SPS-268: From Supermax Prison to Self-Publishing – with SPF Foundation Winner Jeffery P. Frye

Jeffrey P. Frye made some bad decisions in his past, but he’s turning that around now with the help of writing. He got started on his creative life while he was incarcerated, and now that he’s been released he’s doing all he can to grow his career as an author.

Show Notes

  • A report on James’ BookBub featured deal and the carry-on effect he’s seeing from that
  • Announcement of the winners of the SPF Foundation awards for 2021
  • On joining a writing group in the penitentiary with Tupac Shakur’s father
  • Hand-writing novels in prison
  • Writing as a survival mechanism

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.


SPS-268: From Supermax Prison to Self-Publishing - with SPF Foundation Winner Jeffery P. Frye

Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...

Jeffrey P Frye: It looks like every day's Christmas, to be honest with you. In my first two weeks out, every time somebody did something nice for me, I'd start crying. It's a dissonance between the hatred that I lived in and the love that I'm shown now, and continue to be shown.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show, on a Friday with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: Mark Dawson, if you're watching on YouTube, is wearing his hat today. I remember we used to do this at SoHo, when we worked together years ago. He'd turn up in a hat and he'd say, "I'm having a bad hair day, James."

Are you're having a bad hair day?

Mark Dawson: I'm having a bad hair month, but then that's me and everybody who hasn't been able to go to a hairdresser for three months.

James Blatch: Yeah. These headphones actually cover up my sins, because my hair starts curling down here when it's... And, it is curling now. I keep saying to my daughter, "Cut my hair," but I think she's more interested in, I don't know, her A Levels or something trivial.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, a bit weird, your daughter cutting your hair. That's odd. Things you do in Cambridge, yeah?

James Blatch: Yeah. She's done it before, and she did it all right, actually. I don't really care that much about my hair. Okay, look. We've got a few things to talk about.

This is, it's a foundation special. We're going to go through and announce the winners of the SPF Foundation applications. But, we have a fantastic interview with Jeffrey P Frye, somebody who, a few weeks ago, was in federal prison in the United States, serving a 12-year sentence. He has obviously recovered himself in prison.

He started writing novels, handwriting them obviously in his cell, while all this terrible violence and institutional drug-taking, as they went on around him. And this interview is about that time, and it's about him getting his life together and looking forward. So it's a really good interview with a lovely man. I say a lovely man, obviously he's had a past where he went through a period of not being so lovely, and he talks about that as well.

So, that's coming up in a moment, but before then I just want to pick up... Mark, we mentioned that I was going into a BookBub featured deal last week with a first in a series of eight that we market with Fuse Books. And you gave me a few hints about what I should have set up. I'm slightly nervous about the price. You set the price up, and it's got to be there.

The last thing in the world anybody wants to do is to be awarded one of these precious BookBub featured deals, which you have to apply for and go through an editorial board, and then let them down by not having everything in place. So I double and triple checked, but everything was in place. And the downloads, I think you said to me, "Be prepared for 25,000, 30,000 downloads." We actually recorded 42,000, a shade under 42,000 downloads, which was incredible.

Or sorry, 32,000 I think, on the day itself, 24,000 in America alone, which was amazing. But what's been even more amazing, because that's all very well... You're giving the book away for free, and you don't really know how many of those people are going to like it, read it even, like it, and then move on to the next one that'll actually give you some money at some point for books that you're selling.

But in the days that have followed, and this was the 18th of February this featured deal went out. Today's date is, what, 26th of February, I think?

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: The page reads and the book sales have just gone up and up and up since that featured deal. Obviously, I'm pushing it with ads now. We have quite a lot of ads working now, and we've got more money coming in to make sure we maintain this, but I'll show you a chart on the screen. I'll give it to John, to put up now. If you're watching on YouTube, you can see the big blue spike is the free book.

What you can't see, because it's changed the scale to 40,000 downloads, you can't see below that the yellow on the right, which used to be 30 books a day or so, for this series, and is now 80 to 95 books a day. But you can see very clearly, underneath the page reads, ramping up from, I think they start at about 30,000 page reads a day, maybe less than that. It's actually fewer than that, I should say. Now, up to 90,000 page reads a day for the last three days, as these people clearly, from the BookBub downloads, have started reading through on Kindle Unlimited and buying the book.

And, gosh. You do occasionally, do you not, Mark, see people saying, "Are BookBub deals really worth it? They work in the same way they used to work?" I can only give you my firsthand experience and just say, "Yes, they do."

Mark Dawson: Yes, they do. We covered this in a bit of detail last week, but it's good to see the tale has continued to accrue, to wag, I suppose. You'll see that for a while, that people will continue into the series. And it's a seven book series, I think, eight book series, if I'm not mistaken.

James Blatch: Eight, yeah.

Mark Dawson: So, that will continue as people go through those books. Some will go all the way to the end. Others might read a couple. Others might read just the one that they've bought or downloaded. So, yeah. It'll be a significant moment.

You do often see, when authors are starting out and they land at BookBub, that can be one of the triggers for sustained success. We'll just have to see, but it's a very encouraging week or two for those books.

