James Lee Burke is an American treasure. Few writers have had the longevity that he’s had in this business, dazzling readers since his first Robicheaux novel, The Neon Rain, came out back in 1987.
Now, Dave Robicheaux is back, and this time he’s taking on one of the most personal cases of his storied career in The New Iberia Blues. Ahead of the book’s release, Burke agreed to go back on the record with us for our Five Questions segment and after he provided such great answers last time around (for last year’s Robicheaux), I was thrilled to reload and pepper him with new questions. This year, I asked the legendary author about everything from how he came up with the plot idea for his latest book to what advice he has for new and aspiring writers. Once again, Burke offered some great responses, including a teaser for his next book, which is slated to come out in 2020.
Read the full Q&A below, then click here to order your copy of The New Iberia Blues, in stores everywhere Tuesday, January 8th.
TRBS: Robicheaux is back! How did you come up with the plot details for The New Iberia Blues, and what kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write it?
Burke: “I’m afraid I don’t do much research, in fact, almost none. The characters and the plot and the material seem to live in the unconscious. I never know where a book of mine is going, not even as I write the last two or three pages. Shakespeare said all power lies in our dreams. In his blindness, John Milton said he woke at dawn to darkness; his hours of illumination lived inside his sleep. Who am I to argue with these guys?”
TRBS: What is your writing process like, and how (if at all) has it changed over the years? Do you outline, have a target word count that you try to hit each day?
Burke: “I start writing after I feed the horses, then I write until I’m tired, and then I work out at a club. I work in the evening and also in the middle of the night, and keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand. I do this seven days a week. If I can write 750 good words, the kind I want to keep, I feel happy.
“The enemy of art is fatigue. A writer can do many things well when he’s tired, but writing well is not one of them. In regard to changes in my writing habits, the big difference today is my ability to write full time and not worry about another job or finances. The real heroes are the guys and ladies who get up early and write and then report at an office or a construction job or a restaurant or an English department and then go home at night and try to write again. That takes moxie.”
TRBS: What advice do you have for new or aspiring writers?
Burke: “My advice to any artist is the same: Don’t ever lose faith in your gift; it’s there for a reason. Stomp butt and take names, and leave the naysayers in the rear-view mirror. Those who will try to discourage you and demean your work or your lack of commercial success do so for only one reason: They’re so bloody jealous their eyes cross. The ability to create is the one area the artist, and the artist alone, shares uniquely with God. It’s a votive connection. That’s not a bad credential to have in your backpack.”
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite writers, and what was the last great book you read?
Burke: “I learned from: Flannery O’Conner, Ernest Hemingway, James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos, Katherine Anne Porter, William Faulkner, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, Somerset Maugham. John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Neihardt, A.B. Guthrie, Erskin Caldwell, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, and Jack Kerouac. There are many more. The lesson, however, is to read only good writers. Treat bad writing as you would flypaper.
“I recently read a fine book about Woody Guthrie’s creation of ‘This Is Your Land’ and its evolution for the last seventy-five years. Yep, that’s right, a biography about Woody and the unofficial national anthem. The green republic is still out there, but I believe it’s in serious peril.”
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for Robicheaux, and when can readers expect to see him again?
Burke: “I’m working on a novel titled Born to Be With You. It and Robicheaux and The New Iberia Blues are intended to be a trilogy about the era in which we find ourselves. TNIB ends with a tribute to Woody. I think it’s the best book in the series.”
The shocking death of a young woman leads Detective Dave Robicheaux into the dark corners of Hollywood, the mafia, and the backwoods of Louisiana in this gripping mystery from “modern master” (Publishers Weekly) James Lee Burke.
Detective Dave Robicheaux’s world isn’t filled with too many happy stories, but Desmond Cormier’s rags-to-riches tale is certainly one of them. Robicheaux first met Cormier on the streets of New Orleans, when the young, undersized boy had foolish dreams of becoming a Hollywood director.
Twenty-five years later, when Robicheaux knocks on Cormier’s door, it isn’t to congratulate him on his Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Robicheaux has discovered the body of a young woman who’s been crucified, wearing only a small chain on her ankle. She disappeared near Cormier’s Cyrpemort Point estate, and Robicheaux, along with young deputy, Sean McClain, are looking for answers. Neither Cormier nor his enigmatic actor friend Antoine Butterworth are saying much, but Robicheaux knows better.
As always, Clete Purcel and Davie’s daughter, Alafair, have Robicheaux’s back. Clete witnesses the escape of Texas inmate, Hugo Tillinger, who may hold the key to Robicheaux’s case. As they wade further into the investigation, they end up in the crosshairs of the mob, the deranged Chester Wimple, and the dark ghosts Robicheaux has been running from for years. Ultimately, it’s up to Robicheaux to stop them all, but he’ll have to summon a light he’s never seen or felt to save himself, and those he loves.
Stephen King hailed New York Times bestselling author James Lee Burke “as good as he ever was.” Now, with The New Iberia Blues, Burke proves that he “remains the heavyweight champ, a great American novelist whose work, taken individually or as a whole, is unsurpassed” (Michael Connelly).
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor, and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.