920s gentleman. Now asserting her space, she walked over to the pianist and whispered in his ear.
She returned to the microphone to sing Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable.” Her eyes never left Perry’s, except to close. And his never left hers. In those five minutes, everything he saw and felt and everything about life turned crystal clear. He could have seen the splinters in the wood on the walls if he’d looked. That’s how he felt. He was cognizant of every spiritual detail in his life, how it reflected the mundane, how it reflected the romance he shared with her. He felt lighter, like he wasn’t even sitting in the chair but floating. Watching her was a transcendent experience, a prayer unlike any Our Father or Glory Be. Every molecule of air was sharper in clarity.
What he would do just three days later was the furthest possibility from his mind.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Book II of a Middle School/YA series entitled 51 and a murder mystery called Among the Cane Stalks

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have been writing since I was four or five years old. Back then I wrote simple short stories about good and evil, angels and demons, and dinosaurs, of all things. I have written in earnest ever since and have a real love and discipline for seeing books to completion.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a full time graduate student working under a fellowship at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. My aim is to make writing books my sole career, but I am currently making myself hireable as a teacher and book editor.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I prefer to be among other people, particularly other creatives, when I write. It’s like the energy fuels me onward in my own work. The stereotypical image of the author pounding away at the keyboard all alone in an upstairs loft just doesn’t suit me. The silence gets to be too loud. Give me a coffee shop full of other people working on their own interests any day.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An NBA basketball player

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I am an avid sports fan, especially football, love to cook rich Cajun dishes, and write screenplays.


Thanks for being here today, Jeff. Happy writing!

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