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Chandler Myer published his first novel, Jayne and the Average North Dakotan, at the age of 57, following a 35-year career as a professional musician. The book is based on his short story, “That Night I Ran the High Heel Race,” published in the Medium publication Prism & Pen. He has also been published in Bear Creek Gazette, as well as Medium publications Rainbow, An Idea, and Atheism101.
Myer lives in Philadelphia with his husband of more than a quarter century. He loves to walk, travel, and make friends with every dog he sees.
What were the inspirations behind Jayne and the Average North Dakotan? Did any of it come from real life, or was everything totally made up, or was it a combination of the two?
Most everything I write comes to me during sleep. I usually wake with a story idea that I sketch out right away and write the story later. That’s how Jayne began. There is a loose connection to my life in that I’m from a small town (Bryan, Ohio), and I moved to Washington, DC, to come out at the age of 28. The events of the story are fictional, except for Randy being hit on by an older guy on his first visit to JR’s. That happened to me (I didn’t handle it as well as Randy). Otherwise, there are elements of my personality in both Randy and Jayne, but they are their own characters. The character of Millie was inspired by my first babysitter who just died this year, and MJ is an amalgamation of many people I knew when I was heavily involved in the church.
Jayne and the Average North Dakotan can be described as a coming-of-age story, although Randy Larson is older than the “typical” subject of a coming-of-age story. What are your thoughts on writing (or reading) coming-of-age arcs about characters who have already grown past adolescence?
Everyone comes to their “adulthood” in different ways, especially when it comes to gay men. Coming out has progressed to happening earlier in life, but my generation often didn’t do this until our 20s or later. I was 28 when I came out to my family and friends. So, I relate to Randy hitting his stride in his 30s. I think many people of a certain age can understand that.
North Dakota is perhaps one of the most unassuming places to have Randy originate from. Is that why you chose to start off this average North Dakotan in just that place, North Dakota? Do you have any other connections to the state or reasoning behind it?
Randy’s name came from a good friend of mine in Boston. He’s from North Dakota, so I decided to make that my character’s origin as well. I always wanted Randy to come from a small-town, rural place, much like my own hometown. However, I decided early on it would not be a town in Ohio. North Dakota ended up being perfect for the story, as so few people know anything about it. I wanted Randy to have warm feelings for his home while also being able to poke fun at people who know little of this large state. I, personally, have never been there. I did much research and talked with my friend, Randy, about places, including how to pronounce Minot (my-not). I hope to visit Minot this summer.
I absolutely love the design of the actual book, from the book cover to the font of the chapter titles to the little martini glasses in the paragraph breaks. How involved were you in that process? What was it like?
I had a concept for the cover that was based on the animated opening of Bewitched done in an art deco style. The people at Atmosphere Press were amazing in taking my ideas and color palette and improving on them. The hardest part was to get the martini glass big enough to do Jayne justice! They came up with the playful fonts, which I love, and I added the martini glasses clinking in the section breaks. I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
Jayne and the Average North Dakotan is based on a short story you wrote. When did you decide to transform the work into a full-length novel, and what was that process like?
I decided to write the novel because I couldn’t get Randy and Jayne out of my head after I wrote the
short story. I wanted to know more about what brought Randy to run the High Heel Race and what happened to him afterward. Jayne was a minor character in the short story. She became a major part of the book because I wondered if a fairy godmother of sorts would have made my coming out any easier. I was able to explore ideas on coming-of-age that intrigued me while also finding somewhere to place my sarcastic sense of humor. The original version of the book had Jayne as an imaginary character in Randy’s life. Kyle McCord, my editor at Atmosphere Press, wisely suggested I change her to a real person. This significantly changed the story but gave it greater depth and humanity.
Since you come from a background of writing shorter pieces, what was the most unexpected thing you learned from writing a full-length novel?
There were three hard parts to writing this novel: the first chapter, Randy’s character arc, and the ending. I must have rewritten the first chapter 25 or more times. Because I wanted the reader to empathize with Randy, I had a hard time giving him enough personality to show a fully developed person. He was too plain and wishy-washy in early versions. I also realized we never met Jayne until Chapter 13. I wanted her to come into the story from the beginning, thus creating the flashback chapters. It was hard to write about Randy’s development in a believable way. Hopefully, I’ve done that in this final version of the book. For the ending, I couldn’t come up with anything I liked until I was writing it. This was scary. I didn’t want things to tie up in a neat bow, but I also didn’t want a story with no end.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
The brunch with the Brothel is my favorite scene (Chapter 29, “What a Dump”). I laughed the entire time I wrote it, and still giggle when I read it today. The characters are so real to me. When I was writing, I imagined being in the room with them and taking dictation of their conversation. These drag queens are such over-the-top, sarcastic, unfiltered personalities that I could never do them justice. I just let them speak for themselves. My second favorite chapter is Randy’s first meeting with his real estate agent, Sarah Horowitz (Chapter 6, “At Your Age?”). I conceived of her as a larger-than-life character who showed little ability to edit her thoughts into appropriate conversation. She is the inspiration for my second book, Who Disturbs My Peace This Lovely Evening?, that I’m currently writing. I want to know what happened in her life to make her the person we see with Randy. And I love writing characters who say everything that comes to their minds.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
I wrote this book during the pandemic. Because life was difficult and there was so much bad news, I wanted the characters to be likable and the story to be upbeat. I also wanted readers to laugh. All this is to say that Randy was my most difficult character. His simple nature made it hard to show depth and humor. I didn’t want his “warts” to show too much, nor his shortcomings to be insurmountable. Also, he plays the straight man in Jayne’s comedy. It’s hard when the main character is less interesting than the second character. I had difficulty making his naivete likable.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
This book was always meant to be escapist reading, maybe a beach book. There is no moral to the story. That said, I hope that readers come away feeling positive about the characters and their stories. I want them to have laughed aloud at least once during their time with Randy and Jayne and maybe keep thinking of them for a few days afterward.
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