"You the guy that wrote that book?" asks the awed trucker.
"I sure is," says the author.
The Arkansan admits he only bought the book to pass the time while his 18-wheeler was being unloaded in a town in Alabama. "But I started reading on it, and it was so darn good I didn't care if they ever unloaded my truck," he exclaims. "I read it three times!"
Don't bother rushing out to your local bookstore; LeMay's page turner will not be stocked. The Tennessee Truckers Roundups available only at some 500 truck stops nationwide. But LeMay has sold 4,500 copies of the paperback, which is also available on tapes, and thus set off a modest publishing trend. Since its May 1988 release, several other truck-stop-only books have been published.
"Actually, some people think truck drivers can't read," says LeMay, who knows that's not so. He spent 40 years in the business, driving trucks, fixing them, shuffling papers in trucking offices and drinking considerably. "I had a Ph.D. in drunk," he says, but he has been in AA for 13 years. LeMay, who has five grown children, retired in 1985, and since "I'd always read books, I figured I could write one." So he did a bit of market research. "I talked to a little girl named Glenda at a place that distributes books to truck stops, and I said, 'What do truckers like to read?' She said, 'Louis L'Amour and smut'" LeMay had read L'Amour's Westerns; he'd read smut; so he sat down at the kitchen table of his trailer in the Wheel Estate Luxury Mobile Home Park in Memphis. Putting pencil to loose-leaf paper, he'd hand each finished page to his wife, Trudy, 59, and she'd type it into a Kaypro computer. What resulted was a story about a guy who starts his own trucking company, competing with the big boys. It's got a little murder, a little theft, dope, blackmail, kidnapping, sex and, in the end, just like in L'Amour, the good guys triumph.
LeMay is already working on Roundup II, also aimed at your local truck stop. "I don't know if I'm a real writer," he says. "But people buy the book I wrote, I love my life, my wife loves me, my grandson's proud of me, and I'm having fun." All LeMay has to do now is keep on trucking.
—Bill Shaw in Memphis
Big doings down at the little truck stop in Cado Mills, Texas. Novelist John L. LeMay, who sometimes calls himself "the Joseph Wambaugh of trucking," has just come into the diner, and he's autographing books in a back booth. When a trucker from Russellville, Ark., hears this, he drops his biscuit in his gravy and rushes over to meet the writer of The Tennessee Truckers Roundup.