James Blatch: I'm running mainly Facebook ads. I am running some Amazon ads now as well, actually. I started on the day, or day before the BookBub promo for this series. Obviously, I was spending something like 35, this is UK pounds, so 45-odd dollars a day and ending up with a profit of the 75 to 80 pounds, so knocking on $100 a day, so somewhere between 30% and 50%, or varied. Around a good day, it's 30% of spend, a bad day it's 50%, of income rather.

Suddenly, we're getting 513 pounds, I think, was yesterday's income, which is $650 income. I've raised my spending a bit.

How much should I be raising my advertising spend, based on that income now?

Mark Dawson: Well, as long as you're comfortable that it's still generating the same kind of proportional profit, so I would be looking to amp it up a little bit and make sure then, leave it for two or three days, make sure that the profit continues to go in the right direction, and then increase it a bit more.

Don't get too excited and start dumping $500 a day immediately on those ads, because that's a recipe for disaster. But if you do it slowly, and always checking that you're getting the result that you want and that that's the way to go.

James Blatch: And you always do talk about scaling up, so I think you gave me a tip in the past. And you teach our students about 20% is quite a good scale-up rule?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I wouldn't go too much more than that. You'd have a risk of confusing the algorithm if you suddenly dump tonnes more impressions into the mix, so just a little bit more carefully.

James Blatch: Finding the box set, by the way, is going well on Facebook ads at the moment. I think I had it at 11 pence a day click cost, which is good, although-

Mark Dawson: That's good.

James Blatch: ... a lot of the clicks happening mid-20s recently as well. So it's been quite varied, but the box set certainly seems to be doing well.

Mark Dawson: Yes. Good, okay. Just going to say, we should probably say, I think by the time this goes out I might have pulled my finger out of my ass and actually posting about this. We probably should be looking for another author, shouldn't we, bringing someone else into the fold.

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: We have a science fiction, and you've demonstrated the method has worked very well with science fiction. It's definitely working with building those up.

I think the next one we'd like to do is paranormal romance. Something along those lines is something that we're interested in. I don't quite know whether I will have posted, probably would have done by now, but if people are interested in talking to us about taking over a series that they've got or one that they're thinking of writing, and seeing if we can... I say we, James with me giving some hints.

If that's something that you're interested in, then drop James an email, I guess.

James Blatch: I think we can be a little bit fussy here, because we got overwhelmed by authors last time, which was great, and nice for us. And in the end, it looks like we've made a good choice in the author we picked up. However, I would say I'd be looking for a series of six, at least, really. Two or three is probably not enough for us at this stage.

Mark Dawson: Well, I wouldn't say that. I think you start with two or three, but with the intention that others are added to it.

James Blatch: Okay.

Mark Dawson: I personally wouldn't have any kind of limits on that. I think one book is probably not enough, but you'd want multiple books. I wouldn't reject applications, because you might find that you get an amazing author who would be brilliant, and they don't get considered. So, I'd leave it fairly open. We have processes in place for deciding which of those authors we need to investigate further, don't we, in terms of readers and things of that.

It's easy for me to say because I'm not doing it, but I would be rather more inclined to be liberal rather than too prescriptive, at this stage.

James Blatch: Yeah. And just to reiterate what we're looking for again is, if you've got some ability to self-publish, not something you hate, and you can see the uptick once you put the effort in, you should be self-publishing. There's no question about that. That's our ethos. That's what Mark and I live and breathe every day.

If you absolutely cannot do it, you can't make it work, it confuses you, you don't like it, you don't want to do it, but your books are good, then come and talk to us, because, ultimately, we're going to be sharing profits with you, and there's no point in us doing that if you can do this by yourself. But if it's definitely, definitely not for you.

Mark Dawson: I was just going to say, probably one thing bad in there is that you just can't do it. So either you don't want to or you can't, and your books aren't selling as well as you think they should. Because, what James and I will not do is, we won't take on any author who we don't think we can at least double what they've done, because otherwise, it wouldn't make any sense for the author to take that deal, because there's a 50/50 split. So we want to make sure you're at least making what you would have made without having to do the advertising.

Now, of course what we hope is that you'll make much more. And so far, with the authors we've had so far, that has been the case. But if you're making 15 grand a month, probably you're doing okay.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: And you might not want to come to us. But if you're kind of not quite where you want to be, then, yeah, drop us a line and we'll have a look and see what you got.

James Blatch: If you check out the community group, we'll post in after this recording in the next couple of days, before this goes out next Friday. I'm going to have a thread in the community group with the information that... We might even set up an actual landing page with that, so I'll have to think about how to do that. But just check out the community group and look for Fuse Books. The post will be from Mark.

Now, we are all about self-publishing, and that's the main thing that we push. And one of the things we do once a year is we award foundation grants to authors who are committed writers, good writers with a proven ability there, but simply don't have the means to develop the marketing side of things. So it is an investment, no question about that, and covers and editing and so on, it all adds up at the beginning. And some people simply can't afford it, particularly in this current climate. So we run a foundation.

I say we run a foundation. I do virtually nothing for it now; Mrs. Dawson does everything. And she's done a really fantastic job of sorting through a lot of applications, and you can imagine it's quite a tricky process, and then announcing them very nicely into the groups. And the foundation itself has grown under Lucy's stewardship to include a number of members of our community who donate money into.

