Larry A Lee is a soon to be retired fire chief, and author of Out of the Field, his memoir. I had the pleasure of chatting with Larry about why he decided to write the book to begin with, what it was like to overcome so many obstacles so early in life, and why he loves writing in general! This interview is a great chance to get to know who Larry is now before you dive into the memoir.
Jocelyn: Out of the Field is your memoir detailing your struggles during childhood and adolescence. Who is the target audience for your book?
Larry: I wrote Out of the Field for myself and hoped it would inspire others. In retrospect, life is made of many moments that mean nothing yet everything. A single act of kindness changed my life and defined every moment that came along after. Putting such a moment into words shows the world that kindness can change someone’s life.
J: When did you first realize that you were going to write a memoir? How long from that realization did it actually take to publish it?
L: The horrible events of my life have never entirely left me. I told them to my coworkers with a chuckle and smile; knowing these stories gave me the character to fight for every inch of my life. It was sometime in 2011 my friend told me I should write a memoir. I always hid in my writing, but I seldom showed anyone anything I wrote.
I wrote and rewrote for five years. Finally, I finished my book sometime in 2016, which sat on the shelf for two years even though the publisher had perfected my craft. Then, in early 2019, I realized my father still bullied me into silence. I decided not to allow myself to be made a victim anymore. So I published Out of the Field to define myself.
J: Writing a memoir can be very complicated. Were there ever times when your memory of an event contradicted someone else’s memory while you were writing?
L: Voltaire once said, “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” As a child, I suffered the foreseeable consequences of my father’s addiction. My family turned their backs on my brother and me. To acknowledge my story, they would be to recognize their indifference. I have not spoken to any of my family members in decades.
J: You moved from Connecticut to Oklahoma City as a teenager. What was it like for you to make such a big life move?
L: As I ponder my past as a homeless teenager, life manipulated me. It squeezed to the point that I suffocated each day in the streets of Connecticut. Each evening, I died mentally and rose from the dead each morning to be choked again. Finally, my heart knew I needed a change. Then, one day, my conscious rebelled and let me know I still could run away—behold the miracle.
J: How did you first get into writing?
L: As a child, I hid my childhood abuses in the words I scribbled on pieces of notebook paper. I released my pain. I rehearsed each word a thousand times. Ultimately, I took a deep breath, listened to my feelings, and shouted I am. In all actuality, I was born to write, for I am INFJ which means my personality type is best described as Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. INFJs are highly creative and very artistic.
J: On a lighter note, what is your favorite part about writing?
L: Words! I love mixing and matching words together so the reader can feel all my thoughts’ shades, tones, and variations. So, I write with reckless abandon, but so is it too crossed out many times. The editing process of writing is my favorite part of the process, for it is where I ask myself what I am trying to say. I find the perfection of my thoughts in editing!
J: You said that a single act of kindness changed the trajectory of your life. How has that influenced the way you look at the world?
L: Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Compassion is the basis of morality.” Once I stopped using drugs and alcohol, I cut the chain from my ancestor’s bondage of self-loathing and hatred. Beginning the journey of self-love, I began to accept myself and others, and my circle of compassion widened beyond judgmental assumptions. I now look for the good in everyone in their respective journey. An act of kindness shattered my cold heart, and it let me heal it with love.
J: If you could give one piece of advice to young people having a hard time right now, what would it be?
L: My words of wisdom would be don’t let the ugliness of your life become you. Ugly will consumes you. Ugly will make you hate everyone and everything. But, on the other hand, talent means nothing. If one acquires knowledge in humility and couples it with hard work, it means everything—perseverance and motivation separate excellence from the ordinary.
J: What authors have influenced your writing style? Which do you look up to?
L: Abraham Lincoln said, “All I have learned, I learned from books.” So, being self-educated, I studied writers at the local library. I never let a professor, teacher, or others influence my thoughts. The poets that have influenced me are Charles Baudelaire, Willaim Blake, Emily Dickerson, T.S. Eliot, Arthur Rimbaud, and Oscar Wilde. My favorite authors are James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell, and Hunter S. Thompson.
J: You said that you currently work in the wild-land fire field. What was it like to write a book while working a full-time job?
L: I am not sure that I exist at work, actually. I have been trained in what to say and how to act in the wild-land fire arena. As a Chief, I have managed large, complex wild-land fires and other disasters. Yet, the world slows down before my eyes when I go home and sit in front of my computer. I turned my silence into words. I write the unutterable. I write to unleash a thousand dreams within me. I write to feel alive and separate myself from mundane thoughts.
J: Finally, can you tell everyone reading this where they should follow you to stay connected?
L: I am retiring at the end of 2022, and I plan on putting all my efforts into being the best writer I can be. My second book will be out in November, The Federal Plantation. It is my first fiction book. People can follow me on Facebook at Larry A Lee Books or on my website larryaleebooks.com
Thank you for reading! Out of the Field is out now