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Writer Lee Maynard

His new novel is Screaming With the Cannibals. Maynard has been an assignment writer for Reader's Digest for over a decade. He's also written for many other magazines and newspapers. Screaming with the Cannibals is a sequel to his 1988 debut novel, Crum.

44:34

Other segments from the episode on November 24, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 24, 2003: Interview with Lee Maynard; Review of Britney Spears' new CD "In the Zone."

Transcript

DATE November 24, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Lee Maynard on his novel and its sequel about his life
growing up in Crum, West Virginia
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Lee Maynard's semi-autobiographical novel "Crum" is set in Crum, the small,
dirt-poor, West Virginia town where he grew up. The people of Crum who know
the book tend to love it or hate it. It's even banned in a state-run store.
It was first published in 1988. In an introduction to the 2001 edition,
Meredith Sue Willis writes that she asks why this `foul-mouthed, sexist,
scatological, hillbilly stereotyping novel' is one of her all-time favorites.
She finally answers that by saying, quote, "The book explores and explodes its
stereotypes. It might also be called a love letter from a native son to his
home place," unquote. But it sure doesn't read like a love letter. The main
character is desperate to get out, and at the age of 18, he does. "Crum" is a
coming-of-age novel. The new sequel, "Screaming with the Cannibals," descries
his travels after hitchhiking out of Crum.

Lee Maynard now lives in New Mexico and does consulting work for non-profits.
His work has been published in The Washington Post and The Christian Science
Monitor. He's an assignment writer for Reader's Digest.

Let's start with a reading from the beginning of "Crum."

Mr. LEE MAYNARD (Author, "Crum"; "Screaming with the Cannibals"): (Reading)
`When I was growing up there, the population of Crum, West Virginia, was 219
human beings, two subhumans. A few platoons of assorted dogs, at least one
cat that I paid any attention to, a retarded mule and a very vivid image of
Crash Corrigan. At first there were no whores, but later on I got to watch
one in the making. "Crum Unincorporated" the road sign said at the edge of
town that should have said "unnecessary." The place is located deep in the
bowels of the Appalachians on the bank of the Tug River, the urinary tract to
the mountains. Across the flowing urine is Kentucky.

Life in Crum was one gay, mad whirl of abject ignorance, emotions spilling
over emotions, sex spilling over love and sometimes blood spilling over
everything. The Korean War happened to be going on at the time, but it was
something being fought in another world. And, besides, who really gave a damn
about all those gooks anyway? Our boys could handle them--or so they said in
the beer gardens. And what the hell were gooks? I'd never seen one--or a
nigger or a Jew or a wop. I had heard those names from some of the men who
had been outside of West Virginia working in the steel mills of Pittsburgh and
the factories of Detroit, but I didn't know what their names meant, and I had
never seen any of those people.'

GROSS: That's Lee Maynard reading from his novel "Crum."

Now as you say, you grew up in an unincorporated town, which meant it didn't
have what?

Mr. MAYNARD: (Laughs) It didn't have anything. `Unincorporated,' as I
understood it in those days, and I guess it's still that way, means it has no
infrastructure; there's no town government, there's no police force, there's
no fire department, no sidewalks, no streets, just a bunch of houses sort of
stuck in an enclosed, little area.

GROSS: Did you realize that other places had sewer systems and police and
water systems, sewer systems, all that stuff?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yeah. Every now and then, I mean, we would be taken as
kids to other towns, and I would actually see sidewalks. I remember the first
time I ever went to Huntington, which is a relatively large city in West
Virginia, and I saw a manhole cover. And I was amazed that there were
actually tunnels and wires and pipes down below the street surface because the
only thing below the street surface where I lived was more street.

GROSS: In the section that you just read, you called the Tug River the
`urinary tract of the mountains.' What made it that?

Mr. MAYNARD: In most of the villages, most of the small towns, along the
river in those days--I hasten to insert here that it's changed quite a bit.
But back then people lived on the riverbank, and the riverbank had two actual
levels to it. There was the normal level where the river flowed. Then the
river would rise up into a flat, and when it was not on the flats, people
would grow sugarcane and other small sort of crops down there. It's also
where they threw their garbage. So you threw your garbage over the riverbank
down on the flat. Twice a year the river, like clockwork, would rise and
carry it away. And one of our great entertainments in Crum was to sit on the
riverbank and see what floated by. And you never knew what was going to
happen.

GROSS: Well, there's a scene in Crum where what's floating by is a dead and
decaying horse.

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, that's a...

GROSS: Did that happen to you?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, I remembered that for decades. I
mean, this horse goes floating--now I have no idea how the horse got dead, but
there was this one big eye sort of staring up at the sky. And little kids
looking at that--well, I wasn't that little a kid, but young people looking at
that, it made an impression; still does.