So, not only is it us, Self Publishing Formula, it's me, Mark, and John putting money into this, it's also Ricardo at Reedsy, it's also Written Word Media, and it's now individual authors who've come forward, people like Mark Reklau you'll see in a moment, and Lucy Score. So, let's go through the authors who have been awarded. And you'll see them come up on screen if you're watching on a video format. And we'll start with J. L. Morgan. Do you know she's a paranormal romance writer, Mark?

Mark Dawson: There are three. Yeah, there are three of them this time, I think. Yeah.

James Blatch: Really?

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: This is not what this is about. J. L. is sponsored by Reedsy, thank you very much indeed, the team at Reedsy, Emmanuel and Ricardo in particular. Tannis Laidlaw, there she is, a foundation winner. It's a nice trophy of that. We should get those done. Writes in mystery, is supported by, sponsored by Perry Wilson. Thank you very much indeed, Perry. This is Melissa Serca, Sercia, Serchia, Sercha, Sercia? Go on, you try.

Mark Dawson: You've nailed it. You've had about three different gos, so one of those must've been right. So there's nothing more I can add.

James Blatch: Well, Melissa writes in urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and she is also sponsored by Reedsy. Next we have Jeffrey P. Frye. Stay tuned for Jeffrey's interview in a moment, straight out of federal prison. He writes, not surprisingly perhaps, crime fiction, sponsored by us here at the Self Publishing Formula. Emma Shelford, who writes in urban fantasy, is sponsored by Written Word Media. Louise VN Liebenberg, who writes in non-fiction, self-help, sponsored by Thibaut Meurisse.

I think I'm getting this right. Some of it's right. Some of it might not be right. Here is V.F. Streets, a crime thriller writer, sponsored by our friend in Malta, Mark Reklau. Thank you so much, Mark. Here is Eric Stevers, who is a multi-genre writer and is sponsored by Tony Moyle. Thank you very much indeed, Tony. Here is Britt Andrews, who writes in romance, and is sponsored by our friend in PA, USA, Lucy Score. Thank you Lucy and Mr. Lucy, who secretly, we know, is actually called Tim, but don't tell anyone else that.

Scarlett Braden Moss writes cosy thriller and poetry, sponsored by us here at the Self Publishing Formula. Have we got to 11 yet? I'm not sure when this is going to end. Tessa Kelly, who writes in cosy mystery, and sponsored by Dawn Brookes. Thank you very much indeed, Dawn. Okay, that is the list. I think that's 11 of them.

Thank you so much indeed, again, to our sponsors fantastic, of so many people who've obviously enjoyed some success in the self-publishing bubble, if you want to call it, that's happened over the last few years and are looking to give back.

Mark Dawson: It's not a bubble.

James Blatch: It's not a bubble, no.

Mark Dawson: Bubbles burst.

James Blatch: That does imply it's going to burst, yes. The rise of self-publishing, the transition.

Mark Dawson: And dot-come bubble. This isn't a bubble. This is a movement. This is a way of life, James.

James Blatch: A movement. It is. But, they want to give back, which is fantastic. Yeah. So, everyone from Ricky and team at Written Word Media, and Mark, and Lucy, and Perry, and Dawn, thank you so much indeed.

We will dip in and out over the next year or so, to see how our authors get on. We're not going to put pressure on them, of course. We're not going to phone them up in 12 months and say, "Show me your results," but in the next couple of years. It takes a little while to get traction going.

I tell you what we will do, and I will remember to message her in the next week. We'll get Elle Thorpe back on here, because I know that she has got some traction going with her career now. She was one of our foundation winners last year, so we'll get Elle back on here to talk us through how she approached everything, and the success that she's had.

And we will at some point start working towards next year's. Probably a bit early to apply now, but on our website you will find a tab and the details of how to do that.

Mark Dawson: You can apply. Lucy keeps an eye on them. We had hundreds of applications this year. I don't know exactly what it was, but it was a good at least 500, I would have thought. It was pretty popular.

James Blatch: And the other thing we should say is, if you wanted to sponsor a place, just drop us a line at [email protected] or [email protected] and let us know. Yeah, I think we gave away $45,000 of material and whatever, $45,000 worth of stuff to our authors this time. It'd be nice to see that up just a little bit for next year.

Well, should we talk to one of the recipients? His name is Jeffrey P. Frye. Lovely guy. I think, as you hear in the interview, still adjusting. And it is quite a sharp adjustment, you can only imagine, from the institutional situation that he found himself in to real life.

Actually, the week we've had, he's had a pretty tough week as well, with his family, but we got this interview done. And it was delightful to speak to him. So, let's hear from Jeffrey P. Frye, and then Mark and I will be back for a chat.

Jeffrey Frye, welcome to the Self Publishing Formula. I'm delighted to say that you are a recipient of one of the SPF Foundation grants. You're a winner of one of those applicants, which I'm really excited about. So, first of all, your reaction to that.

Are you excited? Are you getting on the platform now?

