Saddened to hear of the death of Ray Bradbury. He was a child at heart, a genius, an inspiration. Here is the poem he sent me once, besides answering every letter I wrote him as a young beginning writer in awe of his stories. He was the real deal. Fantastic, universal, with an unerring sense of what matters most in the human heart.

Ray Bradbury

Jonathan Lowe


by Jonathan Lowe


James Lee Burke Interview

James Lee BurkeIf ever someone asks me “which author impressed you most?” the name James Lee Burke inevitably passes my lips.  In addition to Ray Bradbury and Clive Cussler, he has most influenced me to become a writer, too.  He is best known for his offbeat and moody mystery novels featuring a former police detective turned bait shop owner, Dave Robicheaux.  Many authors write mysteries, but this man has no peers.  I spoke with him via phone at his home in Montana a few years back.

JONATHAN LOWE: You’re in Montana now, where your novel Bitterroot was set.  I take it you’re what they call in Arizona a “snowbird?”

JAMES LEE BURKE: Well, I guess that’s fair to say. We live in Louisiana part of the year.

Lowe:  It is New Iberia or Lafayette, Louisiana where you go in the winter?

Burke:  New Iberia, now, which is a couple hours west of New Orleans.

Lowe:  What is your background. When did you start writing?

Burke:  A long time ago. I published my first story when I was 19, and my first novel back in the mid-1960s.  It was titled Half of Paradise. After college, and before Black Cherry Blues, I did a lot of other things to make money, and that included teaching, social work, driving a truck, and working in the Texas oil fields.

Lowe:  Where did your characters Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland come from?  You seem to be alternating point of view between those two in some of your books, much like you alternate between states yourself during the year.

Burke: Well, all the characters have been published in over twenty books now.  I think they all have the same origin, and are composite biographical characters, but have a reality of their own.  Like any writer, I draw from the subconscious.  The elements of myth, which comes from the unconscious, figures into it, and there are allusions from classical literature too.

Lowe:  You’re one of my personal favorite authors, and I can tell you why. It’s because you don’t use lazy clichés like “he screamed like a stuck pig,” something I read in a bestseller by another author who shall be nameless.

Burke: (laughs)

Lowe:  I also like it that you actually take the time to create images, making characters out of objects and settings. Just like John D. MacDonald did in the Travis McGee series. Who are your favorite authors, and who influenced you?

Burke: I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, and Gerald Manley Hopkins, and William Faulkner.

Lowe: You’ve been compared to William Faulkner, who used stream-of-consciousness as a literary device.

Burke:  Well, that’s an old method. The Sound and the Fury is one of the best books we have.

Lowe:  What do you think about the state of fiction today?  I’m pretty disappointed with the serial killer sub-genre.  I don’t want to know who-dun-it, but rather why they did it. Get the feeling you’re the same, true?

Burke:  I feel that the psychological story as narrative art is what interests me. Hemingway did it well, and you can spend a lifetime learning it.

Lowe:  Will Patton is the perfect narrator for your own stories on audio. He’s got the accents down, but more than that, the attitudes of the characters. Very believable.

Burke:  He’s done a very good job, and also Mark Hammer on the unabridged. They’re both excellent as narrators.

Lowe:  My favorite book of yours is Sunset Limited, I’m not sure why. The last CD of that one contains some of the best writing I’ve ever heard.

Burke:  Thank you.

Lowe:  Do you have a favorite?  I suppose you have to say it’s your latest, in answer to that question, though, right?

Burke:  Well, actually, my favorite is Purple Cane Road. Everything came together on that one.

Lowe:  Thank you for that. It’s a great novel as well.  Very personal and also a culmination of redemption for its first person point of view character.  What about Bitterroot?

Burke:  Well, it’s set in Montana, about a former Texas lawman who helps a friend in trouble and then runs into a prison parolee who’s out for revenge. That’s the overview, anyway.

Lowe:  What was your Hollywood experience like?  I loved your movie Heaven’s Prisoners, which starred Alec Baldwin.

Burke:  Yes, it was adapted, and my experience on that was really good. Everyone on the creative team very vibrant.  Of course in Hollywood it’s all a matter of money.  If you have a hundred million for the budget, you can take anything and make it look good.  It doesn’t take much to be a producer, either, besides knowing how to write a gaudy bill.  You just get you director Michael Mann and screenwriter Joe Esterhaus, and you’re off to the races! (laughs)

Lowe:  So is there another movie in the future, do you think, based on another book?

Burke:  I don’t know, I kinda stay away from that.

Lowe:  Do you work all the time, or just part of the year? A book a year, or more?

Burke:  Oh, I work all the time. I work every day, seven days a week.  It’s what I do. Been at it for a long, long time. 

Download his novels on audio HERE.

