Jay Lesandrini holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Butler University and has published creative non-fiction essays in various literary journals, including Bluestem, Booth, Caesura, Punchnel’s, and Sport Literate. His essay “Waiting on Deck” was named a notable in The Best American Sports Writing 2011 anthology. In addition to non-fiction, Jay published a short story in the fiction anthology Mythic Indy. He is the Director of Communications and Marketing for Indiana University’s Columbus campus, where he also teaches writing on occasion. His story “Going to Church” is adapted from a chapter in a novel he is currently writing.
At OIP, we love the fact that everyone has their own set of “classics” (i.e., books, songs, recipes, comics, food, objects, movies, shows, etc. that shaped you). What were some of your favorite childhood classics?
When I was about seven or eight (a few years after my father died), my oldest brother, Kent, who was married and lived 20 miles away in Madison, Wisconsin, would take me and my two next-oldest brothers to his apartment for the weekend every so often to give my mother a break. As soon as we got to his place, I would sit in a wooden rocking chair and Kent would put headphones on me and play America’s Greatest Hits, and I would disappear for a while. I really loved that type of music—America, Seals and Crofts, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel—and when I got older, I started listening to Harry Chapin and eventually Bob Dylan. For me, music has always been about the lyrics, about the stories.
What inspired your piece for Playing Authors?
The piece I submitted is a chapter from a novel that I’m working on, and when I saw the topic of the anthology, I immediately thought about that chapter. It is the first appearance of one of the main characters in the book, Churchill Bloomfield. When I write fiction, I start with a general idea about a character and then let the story inform me about the details, so this was really fun for me to write because it was like starting a new relationship with someone. The book is told from three points of view, one of which is through chapters from a fictional memoir that Church writes, the second is through the narrator of the piece in Playing Authors (Annie Graves), and the third is through letters sent to Annie from one of her former students, an eighteen-year-old boy on a pilgrimage to find Church because he read Church’s book and thinks the author can help him make sense of his brother’s recent suicide.
Favorite word / font / letter?
I grew up using a typewriter, so I’m partial to monospace fonts like courier. Right after I got out of college, I bought a vintage smith-corona that I believed was going to inspire me. It was really heavy, and I had a hard time finding ribbons for it (this was before amazon and eBay), and the keys took so much pressure to push down that I never really used it much, but I kept it around. After my wife and I moved it from our first apartment to our first duplex to our first house and then to our second house, she convinced me to throw it out the next time we moved (along with a bunch the boxes of English textbooks including my copy of TheRiverside Shakespeare with all my notes). I still miss that typewriter sometimes, but not as much as Shakespeare.
Where would your adventure be set: underwater or in space?
When I was a kid, my mom took us to visit “The Mystery Ship” which sank in Lake Michigan in the 1800s and was retrieved in 1969. They built a museum in Menominee, Michigan where you could tour the ship. I remember seeing a block of cheese that had been preserved by the cold water which the museum kept under airtight glass. I vaguely recall there being hair and maggots preserved in the cheese. Creepy but cool stuff. So, I think my adventure would be underwater, looking for creepy cheese.
Snacks while you work? If yes, what’s your go-to?
Coffee or Coke Zero, and chocolate. I normally write early in the morning or at night after working all day, so I really need stimulants to get going. I’m pretty lucky that caffeine doesn’t usually keep me from falling asleep. I can wind down pretty quickly after writing by thinking about upcoming scenes in the book. The problem is that I usually don’t remember in the morning.
What are some of your favorite tools-of-the-trade?
Mechanical pencils, Moleskin notebooks and Microsoft Excel. I write notes about characters, plot lines, scenes, new story ideas, etc. in a moleskin notebook in pencil so that I can write on both sides of the page without it bleeding through. I use Excel to create a spreadsheet to track chapters of the book, timelines, etc. One sheet has the chapters of the book with descriptions and the numbers of words in the chapter. I create a second sheet to use as a timeline. I put the years across the top and names of characters along the side and then I’m able to chart how old everyone is at a given time. Below the list of characters, I put notes for key plot events during each year. It helps me keep track of things and comes in handy for continuity.
You are hosting a party. Who’s coming? Where and when? What’s being served? (Fictional characters and locales are welcome.)
I would just invite authors whose writing I admire to come to my home for cookout so I could talk to them about the stuff of life. Some of the invited authors include Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Laurie Frankel, Colson Whitehead, and Matthew Quick. While I love the works of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, I’m not sure that I would want to meet them. Sometimes it’s better to keep our heroes at a distance.
What mashups do you wish existed?
For a creative person, I’m not really that imaginative, so these types of questions are difficult for me. Besides, all of the great mashups already exist, and they all seem to involve peanut butter or bacon.
What are some things you enjoy doing off-screen?
I like to watch old television shows. It started with “Gunsmoke,” and evolved to mostly cop and medical shows. I’ve completed “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue,” “ER,” and “The Shield.” I had watched some of “ER” when it first appeared on television but didn’t remember much. There is an episode with Ray Liotta in Season 11 (episode 6: “Time of Death”), that might be the best single episode of television I’ve ever seen. Perhaps because it was so unexpected. I highly recommend watching it. Liotta won an Emmy for his performance. Of course, now that I’ve hyped it, everyone will be disappointed.
Any recommendations for the OIP community? What have you been enjoying lately?
Audio books. In 2018, I took a job at the Indiana University campus in Columbus and had to commute about 60 miles each way. My local library offers audio books for free, so I downloaded the Libby app and started listening to books on my drive. When Covid hit and I wasn’t driving every day, I would still listen when I took the dogs for walk or mowed the lawn or did any type of mindless work around the house. It’s a different experience than reading, but one I enjoy. And by using “downtime” to listen to books, it frees up more time to write, though in reality, I just watch more cop shows instead.
Thank you so much, Jay! We love what you make, and we’re so excited to publish your work.
Make sure to check out Jay’s writing at jaylesandrini.com. This fall, you can find Jay Lesandrini’s work in Old Iron Press’s inaugural anthology, Playing Authors!
Continue to follow along all summer with Gutenborg, our favorite one-wheel wonderer, as we roadtrip to meet Old Iron Press authors near and far. Look for Playing Authors, coming out fall 2023.