Jeffrey P Frye: Oh, it's amazing. I use the analogy that it's akin to taking a man who stands in the surf, fishing for a living with a cane pole, and giving him a pole, lures, a boat, and a map of all of the hot spots of where to go. And so I'm really humbled that I got chosen out of all these different people, little old me. So, yes. I'm very excited about it.

James Blatch: Great. Well, you have a very interesting backstory, Jeffrey. So, we're going to hear all about that, a bit about your writing, and then we'll look forward to how you plan to use the resources that are now at your fingertips.

Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself. And some people listening to this may not know exactly what's happened to you in the last few years, but it's quite something.

Jeffrey P Frye: I became a writer in federal prison in 2012. I was in the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg. And I received seven 20-year sentences for seven unarmed bank robberies that happened... I was arrested in January of 2009. And it was the result of an addiction, and just beautifully incoherent thinking. No gun, no mask, no violence.

James Blatch: Oh, just walking into a bank and asking for money?

Jeffrey P Frye: Yeah, and they were stupider than I was, and gave it to me, pretty much. So, yes. It's hard to make sense of illogical behaviour, so I'm not even going to waste our time and try, but it was just a result of an addiction. It cost me everybody that I loved, it wasn't just my freedom.

But it launched me into a world that is a subculture, a federal prison. The public likes to focus on Club Fed, but there's actually three custody levels and Club Fed is low. And the only time I saw Club Fed was when I was chained on a bus and we passed by it.

But, there's low, medium, and high, and high are the United States penitentiaries. There's about 15 of them, ADX Supermax being one of them, out in the mountain in Colorado. And that's where I did my time, in various pens.

James Blatch: Okay.

Jeffrey P Frye: They're very volatile.

James Blatch: We'll hear a bit about that. I do remember something actually, because I haven't read your notes. When John and I toured the States, we did quite a lot of driving around. And I always take John off to quirky little aviation places. And we were on the road from San Diego to Las Vegas for 20Books last year, or the year before I guess, and we pulled in at Victorville, which is where they keep the Boeing 747s from British Airways. And all those 737 8 Maxes were on the ground at the time.

Jeffrey P Frye: They have a graveyard in the desert there, for planes.

James Blatch: Yes. So, we visited that. And I remember very clearly driving back out to the highway and seeing this amazing, very neat but very sort of awesome-looking prison by the road, quite a big estate. And we drove out onto the road. I had no idea that that was one of the places that you were held.

Jeffrey P Frye: Yes.

James Blatch: Wow.

Jeffrey P Frye: Victorville is interesting. There's a phenomena called the Santa Ana winds, and they come down, I guess out of the San Bernardino Mountains every day. And they used to have a windsock that would denote the level of wind that day, and whether we were allowed to be outside. But Victorville, there was no grass there at all. It was all sand. And when you walked the track, you would see the San Bernardino Mountains and the snow in the mountains, in the distance. It was pretty bleak.

It's definitely the heroin capital of the BOP, the Bureau of Prisons. And when you would go to breakfast, there would be junkies out in front of the chow hall, looking either to cop heroin or to rob somebody, so they could get their morning fix. This is in prison, though.

James Blatch: Wow.

Jeffrey P Frye: It's just absolutely crazy. But something neat that did happen to me there was, I was sitting on the computer one day and a guy, an older Black guy with long dreads came and stood next to me and said, "I heard you're the writer." And I said, "Well, that depends who you ask, actually." I'd done a couple books for Murder Slim at that point. It was 2014. And anyway, his name is Mutulu Shakur, goes by Doc because he's a doctor of acupuncture, but he was Tupac's dad.

And him and I became close. He had a book that he wanted me to edit, and he had a little writers group with some guys who basically wrote hood novels or erotic novels, just and went and sat in the library once a week. He called it a group. But they had some people from Apple Valley in the community, that came in. And he asked me if I would talk to them and basically tell them how I got from there to here, with getting published.

I did that, and him and I became friends in the process of that, Doc and I. And we're two polar opposites. He's a Black supremacist and kind of on some kill Whitey time, been down for 35 years, and I'm white. But, we clicked and we became friends. And we had a shared passion of writing.

I can't say that I enjoyed meeting him and becoming friends with him, because you meet people throughout your life and you kind of collect them like treasures, I don't know, would be a good example. And he is one of those treasures in the box.

I don't know that he'll ever get out. He's been down 35 years and he's part of a sect called the Black Liberation Army, which is kind of like the Black Panthers on steroids. And he's in a security threat group. Even in prison, he still gets his mail in a batch once a week, his emails in a batch once a week, because he's so monitored.

James Blatch: Right.

Jeffrey P Frye: Some neat stories. He was at Lompoc in 1994, and the warden... Tupac was coming to see him, and the warden came and asked him if Tupac would come in and give a concert, in the prison. And he asked him, and Tupac came in and did a concert on the yard of the United States Penitentiary at Lompoc in '94. And then about six months later, he was shot dead in Las Vegas.

James Blatch: How did you get out, then? Because 20 years, I'm guessing you didn't serve the full 20 years of... But, they were concurrent sentences, presumably.