(em)Powered by Ray Bradbury


When Ray Bradbury was interviewed about Fahrenheit 451, he said that the book wasn’t about censorship, as is widely believed, but rather about his fear that television was lowering our attention span and incinerating our imagination.  “There are worse things than burning books,” he said, “and one of these is not reading them.”  And so I dedicate my novella “Who Moved My TV?” to Ray Bradbury, whose work inspired me to write, and who once signed his response to a letter I sent him, (mentioning I’d never really known my father), with “your honorary papa.”  The novella features two rats who become more intelligent as the bachelor living in the home they’ve invaded watches ever more television…and becomes dumber by the day.
Once upon a time, not long ago nor far away, there lived two sewer rats whose names were Duff and Tuff. Like most ignorant rodents looking to survive, they didn’t always have names, nor were they always friends. In fact, neither of them had even so much as sampled dumpster nachos together until one day a rain surge flooded the tunnel into which they’d run, and ejected them from their dark culvert, high up onto a soggy lawn in the forbidden daylight of Overground.
At first the two were terrified, and unable to move. They just looked at each other for the first time, splayed out as they were on the wet grass, with their slick hair matted down. Then the one to be known as Duff said, “you ugly.”
Oddly, this statement got no reaction, even though it occurred somehow to Duff himself that it wasn’t a very nice (much less constructive) observation to make. Here, in the daymare realm of suburban lunacy, it had just seemed so appropriate that Duff felt no guilt at all. So he repeated himself. “Did you hear me?” Duff asked. “I said ‘you ugly.'”
Now the other rat, as yet immobile, merely stared past him at the drainage culvert from which they had both been ejected, yet seemed to feel no disgrace or outrage at Duff’s statement. And when he finally did reply, it was with another odd question. which was, “What’s ugly?”
Duff was puzzled by this response, and then felt a sense of awe overwhelming his terror as he realized that he really shouldn’t know what the word ugly meant, either. After all, with what was he making a comparison? Considering it, Duff eventually concluded that there was something about being here–on this beautiful green lawn in broad daylight–that had somehow influenced such thoughts. Perhaps the very act of noticing how beautiful it was had somehow done it, if not considering the very concept of beautiful. In any event, the next thing he said was, “You Tuff.”
“Tuff?” asked Tuff, perplexed.
Duff sighed, having noticed that Tuff had not only lifted his head, (while dodging the insults hurled at him), but had also managed to stand and swish his tail, allowing a warm breeze heated by the sun to dry out his fur. Duff tried to stand up himself, and failed.
“Tuff,” repeated Tuff, noticing how pathetic his new companion now looked by comparison. “I guess I am Tuff!” Then he frowned, which in sewer rats consisted of flashing one’s lower teeth. “But you. . . you better get up off your duff and act tuff, or we both be seen, sure enough.”
“Duff?” Duff queried.
“Well, it rhymes, doesn’t it?”
Sure enough, thought Duff. Then he looked over at the big, ominous house on whose lawn they’d been exiled, and back at the dark drainage culvert which had finally stopped gushing brown water. “Can you help me get up? You know, I haven’t competed in as many races as you have. I’ve been more. . .of a spectator. Like from the side tunnels? In the dark? With the food?”
Tuff clicked his teeth in derision, which among most mute sewer rats easily translated as laughter. Then he scuttled over to nab a flap of fat on Duff’s duff, lifting his hind legs into the air.
“Ouuuuuu!” protested Duff. Yet with his legs soon under him, instead of splayed out on either side, he did see method behind Tuff’s madness. When Tuff bit down on his neck in order to lift his front side, though, Duff had to bite his own tongue to avoid the embarrassment of crying out like a wimpy mouse.
Once upright, and facing the culvert where they hoped to escape danger, Duff felt a little better, until he had another surprising thought, which was to wonder whether any other members of their pack had even survived the flash flood, or if they were indeed the sole survivors–the only tail swishers left. “What if,” he said, “we go back down there, and. . .and they’re all dead.”
“Dead?” said Tuff.
“And what if,” added Duff, “there’s been another flash flood? What then?”
“Then we die,” Tuff concluded.
“Yeah. Think about that one.”
“Well, how can I? I’ve never thought about it before. I mean, up to now it’s just been a matter of. . . .”
“Right. Like staying out of sight. Like dodging black cats at night.”
“Or a wall of brown water?”
“We got lucky there, pal. Not so lucky if we stay here, I fear.”
Duff nodded, and looked back at the house, which was huge and bright. Whiter than any house he’d seen at night, and just like the house on the left and on the right. Then he realized that these houses were always white, even at night. He had just never realized it!
“Wow, think of that,” he said.
“What?” asked Tuff.
Duff didn’t answer, since a new thought had just come to him with startling clarity. It was, indeed, a flash of genius, this self awareness. A thing he suspected few rodents had ever been privileged to experience, being afraid of the sun, as they were.
I THINK, was his thought, THEREFORE I AM.
Then, quite inexplicably, he felt impelled that they should go in search of something he now knew was called cheese.

(Continued, from Who Moved My TV?, an audiobook narrated by Christopher Vournazos.)

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