GROSS: It happens at a particularly inopportune time in your novel, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MAYNARD: Well...

GROSS: The young man in your novel is eyeing a young woman, and things are
about to happen between them when this dead horse floats by. Was the timing
the same way in life?

Mr. MAYNARD: Yeah, it was. I mean, it's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: God, that's amazing.

Mr. MAYNARD: When you get your concentration destroyed, it might as well be
by a dead horse.

GROSS: (Laughs) Oh, it gives you something to talk about after the spell is
broken.

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, it does, it does.

GROSS: As we heard from your reading, there weren't any African-Americans or
Jews or Italians in Crum when you were growing up. Did you know that they
existed?

Mr. MAYNARD: I did in sort of a tangential way. The only way I ever heard
those people referred to was as I referred to them in the book. The people
who lived in Crum and in southern West Virginia in particular in those days,
they weren't too accepting. They were not really politically correct. And in
the high school when I misbehaved, they would send me to the library. The
library was more of a glorified closet than anything else. They'd send me to
the library. I discovered there were actually books in this room, and so I
would read the books and got to enjoy doing that. So I misbehaved a lot, so I
got sent t the library a lot. If you can imagine being sent to a library as
punishment, that was sort of indicative of how it worked. And it was there
that I found out there were other people and other places. And what the
library really did was sort of build a fire under me in terms of wanting to
leave and wanting to see other things.

GROSS: So what were the early books you got your hands on where you thought,
`This is good'?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, I can give you a very specific example. There was a book
called "The Mysterious Island," and it was a sequel to "20,000 Leagues Under
the Sea." And I read "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," and I enjoyed it greatly,
but "The Mysterious Island" was a book I used to carry around in an old
backpack. In fact, I mentioned it in one of the books that that's all I had
with me when I left town.

GROSS: What did your friends think of you carrying around a book?

Mr. MAYNARD: They made fun of it actually. And one thing you didn't do in
southern West Virginia in those days was you never said, `Gee, I'd like to be
a writer.' That was the equivalent to saying, `I'd like to be a ballet
dancer,' or, `I would like to be an actor,' or whatever. There were certain
occupations that were legitimate and certain occupations that were just taken
as jokes. And to have a hillbilly kid say, `Gee, I might like to be a
writer,' you never said that. It just wasn't something that you spent a lot
of time talking about.

GROSS: Was it 'cause it's out of reach, or did it have, like, gay overtones?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, very much so, not only gay overtones but tones of unreality.
It's like, `Well, I might as well have wished to be president or an
astronauts,' in the days when astronauts were, I don't know, cartoon
characters. So if you wanted to live through the day without bleeding, you
really didn't talk too much about that sort of stuff.

GROSS: How often did you bleed?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, regularly. To tell you the truth, Terry, I just couldn't
seem to stay out of the way of it. I mean, give you a specific example, in
the first paragraph that I just read from "Crum," I said there was a `very
vivid image of Crash Corrigan,' and I wonder how many people out there
actually know who Crash Corrigan was. He was a B Western movie star. and I
originally said a `very vivid image of the Lone Ranger' in the original copy,
and I later changed it because Crash was greatly more obscure, and I sort of
loved that. But one time in Crum, I sort of hinted to a group of guys that
the Lone Ranger wasn't actually real; that he was a character created by some
guy like I wanted to be, some guy who told lies for a living, and he created
the Lone Ranger. And I took one of the worst wallopings I had ever taken
because to sort of undeify an icon like the Lone Ranger was pretty dangerous
where I lived.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lee Maynard, and he is the
author of two novels. The first, "Crum," is about growing up in a very, very
small town in West Virginia. And the second novel, which has just been
published, is called "Screaming with the Cannibals," and that's about his life
shortly after leaving Crum.

You write that there were three things that most every kid in Crum High School
had in common: poverty, ignorance and sex. You don't use the word `sex,' but
we can't say the word that you do use, so we'll keep it to the word `sex.'

Mr. MAYNARD: (Laughs) All right. OK.

GROSS: So, like, how old were you and your friends when you started having
sex?

Mr. MAYNARD: Wow. First grade.

GROSS: First grade?

Mr. MAYNARD: Well, look, you have no toys, so you play with the toys that you
have. I mean, you're out behind the school, or you're hiking around the
little road, and there's this big culvert that goes under. And you discover
that you can sit in this culvert and make funny noises and it echoes along the
culvert. You never think about the fact that it rains, you can get washed out
of there. And then you find other kids sit in the culvert, and you talk and
you play and you wrestle and you scratch. And as little kids, you experiment.
I don't know if you could really call it sex in the sense of, I don't know,
watching an X-rated movie, but certainly there was a lot of body exploration,
you know, `I'll show you mine if you show me yours' kind of thing among very,
very young kids.