Jeffrey P Frye: Oh, yeah. They were concurrent. It felt like 40, let me just say that, James, but I did 12 years. I worked in law before I went off the reservation and did all that stupid stuff. I'm a paralegal, and I basically had a little company that sold services to attorneys. So I'm sitting in a cell, I guess last, the end of March, and they've locked us down for COVID, and it's indefinite.

I have to give a shout-out to coffee once again, because I took my coffee and 11 sheets of paper... That's a chapter in Riley, by the way. And I wrote a motion for compassionate release to the judge that sentenced me 12 years before. And I mailed it off to the court, never heard anything. I'm standing in my door on November 30th and looking out into the empty cell house. We've been locked down. I'm in a very bad situation with a cell mate and cannot get out of it.

I see my case manager coming across the cell house, hustling his way towards my cell. And usually, you can't find this guy with a search warrant. I mean, this guy hides in his office in the back, like a good bureaucrat. And he comes and opens the door and he says, "The judge has granted the motion you filed for compassionate release, and he's commuted your sentence to time served."

James Blatch: Wow.

Jeffrey P Frye: "And we have two weeks to get you out of here." And that was it, and it was over, and this brand new life began. That was about 12 weeks ago.

James Blatch: Wow. Well, congratulations on that. You were obviously in a very bad place, Jeffrey. So you talked about the addiction, ended up doing these robberies, ended up in state prison. Presumably it was in prison that you've recovered yourself.

You got away from the addiction and found yourself on a more level playing field. All that happened in state prison?

Jeffrey P Frye: It's so cliché, but I'm going to say it. My mother died. And there's consequences that you don't know about in addiction and bad decisions. It doesn't necessarily have to be an addiction, but when you make decisions, it's like throwing a rock in a pond. And one of my consequences was that my mother and father stopped speaking to me for the last 15 years of their life. So when my mother died, my sister, Tracy, sent me an email and said, "Call me." And when I called, she said she was dead.

So I'm in a cell at Lewisburg and it's 2:00 in the morning, and it's just oppressively hot. I'm in boxers and I'm pouring sweat, but my eyes are also leaking because I'm torn up, because I miss my mom. And I got down out of bed and I wrote a poem to God. I actually have the poem. It's called My Prayer. It's published now, and all over the place, but I asked God to take what was ever left of me that was good, and to use it to try to touch the world.

I sucked as a criminal, James. I used the whole Bank Robber's Blog and that whole angle, but I just used that to reinvent myself, because I know that people are fascinated with people who go into banks and rob them. So I just traded on that, but my goal was to... I got $65 every other week from my sister. And I had a choice to spend it on honey buns and potato chips or inedible content, as I like to say. And I spent it on that. I spent it on email credits and I developed a relationship with Murder Slim Press and Steve Hussy, God bless him, who owns Murder Slim Press. And I became a writer.

My plan was to gain some notoriety and some credibility, and reinvent myself, for one day eventually be released and transition as a mainstream novelist. Now, 12 weeks ago, I had six years left of prison to do, and now I'm here with you on a podcast, praise God.

James Blatch: That's fantastic. Well, I think you don't necessarily need to have been a good bank robber for that to be a good story. I think being a bad bank robber is just... Honestly, there's just as much mileage in that for a story, as there is being a good one.

Jeffrey P Frye: I'll take it.

James Blatch: I'm being light about this, Jeffrey, but nobody listening to this will not be batting for you and be impressed with where you've got to today. I know none of this is easy, and it's been incredibly painful for you. So, I'm making light of it, but I'm also at the same time...

We are a part of your story now, and we're going to be following it and wishing you the best and here to help you.

Jeffrey P Frye: I just want to say, just in case I don't get it in in this interview, but I'm very grateful to Self-Publishing Formula and the foundation. These scholarships through the foundation are endowed or supported by different people. Mine is through you guys, through the Self-Publishing Formula. And that really humbles me and makes me feel very special.

James Blatch: Well, you are.

Jeffrey P Frye: So, thank you. Thank you very much.

James Blatch: It's all about tomorrow now, isn't it for you? How did you start your writing? What sort of resources do you get on the inside? Do you get easy access to a computer?

Jeffrey P Frye: I believe in fate, but I'll tell you how it began. I walked out under the tier and out on the tier... At Lewisburg, it was built in 1930, and there's no windows in the cells. The tier, there's a row of windows with bars across them, six foot tall, and there's a plastic lawn chair in front of each window.

I found a sick book called Writer's Market, that's published. And it lists every publisher, their genre, what they buy, how much they pay, their contact information, their writing guidelines. And I picked it up, and it was at the same time that I had said that prayer and asked God to open doors for me. And I just found a place that said, "Murder Slim Press," and it was grit lit. And I hadn't written anything at that point.

So I sent them a CorrLinks request on the computer. The way that it works when you're in federal prison is, it's a company that manages the email. And there's a two-hour lag time between sending and receiving, on both ends. And you have to send a request to the individual, and they have to accept that they will communicate with a federal prisoner. And you can't do anything but text, no images or any of that.

So I sent Murder Slim Press a CorrLinks request, and they accepted. And all of the wannabe literari there who'd sat in the library writing hood novels and told me, "Don't even try because publishers didn't mess with convicts," and they accepted my request and they asked if I would write a story about being in prison. And my buddy is a capo, one of the 20 captains for the Genovese crime family in New York City. I call him Don Corleone when we blog.

