Friday Feature: Interview with Lee Murray

Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Lee Murray, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.

Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?

“I’m the Best Hollow Core Door Installer in England, and I’ll Bloody Fight Anyone Who Says I Ain’t” was the first thing I ever had published. I was 31 years old, and I’d just returned to school after 15 years away. The piece is about moving to America, returning to school, and starting over. I start over a lot. Going back to school and writing is the first time I’ve really managed to stick with something and have some success. It felt amazing to see my work on the site. Validating.

My wife is an incredible writer. She taught composition at YSU, completed her MFA in creative writing in the NEOMFA program, and is now a professional copywriter. When The Jenny ran my story it gave us more common ground, and made us a little closer because we both could talk about writing, something I had never done before. After The Jenny, I managed to get a bunch of other stuff published and I’m unashamedly proud of those bylines.

My son Henry was born the night of the reading, so I missed it. Dr. Steve Reese read the piece for me. I wish I’d been there, but I’m also quite glad that I didn’t have to stand up in front of proper writers with actual pedigree and ability and show them my self-indulgent piece. Good timing, Henry.

What inspired your piece in the Jenny?

It was a personal essay for English 1550. The prompt was to write about an object that represented work. My most recent job title in England was “door installer,” so I wrote about my router, a tool I used every day installing doors.

What got you into writing?

I watched my wife Annie write her thesis. She would read every paragraph of it to me two or three times as she revised it, and I heard how she changed and manipulated sentences to make them better. I really learned to appreciate writing as both an art form and a learned skill by watching her bring her wonderful memoir to life. In English 1551, Dr. Kevin Ball read my draft of what became the Jenny piece and gave me very kind and very supportive feedback. It was the first thing I’d written since 1996, when I was still at school, and the first nonfiction I’d ever written. I got lucky with my prof. He really pushed me to revise it and make it better and submit it to The Jenny.

What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?

I really don’t write for fun at all. I prefer to write in an academic style, or a dry, professional style because I can work well with those voices. I have a knack for sounding authoritative and direct, which is interesting because in person I’m placid and bumbling.

What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?

I’m not really sure who influences my writing. I do have some favorites though.

Anis Mojgani is an incredible poet, and his writing makes my heart heavy nearly every time I read it or listen to it.

My favorite writer is probably Charlie Brooker. He’s a columnist for The Guardian. He’s cutting and satirical and vitriolic and smart and aggressive. But he rarely tackles subjects more controversial than celebrities and TV commercials. Just a brilliant writer.

What’s your proudest moment as an author?

I have two proudest moments.

First: I was published in Spirituality & Health, a national magazine with a huge circulation, that ran an article I wrote about bee venom therapy, and they ran one of my photos too. They paid me a lot of money for it. A dollar per word. That may not seem like a lot of money, but it’s a lot of money to me and I really needed both the cash and the byline. It opened a bunch of doors for me.

Second: I interned at The Vindicator, and I wrote a story about a Girard church that got an erroneous bill from the water department. $93,000. The priest told me that his reaction was “that’s a lot of holy water.” The story ran and the AP picked it up and suddenly it was all over the internet in legitimate news websites from L.A. to New York. I didn’t get a byline on the AP story, but it felt awesome to see my story all over the internet.

Okay, three. Third: At The Vindicator again. I got two stories written in a day and both made it to A1. My byline was on the front page twice. I felt pretty badass that day.

How has your writing developed over time?

If I’m in the mood, and I have a chunk of uninterrupted time, and the moon and the planets line up juuuust right, I can bash out several good paragraphs without much effort. When I’m in that particular “zone,” or whatever, the stuff I write comes out great and I often do minimal revisions. That sort of clarity used to be rare for me, but now I can manage it pretty regularly. Especially if I’m on a deadline. Only if I’m on a deadline, probably.

Are you currently working on anything?

Nothing sexy. I have a year before I graduate, so I’m focusing on writing projects in my major. I’m a Professional and Technical Writing major now, so most of what I do is report writing. I like to think of myself as a fairly creative person, and I do find some elegance and art in technical writing. I don’t really have a drive to tell stories, in the traditional sense, so I don’t really pursue creative writing at all. I’m focused on the PTW stuff and I’m really enjoying the things I get to do there.

What’s your writing process?

Procrastination!

What are you currently reading?

I’m not very well read, I’m afraid. The last dozen books I’ve read have been textbooks or manuals. The last thing I read for fun was The Timewaster Letters, by Robin Cooper. It’s a collection of letters from a fictional character to real trade organizations, clubs, publishers, and businesses. The letters are so subtly insane, and all of the responses from those organizations are so genuine and sincere. It’s hilarious. He pitches a kids book idea to publisher Dorling Kindersley called “Stanislav The Sad Bureaucrat” which has some of the darkest imagery imaginable. At one point Stanislav sees a stray cat with “a face twisted with hunger” and he kicks it away. “Out, vile beast! Out, filthy rag!” The publisher’s response is heartbreakingly supportive and kind, and although they decline to pick up his book, they encourage him to work on it more. The whole book is like that. Genius. I wish I had something cooler to tell you, like I’ve been reading Jack Kerouac or something. But I don’t, and I haven’t. I’d just be lying.


Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.

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