GROSS: With boys and with girls?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yes.

GROSS: At what point did you learn about the connection between sex and
pregnancy?

Mr. MAYNARD: Hmm, I'm really not sure that I know, Terry. I know that very
early in high school, there were a lot of kids who would get pregnant. And,
you know, a girl would suddenly have a slightly altered figure, and then she
wouldn't be in school anymore. And, in fact, you would never see her again.
I mean, she would literally go away, as far as we knew, forever. So I think
we connected it pretty early. Probably by what would be called middle school,
we knew pretty much what the score was. I don't know if we knew how to fix
it, but we knew what the score was.

GROSS: Right. I have to say I felt so sorry for the girls who you knew
because they seemed to not necessarily get a lot of respect from the boys.
And, also, there was such curiosity about their bodies and everything that,
you know, they'd get a lot of attention for sex but not necessarily for other
things.

Mr. MAYNARD: Well, that's probably true, and I have been taken to task a
number of times by women who felt that the girls in the book were denigrated
in many ways. Actually--and I suppose this is sort of self-defense--when I
look at the characters in the book and when I look at the characters in
"Cannibals," the girls are the only ones who have a clue, really, about what's
going on and what's happening. The guys just sort of go from day to day sort
of living a life that many of them may not have wanted to live. But it's the
girls who kind of have it figured out. The character of Yvonne (pronounced
Evon) or as we would say in West Virginia Yvonne (pronounced Yavon), is one of
the only people who really knows what she's got to trade with and how to use
it to get the hell out of Crum. And she did that, and, as you know, she
showed up again in "Cannibals" in a very significantly different role.

But I've had some kind of literary types tell me that they like the way the
women are treated and the fact that in "Cannibals" maybe he's growing up a
little bit, maybe he's a little more understanding. He does get a little
older, but I think he has a better relationship with women in "Cannibals" than
certainly he had in "Crum."

GROSS: My guest is Lee Maynard, author of the novel "Crum" and the new
sequel, "Screaming with the Cannibals." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lee Maynard. And he's the
author of two novels: "Crum," which is about growing up in a very small town
in West Virginia, and "Screaming with the Cannibals," his new novel, which is
about what his life was like shortly after he left Crum.

We talked a little bit about reading and how you used to get sent to the
school library as punishment, and you discovered a lot of books there. How
did you learn to write? I mean, what was the kind of writing that was
expected of you in school? And how did you start writing beyond that?

Mr. MAYNARD: Well, you know, Terry, I really don't know how it all started,
but definitely I started writing early in high school. And I would just start
putting things down on paper. I mean, I suppose recording thoughts might be a
way to describe it. And when I would go back and read these things, I would
understand that they weren't good; that I had written something that was
perhaps even incomprehensible. And I didn't want to write incomprehensible
things, but I knew very, very early that even though I couldn't sort of
broadcast it or I wasn't good at it, that I was a writer; that I could
actually get pleasure out of putting these words down. The whole idea is that
essentially I'm just a storyteller. I'm not out to save anybody's soul. As
you know from reading "Crum and "Cannibals," I certainly don't go in that
direction.

GROSS: Your father was a teacher. What did he teach?

Mr. MAYNARD: He taught English (laughs). But in those days a teacher taught
everything. You taught what you were assigned to teach. You know, if you had
a teaching certificate, they sort of somehow assumed that that was an
across-the-board management of various disciplines. And so my father--you
could find him teaching health or history or English or math. I mean, it all
depended on what they needed you to do. They didn't really pay a whole lot of
attention to whether you were good at teaching that particular piece of
material.

GROSS: Where did he grow up?

Mr. MAYNARD: Right where he died. He died about 500 yards from where he was
born in southern Wayne County in West Virginia.

GROSS: So the same county you grew up in.

Mr. MAYNARD: The same county I grew up in. The Maynards moved into that
county in 1790 in a place called Kiahs Creek at that time. I think it's now
called Kiahsville. And they're still there. I don't know that you could get
them out of there with a bulldozer.

GROSS: Did you ever ask yourself--I'm sure you did--even though he had a
master's degree, what made him want to stay in Wayne County whereas when you
were in your teens, you knew you had to get out?