But he's just, he's great. As long as you're not duct-taped in the trunk of his car or playing penny-point gin with him, because he cheats. But, I wrote a story about him and I smuggling bananas out of the chow hall in our pants, called Prison Pros, and they bought that for $35.

James Blatch: Wow.

Jeffrey P Frye: And that was the beginning. I began to tell Steve Hussy stories from my life, and he created a blog and called it The Bank Robber's Blog. And there's about eight years of free content, that you can click on to Murder Slim Press and click onto my author's page and read. They're archived. It's basically a archive of my life, of my life back-

James Blatch: That's an opportunity for you to learn how to write as well, though, isn't it? You're writing week in, week out.

Jeffrey P Frye: It was. And I'll tell you, James, that you mention it. Blog writing is... Because, I'm not trained, but what I did learn in hindsight is blog writing is, you try to condense as much information, humour, emotion, wit, into the least amount that you can. And it serves you well when you write novels, because writing novels is telling stories within stories. And you have to be concise, to a certain degree.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Jeffrey P Frye: And writing the blogs helped with that.

James Blatch: I was just having a look at them now. They look fascinating, so I'll have a read through those.

Jeffrey P Frye: Well, I'll tell you, one blog, November 30, 2020, it's the last blog I did for them from prison. It's called Leaving Shawshank, and it explains what I just told you. And the one before that, in September, is called Urban Legends, and it talks about my time with Doc, my time Angelo, Don Corleone, and some of the people I met. Whitey Bulger, met him before he committed suicide by inmate.

James Blatch: Jeffrey, what are your plans for writing?

Jeffrey P Frye: My plans for writing are, I have a series called The Life of Riley. Book one is out on Amazon. And the way that I became a mainstream writer is kind of the same way that I... That's fascinating to me. In early 2019, I was finishing this book called Bank Robber's Stories From the Life, from Murder Slim Press. And I prayed and asked God to open doors for me to transition into mainstream writing.

I'm in my cell one day and a guy named Michael Bramum comes by. He's doing 30 years for meth and a gun. And he's my buddy, but he's like everybody else back there. He's strung out on this dope. And he has a syringe in his hand, and he asks me... He's frantic. He says, "I can't get my shot into my neck. Will you please do this for me?" And I don't do drugs. I haven't done them in over 12 years, but I have compassion in that setting, so I sat him down, wiped his neck off, did what he wanted.

On his way out of the cell, he hands me a book. And he says, "Listen, you got to check this book out. It's badass." The book was called My Brother's Destroyer, and it was by a guy named Clayton Lindemuth. I'm like, "Okay." So I read it, and he's right. It's badass. The tagline on the back is, "Is the death of one dog worth the life of 20 men?" Well, I'm an animal lover. And so you know my answer was absolutely.

James Blatch: Yes. I think lots of people would say yes.

Jeffrey P Frye: Yeah, yeah. It was a no-brainer. So I read the book and there's an email address in the front of the book for this Clayton Lindemuth guy. And I sent an email. I sent a CorrLinks request. And he answers, and we become friends.

James Blatch: Wow.

Jeffrey P Frye: And I don't know, but he is a prolific self-publisher who does a bunch of these books. He sends me all of his books off Amazon, and we become friends. He has a Facebook Group called Red Meat Lit Street Team. And he's introduced me to them. And now this is all when they think I have six years left.

So, flash forward, I get out. Clayton drives two hours... Or, two days after I get out, he drives nine hours from Pennsylvania. And he gifts me a complete technology centre, computer with two monitors, a laptop, software that includes Scrivener and Canva Pro. Everything is run through Microsoft Office.

He gave me not just a fishing boat, but a Ranger bass boat.

James Blatch: Wow.

Jeffrey P Frye: And it gives me the ability to practise my craft. Now, I had Riley books one through four. You asked me what my plans were. I plan to do the Riley series. I enjoy writing the series. Even though I wrote these books about six years ago now, I still haven't written book five, the ending. I need to do that. But, I plan to do that. I'm thinking of trying to maybe monetize some of the content that I did on the eight years of blogs.

But I sit here, and I watch these series on Netflix scroll by when it's idle, and I realise that there's a need for content. And so I think that maybe there's some value in those blogs, in my misery, a tragedy, there's some value.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Jeffrey P Frye: So, we'll see.

James Blatch: I can see those going together and being a compendium.

Jeffrey P Frye: I just don't know how to do all that, but I didn't know how to do this, James, and I'm doing it.

James Blatch: You'll learn.

So, you got access to a computer. You were able to write. And you completed three novels in prison?

Jeffrey P Frye: I did three for Murder Slim Press, and I've got about three, about four of Riley done. And I've got a couple other books that I've done, that I don't know what I'm going to do with, yet. One of them is called A Chicago Story.

James Blatch: And are these all crime, prison-based, or are you branching out from it a little bit?

Jeffrey P Frye: No, all the Rileys have nothing to do with prison. I had two genres. I call it the, "Hey, look at the stupid criminal," genre that I wrote in, and that's for Murder Slim. And when I transitioned into mainstream fiction writing, these are just stories, fiction stories that I've created.

