Welcome, Readers. I have Jeff LeJeune back in the hotseat. In February we talked about his suspense novel Postmarked Baltimore. Today, we’re talking about his young adult novel, 51: Opening Acts (Book 1).
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 back to Reviews and Interviews, Jeff.
Please tell us a bit about 51: Opening Acts.
In 51: Opening Acts (Book I), a nostalgic, coming-of-age story, Andre Joseph Blue is a young boy who leaves the emotional prison of his old school and finds his stripes at a new one, where his brother Duncan has already paved the way. Influenced by his love for family and friends and blessed with a special relationship with Duncan, Andre must learn to adapt to life's inevitable changes. Eventually, Andre is faced with the choice to forgive those who have wronged him or become hardened and arrogant with the success he has found at his new school. What's more, he must determine where he could have been mistaken about his old school all along after coming face to face with a nightmarish scenario he never even considered.
What inspired you to write this book?
I grew up in Jeanerette and Franklin, LA, the setting of the story. It is my effort to give tribute to Hanson Memorial High School, which did so much to heal the self-inflicted psychological wounds of my childhood. I finished the original manuscript in 2009, then began converting it into a blog narrative titled Play on Andre two years later. This series is the final refleshing of the story, a humorous and meaningful journey that at its soul is a look at one boy’s desire simply to love and be loved.
Excerpt from 51: Opening Acts:
Jane is getting married to Brad. It’s been a pretty rough couple of months, fighting these conflicting feelings about Duncan leaving and having my first brother or sister get married. I remember how hard it was and will be again with Duncan to watch them drive away to college, and this wedding seems like it’s going to be one of those times. Once again it will be an opportunity for me to not cry, and of course I know I will fail.
Jane tells me I’ll always be her number one, but I know better. The same love she gave to me is the love she’s going to shower on her own kids when she has them. And she’s already said she wants a lot.
I go with Mom and Jane a week before the wedding, and we stay in a hotel. I love hotels, how cold you can make it and the big beds. While they do some of their planning the first night, I watch the Pistons beat the Lakers in Game 1 of the Finals. It’s like paradise because Mom also orders us this unbelievable pizza from Mr. Gatti’s. We almost never have pizza. I eat seven slices and drink a lot of Coke and it makes the Lakers losing not so bad.
A couple days later Duncan shows up. Even though it’s been a nice little vacation away from home to this point, I have also been looking forward to Duncan showing up. It is amazing to me how so much about life involves feeling two completely different and conflicting ways, and how they both seem so true inside. Now that Duncan’s here, I can’t wait for my dad to get here, even though it’s nice knowing he has to stay at work until Friday.
Mom and Jane have stuff to do all day, so I decide I’ve had enough of all-day wedding errands and stay with Duncan. Mom gives us money to go see the new movie Big. I love going to the movies, even though I don’t get to do it that often. But when Jane or Heloise brings me, it’s like Piccadilly with Mom and Dad or pizza in a box.
It’s weird, but the movie is kind of like my life. I can’t wait to be older like Duncan, not thirty like the guy in the movie, but still. The movie really does have a good message. Maybe I should start enjoying where I am now and not worry so much about Hanson and high school basketball and wearing No. 21. Maybe there’s plenty of time for that.
“It was awesome when Mom came check me out of school early to go to your playoff baseball game,” I say while we drive back to the hotel room. I have to say it loud because his class song “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake is on and I can tell he’s deep in thought. I wonder if he’s thinking about the movie.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The biggest challenge in writing a new book is simply getting going and sticking to it through the first fifty or so pages. There is always a sense of nostalgia for me when I finish a book, and I carry some of that with me into the new one, maybe wishing I didn’t have to write anything new and I could simply bask in the glow of the final period I put on the last one. This doesn’t last long, of course, as long as I can get through that first resistance. After all, I simply have to remind myself that the nostalgia I felt at the end of the last book had to also follow a period of resistance in the beginning in its own right.
If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
I typically research as I’m writing, as scenes develop that force me to do so. Any research before I start writing is usually not intentional or directed specifically to shaping a new book. In that case, the book I choose to write is born organically from some reading task I was doing on my own.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I enjoy writing in coffee shops. Good energy there. Typically there are other people there working as well, and so maybe a subconsciously feel a sense of kinship with them.
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I like John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe, Ayn Rand, and William Shakespeare.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
Humility and frugality are really good things.
Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!