Mr. MAYNARD: I have absolutely no explanation for that, except that there
are two kinds of--and I'll limit this to West Virginia--West Virginians.
There are those who grow up there, who love it there, who would never leave
there. You couldn't pull them out of there with a truck. And there are a few
like me. I always felt the--did you ever heard that thing by Maum(ph) where
he said, `Some men are born out of their time and place. They long for a
place they know not. They're strangers in their homeland'? That's a
paraphrase, but it's pretty close.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAYNARD: And that's what I felt like. I felt like all along that,
`There's something weird going on here. You know, there's been this huge
accident, and I'm it. And I need to be someplace else.' But my father
certainly never felt that way. I think my father was probably in his 50s
before he began taking vacations outside of West Virginia.

GROSS: Let me read the opening quote that you have, or the opening--I never
remember what you call this. This is the quote or the phrase that precedes
the actual text of the book.

Mr. MAYNARD: OK.

GROSS: `When all the goodbyes are said, I want to be the one who is leaving,
and it's going to be good to be gone.' That, I guess, sums up how you were
feeling growing up.

Mr. MAYNARD: That's it in a nutshell.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MAYNARD: In fact, Terry, that's the whole bloody book in a nutshell. I
mean, I wrote that line. And, I must admit, I don't know what you call that
either.

GROSS: Right. OK.

Mr. MAYNARD: It's just words in the front of the book, you know. But did you
ever go to, like, a family reunion, and there's some folks there that you
haven't seen for a while? And they come in, and you have good time, you enjoy
them, and then it's over and they leave. And you watch them leave, you watch
them drive away or fly away or whatever. And I always got this sort of
sinking feeling, like, `Wait, wait, wait. I'm supposed to be the one that's
doing that.' But I never was, well, until I got to be about 14 or 15. And I
always wanted to be the one who was leaving.

GROSS: How did you do it? How did you actually get out?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, I ran away. Started running away from home when I was 14,
and my parents would never admit that. They'd say, `Well, he's visiting
relatives,' but I was actually just gone. I was on the road. I was a big
kid. I probably stopped growing, Terry, when I was maybe 15 or 16. I'm kind
of an oversized guy; probably weighed 200 pounds then. And so I didn't look
like I was 14, and I don't think I ever looked like I was 14. So I could
hitchhike with relative ease, and, in fact, in those days hitchhiking wasn't
that big a deal. Everybody did it. So I would go away. And then I found out
that I wanted to learn more things, and I found out it was expensive to go to
schools where you didn't live. And so I would always rotate back to West
Virginia and go to school and then run away again and kept that up for years.

GROSS: Would you be welcomed when you returned home?

Mr. MAYNARD: Yeah. It was sort of like if you don't really discuss it, it
didn't happen.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MAYNARD: And you know how that goes.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAYNARD: And my mother would say, `Oh, you're back from your uncle's.'
And sometimes that was true. My uncle lived over in Ohio, and I would go over
and he would put me to work. I was essentially a runaway. I was an itinerant
farm worker. I would sort of travel around with folks who cut hay and made
hay and picked apples and that kind of thing. I don't know, I think 50 cents
an hour, I think, is what we were paid to do that. And after a while I'd get
tired of that, and I'd go back and go back to school and eventually kind of
wormed my way through.

GROSS: My guest is Lee Maynard, author of the novel "Crum" and the new sequel
"Screaming with the Cannibals." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with novelist Lee Maynard
about coming of age in Appalachia.

Also, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews Britney Spears' new CD.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lee Maynard, the author
of "Crum," a novel about coming of age in a small poor Appalachian town. Crum
is the town that Maynard grew up in. The novel was first published in 1988
and a new edition was published in 2001. Now Maynard has written a sequel
called "Screaming With the Cannibals."

Your new novel, "Screaming With the Cannibals" is a sequel to your novel,
"Crum." The first one's about growing up in West Virginia, the second is
about leaving West Virginia. And the title, "Screaming With the Cannibals,"
relates to a sentence from "Crum." And the sentence is about how growing up
you were told never to swim the Tug River to Kentucky, because Kentucky folks
ate their young, they were cannibals. And in "Screaming With the Cannibals"
there's actually a scene in which you're screaming at a revival meeting in
Kentucky, with people from Kentucky. Were the people of Kentucky the monsters
you were told to avoid?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, of course not. I mean, we were told--adults in Crum would
tell you anything to keep you out of that river.

GROSS: Oh, was that the point?

Mr. MAYNARD: I mean, they--oh, that was the whole point. Yeah. They really
had nothing against the people in Kentucky. Well, they did have something
against the people in Kentucky. They had something against people outside of
Crum.

GROSS: Actually against the people in Crum from...

Mr. MAYNARD: Well, yeah, we all have to look down on somebody so, I mean,
so--and everybody looks down on West Virginians, so we're--actually I'm quite
proud of that. I love being there where people say, `Well, what's going on
down there?' And lo and behold, it's me. But in Crum, they would tell you
anything to keep you out of that bloody river. I mean, they did not want you
swimming with, oh,light bulbs and garbage and, you know, dead horses and other
bits of unidentified body parts floating down this river. And so naturally we
did. Good heavens, if you tell a bunch of kids like that, `don't do this,'
you know bloody well they're going to do that. And so we did.