James Blatch: Okay. So we'll keep an eye on that. I presume you're in the process now of preparing Riley two and three and four for release. I mean, they're written.

Jeffrey P Frye: Yes. It'd be interesting and relevant to this interview, and to the people who might see it. Clay, this cover for the Life of Riley, which is my screensaver on my phone and everything, it is the result of a cover contest on 99designs.

James Blatch: Oh, okay.

Jeffrey P Frye: Clay put up $300 and this was the winning submission. Well, flash forward a little, beautiful cover. I love it. I got some good insight, though, from both Stuart Basche, who I didn't even know who I was talking to. I've got royalty here in my comment section. I don't even know who this guy is. And then Lucy Dawson told me who he was. I'm like, "Oh my God." He went from Stuart to Mr. Basche like that. But he gave me some good suggestions in the comment section, but the guy who did this cover is an artist on the Reedsy platform.

James Blatch: Ah, great.

Jeffrey P Frye: And Mr. Ricardo Fayet over there, nice man, I have talked to him. And I guess he had let his certification for Reedsy lapse or something, but he's in the process. His name is Ivano Lago, and he's Italian. He's a graphic design artist, and he's on my Facebook friends. And he's a cool dude.

James Blatch: So, that's perfect.

Jeffrey P Frye: We're working on the cover for Riley two, yes.

James Blatch: Yeah, matching covers. Great.

And what is life like for you, Jeff, when you come out? What was that moment like, and that adjustment, which I guess you're still in, because it's weeks really, isn't it?

Jeffrey P Frye: I don't sleep, James.

James Blatch: I noticed that actually, in our messaging, that you don't sleep.

Jeffrey P Frye: Yeah, I don't. I sleep maybe one or two hours a night. And I don't know, I call it a PTID, post traumatic incarceration disorder, but I'm still adjusting to... It's like every day's Christmas, to be honest with you. But, everything happens for a reason, too. I came out when I did, where I did. I live with my sister, Tracy, and her husband, Mickey, who have just created this incredible cocoon of love for me.

In my first two weeks out, every time somebody did something nice for me, I'd start crying because of the dissonance between the hatred that I lived in and the love that I'm shown now, and continue to be shown. I'm wearing shoes that one of my readers that I've never met bought me in the middle of the night, a woman named Bobbi Boseman... hi, Bobbi... because I hadn't bought clothes in 13 years.

Just an incredible amount of love from so many different directions, and it's still overwhelming. It's still humbling. And in the world of writing and self-publishing, the Riley in the writing is the horse, and everything else is the cart. And so I've been doing a lot of cart stuff, and I need to get back on the horse and-

James Blatch: Do some writing.

Jeffrey P Frye: ... and do some writing. Correct.

James Blatch: You do need to start sleeping more, as well.

Jeffrey P Frye: I do.

James Blatch: Because that's-

Jeffrey P Frye: It's transcribing, at this point. I'm transcribing Riley two, and i'm going to talk to text for Riley three and four, but I'm scared that I'll lose something in the creative process of talk to text.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Jeffrey P Frye: But we'll see.

James Blatch: It takes a bit of getting used to, I think, dictation. But I think if you persevere at it, you should get back into your flow.

Did you hand-write those novels in prison?

Jeffrey P Frye: I did.

James Blatch: All right.

Jeffrey P Frye: I did. When I write, I write double-spaced margins, like this is... That's all of it.

James Blatch: Okay.

Jeffrey P Frye: That's Riley two, three, and four. And I write double-spaced margins. And then I go to sleep, and when I wake up it's like my mind looks at it from a fresh perspective. And I go back and I edit between the lines. And then when I transcribe on email, from that, that's a final editing process. And that's how I've done things. Now, I have an editor now, named Miss Gail Lambert, and she's wonderful.

So what I do when I transcribe now, I do it in Word and I send it to her. And that's the first-line editing process. Well, I'm the first line. She's the professional one. And then it comes back to me, because editing is what makes the book, I'm learning.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well, that's great. That's quite a task, isn't it? I mean, it's quite good, how you've turned what could be just a laborious task of getting it off the paper into electronic form. You've turned that into part of the editing process, each stage.

Jeffrey P Frye: Yes, sir.

James Blatch: So you've got your Riley books. You want to get back into writing now. You've got book five to write. Have you sort of set yourself a timetable for this, for the next six to 12 months? I know it's only recently you've got the SPF Foundation stuff, but...

Jeffrey P Frye: Well, it's interesting. One of the things that Clay did... Clay is just, man, such a smart dude. I don't know how else to put it. But what he did is, he did two things. I have two screens. He set a timer, just a little cheesy timer programme that shows, starts at 30 or 60, whatever you set it in your writing, so you know you're in that zone and you stay there. But he also did a spreadsheet in Excel that tracks my workout, a day of what I do. My personal workout of what I try to do is 3,000 words a day.

James Blatch: That's good.

Jeffrey P Frye: And that's what I did in prison. In prison, it's great therapy. I don't know how else to put it, when everybody around you is killing each other and shooting dope into their neck, and you're just sitting there with a pen in your own little bubble. And so it's incredibly great therapy. So I try to track all of that.