But people in Kentucky, turned out to be, as I think I said in "Cannibals,"
pretty much like the people in West Virginia. In fact, I was in a Washington
airport--I've forgotten which one now--and I missed the plane. I was sitting
with a guy and he said--you know, how do you do. It's late at night and
you're sitting there talking. He said, `Where are you from?' And I said,
`Well, I grew up in West Virginia, and I lived a long time in a little town
called Crum.' And the guy just broke into laughter. And he said, `I'm from
Inez, Kentucky.' And Inez is probably the closest town across the river to
Crum. He said, `Let me tell you a story.' He said, `When I was a kid they
use to tell us not to go in that river because if you got over on the West
Virginia side those people would kill you and eat you.' And I'm thinking,
well, you know, it's all Appalachia, it's all Appalachia.

GROSS: There are scenes in both novels at revival meetings. What was church
like when you were growing up?

Mr. MAYNARD: It was pretty fundamental. I have witnessed--I mean I was in a
Baptist Church. Now the Baptists in those days, they were fairly conservative
folks. They certainly had heard of Jewish people although I doubt if they had
seen any. So, as a religion, they really didn't know anything about that.
They were highly, highly suspect of Catholics. They knew that all Catholics
kept guns in the basements of their churches and so they could take over when
the time came. And they weren't too damn sure about Presbyterians and
Methodists.

So going to those churches were sort of an experience and quite honestly it
was one that I did not particularly enjoy. I was kicked out of the Baptist
church one time during a service, at an evangelistic service which I'd gone to
because my mother asked me to go, so I went. And I have sort of stood on the
stump outside the old clapboard church and witnessed Pentecostal services
through the crack, scared to death of actually going inside. And to me it was
something that--it didn't taste like I thought religion should taste like and
I didn't begin to understand what organized religion could be and perhaps
should be until I left Crum and got down into the South, and then later on to
the West.

GROSS: What did you discover?

Mr. MAYNARD: I discovered religion was joyful. The religion that I had seen
practiced was not a joyful thing. I think the phrase, `fear God,' I mean I'm
not sure I wanted a God that I was just terribly afraid of all the time.

GROSS: Was the focus always on sin?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yes. Oh, my goodness, yes. And, you know, among those
sins were wearing lipstick, a dress that didn't cover your knees, or in some
cases, your ankles, playing sports, smoking, certainly drinking. And coveting
thy neighbor's wife was right up there on the top of the list. Not to mention
just abject sin such as fornication. So there were a lot of ways to go to
hell and I used to think, `Well, there're so many ways to go to hell, I don't
know how one actually gets to heaven ever.'

GROSS: Your first novel, "Crum," was not well received in the town of Crum.
It was censored in some places. Who censored it?

Mr. MAYNARD: It got actually censored or banned, Terry, in the republication
stage. When "Crum" first came out, it came out to very mediocre reviews. The
stir that it created was basically a hometown or home county stir. Wayne
County has a town in it called Kenova. I used to live there and, of course
that's right next to Huntington, which is a fairly good-size town and, you
know, has real live newspapers and all that sort of thing. And so I was taken
to task for basically telling a story that I thought was pretty much the
truth. So when "Crum" was republished, then people realized that this book
was not going to die and there must be some truth in it. And so that's when
it began to get noticed from places outside of West Virginia, Appalachia.

The reaction to the republishing was by and large extremely positive and while
there were still some people--I have one lady who's--and I ask your indulgence
here, not using her name. But there's one lady in Crum who is my most
dedicated enemy. She would do anything if she could simply burn all the
copies of "Crum." And, bless her heart, she's entitled to that opinion and I
wouldn't change that for the world. But there's still folks down there
who--they're not exactly fans of mine.

GROSS: So what was it? Was it banned by the school system? By the school?

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yeah. I suppose I should have spoken to that. When the
republished edition came out, it did create a lot of attention. And actually
there's a place in West Virginia, called Tamarack, and what it is, it's a
state-owned facility that sells only products made in West Virginia. And it's
a wonderful facility; everybody should go by and see this place. And actually
my wife and I were driving by there and we went in and lo and behold there was
a bookstore and it sold books only by West Virginians. But not "Crum." And
so when I asked the lady if she'd ever heard of this book, she kind of shied
away from the question and said, `Well, we don't sell "that" book.' And, you
know, there are people who can say the word `that' with such emphasis that you
know exactly what's going on.

So we started tracking down and lo and behold, it, in fact, had been banned
from the state facility. So the book was banned, in effect, by state
government, but not by all the state government because the republishing was
done by the university which is very much a part of state government. So just
one of those odd things were some people felt, `Well, this is not a book we
can sell to families with little kids.'

GROSS: You've been telling us a little bit about your life and, you know,
from the early part of your life I would not have guessed that you would go on
to, you know, go to college and become a writer. You know, you grew up in
this incredibly small town, you went to a school that had an outhouse and not
a toilet, judging from the novel.

Mr. MAYNARD: That's right.

GROSS: You know, you ran away from home when you were a teen-ager. You came
back but, you know, you were not exactly heading towards the halls of academe,
not in a straight line anyways. So how did you end up getting to the point
where you went to college and then became a writer?

Mr. MAYNARD: I think, Terry, there came a point in my life when I realized
that I wanted to do some things that required me to be more educated. I was
going to say sophisticated. I don't think I've ever in my entire life been
taken as sophisticated. But I knew that I needed more education if I were
going to do these things and get out of them what I wanted to get out of them.
I needed to know more about the world and more about higher levels of
intellect than I did. I would come home, my father would come home from
school, he'd be so tired. We didn't talk. We talked very little in my
family. I talked to my grandmother who was a great storyteller, far more than
I ever talked to my own family about writing and storytelling and that sort of
thing.

So there was just a point where I realized that if I did not seek out more
abject learning that I was going to get left behind in some places where I did
not want to be. And to me it was another way of escaping locations like Crum,
that I could, if I were more educated I had more options. It was just that
simple. And I don't know when that occurred to me but I was probably still in
high school when I realized that this was not the end of it, we have to keep
going here.

GROSS: What was the very first piece that you wrote that was published?

Mr. MAYNARD: I wrote a piece called, "The Rock," and I still have it. It
was published in some little newspaper back in West Virginia. And it was a
kid--I mean it was one of these terrible things. I mean, it was a kid sitting
on a hillside in West Virginia, and down below the hillside was a road and
across the road was a railroad track which was a scene right out of "Crum."
And we used to sit up on those hillsides and find round, I'll say saucerlike
rocks but actually they were more plate-sized, and we'd roll them down the
hill. And, you know, after about 10 yards this rock had the velocity of a
cannon and it weighed about 30 pounds and it's just ripping down this
hillside. And so the story was the kid is up there and he rolls it down and
it hits a car and the car veers off into the railroad track and causes a train
wreck. And at the end of the story the kid simply walks away because he
hasn't a clue what else to do from there. And that was the first thing, I
think, that was ever published. And it was total fiction, total fiction.

GROSS: And it was published as fiction, too--Right?--not as a report.

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yes.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I never made any--in fact, the
only non-fiction sort of career-wise was--I still write for Reader's Digest
and you don't ever, ever try to get a word of fiction into the Reader's
Digest. It's all documented. And so that's where I do my more journalistic
stuff is with those folks. And the rest of the time I just happily tell lies,
just as many as I can tell.

GROSS: My guest is Lee Maynard, author of the novel "Crum," and the new
sequel, "Screaming With the Cannibals." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lee Maynard. He's the author
of two novels. His novel "Crum," first published in 1988 and subsequently
republished, is about his life growing up in a very small town in West
Virginia. His newly published novel, "Screaming With the Cannibals," is about
his life shortly after he left Crum as a teen-ager.

How did you meet your wife? You've been married over 40 years.

Mr. MAYNARD: Oh, yes. I was stationed in a tiny, tiny little military
establishment in western New York state. It was near a town called Geneva.
And her father was the police commissioner of Geneva.

GROSS: You were stationed in the military?

Mr. MAYNARD: I was in the military. I never got out of the States in the
military. But I was a criminal investigator and I came into town and I went
into a sporting goods store. And, I mean, it was absolutely classic upstate
New York, mid-winter weather, snow up to the gunnels, wind howling down the
streets. I basically went into this place to kind of escape the weather and
there was this woman in there and that was the start of that. And less than
three months later we were married.

GROSS: I guess it worked out.

Mr. MAYNARD: It worked out. I think it'll last. You know, I have to tell
you, every morning when I wake up and she's still there, I'm totally amazed.
I'm just totally amazed.

GROSS: Is there anything where you live now, near Santa Fe, that reminds you
of Crum, West Virginia, where you grew up?