I haven't been proficient in that. A lot of it, I've put off in my head to the start of Riley three. I have two chapters left to transcribe of Riley two, and I'm working with Ivano on the cover.

And then when I launch into Riley three, I'm going to start a new process that involves talk to text and a very stringent writing schedule.

James Blatch: It sounds like writing was a survival mechanism for you, as much as anything else.

Jeffrey P Frye: It was. It is. It's still, that's my crazy, as I like to say, because it allows me to go into my own little world. And the characters I create, I dream about sometimes. They come to me in my dreams as people. General Sherman, he's a bulldog on the front of the cover of Riley, who drinks Guinness stout and lives in a pub. Yeah, he's a good boy.

James Blatch: Good for General Sherman. Well, I'm no psychologist, but I imagine also very important, Jeffrey, is having that consistency. So you were writing in prison. That was something you loved and you wanted to do. You're out of that environment now, which is a huge and difficult, we know from history, transition for people.

And yet, the writing is the consistent bit. So, that bit's the same for you, just in a little bit nicer surroundings.

Jeffrey P Frye: I do therapy also. I should mention, every two weeks I talk to a therapist, just as part of my re-acclimation process.

James Blatch: Yeah, very good. Very good. We could talk a lot about prison and your life up until this point, but what I'm really interested in is the next 10 years for Jeffrey Frye, and Jeffrey P. Frye appearing on Amazon. We're so excited for you, Jeffrey. We're happy to be a part of your story. We're here to help. I know you're going to get a lot of support from everyone in the community, like we all do. Right?

I've had huge amounts of help from people, getting my first novel out into the world, which should be soon. We're on board the Jeffrey Frye train for the next few years.

Jeffrey P Frye: Well, thank you. I've never met him, and I've tried to emulate his hairstyle a time or two, but I would like to thank Mark Dawson very much for everything that he has put together. He has put together just an incredible thing with Self-Publishing Formula. And I've never met him, don't know that I will ever meet him, but it doesn't matter. I want to thank him. I'm very grateful to him for what he's done and how it has affected my life and it is making my life better. And I thank him for it.

James Blatch: Well, that's very kind.

Jeffrey P Frye: And I thank you.

James Blatch: Yeah, the least I can do, but he's changed my life as well, I'll tell you. But, he's changed a lot of lives, and I'll pass that on to Mark. And at some point, Jeffrey, we will meet in person somewhere, maybe 20Books or whatever. And it'll be great to share some freedom with you.

Jeffrey P Frye: Cool. That's awesome.

James Blatch: There you go. It's a different world, isn't it? We see it on TV and films, but that's where that kind of world exists on TV, being inside a state penitentiary and having people murdered in cells nearby, which happened to Jeffrey. And yet, there I am talking to him, and this was his life.

It must be like that first time you visit New York and it looks like you're on a film set. It must feel the same going into those prisons, because you see it's so familiar, and yet the reality of living that life... I don't know. I don't suppose many people come out of it unscarred, one way or another. Mark?

Mark Dawson: No. God, absolutely no, no. It's a scary proposition. So, it's great that he's out, and even better that he's found something that he's good at and enjoys. And hopefully this could be the career that gives him the life he wants. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

James Blatch: Yeah, absolutely. We'll do everything we can for him. We'll definitely keep in touch with Jeffrey. It'd be nice to share a beer with him at some point in the future and in person. And, yes. It was quite funny. He said he was a bad bank robber. I think his addiction led to his crimes.

Mark Dawson: Clearly.

James Blatch: Yeah, he got caught, but he said he wasn't armed, which is probably a good thing. He probably would have got 20 or 30 years, rather than 12. But I think he just walked into the bank with a bit of paper and hoped they'd give him some money, and some of them did. But, yeah, a pretty low point in his life. And then he had, enforced by... I was going to say Her Majesty's pleasure. That's what we would say in the U.K., but at the President's pleasure, enforced period of time to reflect on that and sort himself out.

I hope I'm a reasonable judge of character, but meeting and talking to Jeffrey, he seems like a thoroughly decent guy who's going to make the most of the rest of his life. You can feel that. More motivation to do that, perhaps than we have, Mark, in our mollycoddled middle class lives we've had.

Mark Dawson: Absolutely.

James Blatch: But we're trying to make the best of it. Good. Okay. I think that's it. It's time to let the laughing gnome go, over there?

Mark Dawson: Eff off. The laughing gnome pays your mortgage, you mother-effer.

James Blatch: From this distance, people can't see the shot I can see, but you're right in the corner and you've got this pointy beard and a hat. If you held a fishing rod-

Mark Dawson: I think you better get off this podcast or you might get sacked. This is the last show in the Self Publish... There will be no more podcasts. This is it. It's over. We're done.

James Blatch: Well, good luck presenting it by yourself.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: Good. Anyway, with my career in tatters and on that career bombshell, all that remains for me to say is thank you very much indeed to our guest, Jeffrey, for joining us. Thank you to all our foundation winners and to our donors, and to Lucy especially, for organising everything. That's it for Foundation, and that's it for this episode for this week. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him...

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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