Mr. MAYNARD: Not a single thing. Rural New Mexico, can certainly be very
similar to rural West Virginia. I suppose that's redundant--Isn't it?--rural
West Virginia. But there just doesn't seem to be anything that I relate to
like that. There was a very interesting thing done recently--recently being a
couple of years ago now I think, Terry--by the Zuni Pueblo. And the Zunis and
some folks from Appalachia got together and compared cultures and the
similarities were astounding between those two cultures which means that
probably there are very similar kinds of circumstances between most of the
Pueblo tribes and most areas of Appalachia. But I guess I don't run around
looking for that. When I look out my window where I live I don't even see a
house. And I suppose that occurs a lot in West Virginia, but what I do see is
certainly not Appalachia. Not that that's good or bad or indifferent, it's
just it is different and that's about the only distinction.

GROSS: What was it like for you after leaving Appalachia when you started to
maybe, you know, read books or news reports about Appalachia? I mean, when
you were introduced to, like, the James Agee book, "Let us Now"--not "Let Us
Now Praise the Famous Men." What is it called? It is "Let Us Now Praise
Famous Men," yeah.

Mr. MAYNARD: Yes. That's true.

GROSS: ...which is photographs and essays about the people of Appalachia.
And there were the anti-poverty programs and so on. So looking at the poverty
in Appalachia from an outsiders point of view, how did it look to you?

Mr. MAYNARD: It looked awful. I mean, some of it I didn't understand. I
mean, growing up there, when you then leave and you read things about
Appalachia, you kind of say, `Well, that's not what I remember.' I mean it's
sort of like you're poor and you're ragged by someone else's standards.
Everybody needs a yardstick by which to measure things. And if you've never
had any other experiences. If you're born and raised in Crum, nine out of 10
times if you haven't been anywhere else you think it's OK. Well, I didn't
think that even though I'd not been anywhere else. And so when I finally got
somewhere else and looked back on this by reading someone's article or essay
or editorial or whatever it was, I thought, `Are they talking about us?' I
mean, `Gee, I don't remember that.'

And so it was sort of like people kind of again looking down on a area that,
frankly, I felt most of them didn't know a damn thing about. And I think they
still don't, particularly in West Virginia. West Virginia is just plain flat
different. And if you're born and raised there, there's this--I don't know, I
described it in "Cannibals" as this invisible wire that you're attached to, it
can't be cut. And so when you get out here and you look around--I mean, I can
remember denying I was from West Virginia when I was probably in my 20s. `Are
you one of those hillbillies boy?' And, `Not me, heck no, I was born and
raised in Richmond, suh.' And now, after awhile I thought, `What in the world
is that all about?' And it finally dawned on me that I was pretty damned
proud of being from back there. So when I read that stuff, even in my 20s and
30s, I'd read that stuff and I thought, `these people haven't set foot in that
place; they don't really know what they're writing about.' So it was kind of
hurtful.

GROSS: You still have family in Wayne County, West Virginia, how often do you
go back?

Mr. MAYNARD: Well, for a long time I hardly went back at all. The only
family I have left there really is my brother and his wife and kids whom I
adore greatly. And for a long time I simply didn't go back there. But with
the republishing of "Crum" gosh I've been back there a couple of times a year
now for three or four years. And it's been great fun. I stay out of Crum if
I can 'cause there's some folks down there that think I'm wearing a target on
my back but all in good fun. But it's wonderful and I really enjoy going
back.

GROSS: Was it hard to settle down in Santa Fe where you're been living for
about--28 years did you say?

Mr. MAYNARD: Yeah.

GROSS: Was it hard to settle down after trying out so many places, after
moving around for so long?

Mr. MAYNARD: Terry, it is still hard. I've been here all these years and my
wife will tell you that not a day goes by when I do not mention what it might
be like to go somewhere else and live somewhere else. What's over the next
hill? I mean, it's just--they tell me that the Maynards were originally
Scandinavian, I mean, we're talking hundreds of years ago. And I think some
of that is still in me, that, `Gosh, you know, give me something that will
float and I'm outta here.' And in New Mexico, that's a trick to find
something to float it on actually. But, no, there's not a day goes by when I
don't wonder and even want to be somewhere else. But, apparently it hasn't
been as strong as it was in my earlier days.

GROSS: Lee Maynard, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. MAYNARD: It's my pleasure, believe me.

GROSS: Lee Maynard is the author of the novel "Crum," and the new sequel
"Screaming With the Cannibals."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Britney Spears' new CD. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Britney Spears' new CD "In the Zone"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Britney Spears has just released a new album called, "In the Zone." But rock
critic Ken Tucker says that putting out music is just a fraction of what
Spears does when she makes a new entry into the pop culture world.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) Sometimes I just love to have it all. It's
just something a girl's gotta do. Well, I never thought I'd see you like
this. You're lookin' good when you're half dressed. Just let me give you one
last test. Is that a sin? No, no, no, no,no. I'm not too hot for you
though.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Over the past couple of weeks, if you've turned on the TV or the radio or read
a newspaper or a magazine, Britney Spears has been unavoidable. There she was
on the American Music Awards, in comic book-style dominatrix gear. There she
was on the cover of Esquire with her bottom showing. There she was in
Glamour magazine saying, `I'd love to do a musical because I think singing
and acting are my strong points and I'd like to combine them with theater.'
This is the point at which I am suppose to ridicule the 21-year-old performer
for her unwarranted hubris, to say nothing of her teeny tinny voice. But at
this stage of her career, Britney inspires sympathy, a mixture of pity and
guarded admiration. Well, not so much that I can summon anything more than
dismay of her collaboration on a piece of soft porn with, of all people, the
gentle vegan, Moby.

(Soundbite of "Early Mornin'")

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) Early mornin'. I was a little late last night. Got a
little messy. Can't be like that anymore. No. I was shaking my ass in the
streets this morning and just walked in and it's early morning. Got drunk
till the break of dawn and it don't stop till the early morning. Passed out
on the couch, I'm yawning. Just walked in and it's early morning. Passed
out again. Got drunk till the break of dawning and it don't stop till the
early morning. Wanna talk to ...(unintelligible)

TUCKER: Britney Spears, raised in show biz as a Walt Disney Mouseketeer seems
to exist in the same sort of experience-limiting bubble that Elvis Presley and
Michael Jackson have been closed off by. Like Elvis, she's a Southerner whose
first instinct is to be polite in interviews and to feel intellectually
inferior to her handlers. Like Jackson, she seems trapped in a kind of
eternal adolescence. She may have just turned 21, but she still thinks it's
daring to be naughty and rebellious. The sad thing is the way she has to
announce her outrageousness by, well, by getting R. Kelly to write a song for
her that uses that word as its title.

(Soundbite of "Outrageous")

Mr. R. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) When I move my body.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) When I'm at a party.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) In my sexy jeans.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) When I'm on the scene.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) My sex drive.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) My shopping spree.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) We know what to do.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) As we go.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) As sexy as I wanna be. Got these fellas chasin' me.
It's 'bout time I hit the street. All my girls go free.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Oh me.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) Be will and loves the beats. Jumps over drama and I
land on my feet. Gotta keep going, no stopping me. And if you don't like it
then...

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous. La la la la la la la.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) Me and I'm over here.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Hey, hey.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) Come chill and unwrap wit me.

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Hey, hey.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) Trynna show around my underwear. Let's go with this
freak show it's...

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) Outrageous.

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) When I move my body.

TUCKER: While TV-centric pop stars from Ricky Nelson to Madonna, Britney is
automatically dismissed by serious music fans as a no-talent who gets by on
wiggle, sizzle and not much else. Like Ricky Nelson, who used members of
Elvis' crew to give his music a nice sprung rhythm, Britney enlists pros like
the Southern rappers the Ying Yang Twins, the production team called the
Matrix, and yes, Madonna, to give her music sheen if not authenticity. And,
like Madonna, she plays that sex kitten image for all it's worth. And when
it's not worth enough, she turns it into a kind of delayed feminism as on this
song, "Brave New Girl."

(Soundbite of "Brave New Girl")

Ms. SPEARS: (Singing) She's gonna pack her bags. She's gonna find her way.
She's gonna get right out of this. She don't want New York. She don't want
LA. She's gonna find her special kiss. She don't want no sleep. She don't
want no high. Oh, like peaches 'n' cream. She's gonna wish on stars and
touch the sky. Ah, you know what I mean. She wants a good time. No need to
rewind. She needs to really really find what she wants. She lands on both
feet. Won't take a back seat. There's a brave new girl. And she's comin'
out tonight. She's gonna step outside. Uncover her eyes. Who knew she could
feel so alive. Her MO's changed. She don't wanna behave. Ain't it good to
be a brave girl tonight. Tonight, it's all right. A brave girl tonight. So
she met this man. He was kind of rough.

TUCKER: Did you notice something about that song? It's actually catchy, it
works. It's one of the few songs on "In the Zone" that does. Most of the
album is overworked and overproduced. Yeah, yeah, she doesn't have much of a
voice, but since when was that an impediment to making good pop music? You
have to separate technique from effect. And a few times in the past and a few
times on "In the Zone," Britney overcomes her own image to provide some
musical pleasure. The thing is, that image is as important to her as the
music and unless you're into that zone of ascetic appreciation you may miss
the small but genuine enjoyments from the Britney Spears publicity machine.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with the 1979 disco hit "Good Times" with the group Chic. Today
we learned that the group's drummer, Tony Thompson, died of renal cancer
earlier this month. He was 48.

(Soundbite of "Good Times")

CHIC: (Singing) Good times, these are the good times.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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