What: Born in Brittany, France, Ro boxed for several years as a teenager and dropped out of high school to play guitar in a band. He has lived in France, San Francisco, the Caribbean, and Brooklyn, and finally settled in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. His fiction has appeared in Crimespree Magazine and Thuglit. He is the author of UNDER THE DIXIE MOON and UNDER THE CARIB SUN.
Where: New Orleans
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Bouchercon is coming to your town this week. What’s the BEST advice you have for first time visitors to New Orleans? More importantly, what’s the WORST advice?
I know this will be hard to do for some Bouchercon visitors in the 3-4 days they’ll be down here, but remember that New Orleans is much more than the French Quarter. Try to get out and explore the city a bit. Not getting shit-faced on Day 1 helps. If nothing else, at least ride one of the streetcars, either the classic green line along St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park, or the red one to City Park (incidentally a better place to get coffee and beignets than Cafe du Monde, at Morning Call: no wasted time waiting in line for an hour). And this is something you can do hungover or even drunk.
The worst advice would be to tell you to go explore the streets of the Quarter drunk and alone after 2 a.m. You’re bound to get robbed. Or worse.
How long have you lived in New Orleans? What made you move there?
I’ve been in New Orleans eleven years now. Moved down here for the weather after four years in NYC. I love New York but I just couldn’t handle another winter there, especially after living in the Caribbean (where I’d spent the preceding four years). We were just getting settled in Louisiana when Katrina hit. So, yeah… the weather.
Your excellent Adel Destin series is also set in New Orleans. What was the inspiration for the first novel, UNDER THE DIXIE MOON?
Thanks! My first three years down here were so intense, and also such a blur, I just had to write about it—the city itself, what we’d just gone through with the storm and flooding. The mess of the recovery process. All these different people and situations I got exposed to while bartending at King Bolden’s (my friend Mario’s joint in the Quarter and the inspiration for Adel’s bar in UNDER THE DIXIE MOON). I wanted to use all this somehow.
Junkies have to be very resourceful individuals, especially those who can’t hold a steady job. You spend your entire day thinking about your next fix, where to get more dope, how to get money to get more dope—planning, scheming, lying (junkies are professional liars). You put yourself in insanely dangerous situations without thinking twice about it because you’ll do anything, go anywhere, to get high. Getting dope is your number one purpose in life, everything else becomes secondary. And that’s one of the hardest things about getting clean—they really don’t know what to do with themselves.
All that energy that went into the constant daily hustle that used to be their life. You have to learn to focus it on something else if you want to stay clean, find a new purpose for it. Like running down clues, as Adel does in the book. It’s also a world he knows very well. Junkies tend to dwell at, or at least straddle, the edge of society. Some, like Adel, were full-blown criminals.
Many of the characters in the book are drug addicts, dealers and hookers—but the police are the least trustworthy. Did you set out to portray them that way, or did that develop as you wrote?
Writing a crime story in New Orleans without dirty cops would be like omitting the crime. So yeah, I definitely set out to portray them that way. And while I do think there are more good cops than bad cops out there, it seems like many think they’re above the law. Could be something as ‘innocent’ as parking in front of a hydrant. Or speeding in a school-zone. I see plenty of the latter in Nola, which, as a father of a school-age kid, infuriates me to no end. Give human beings any power, and nine times out of ten they’ll end up abusing it in one way or another—in my experience, at least. And cops are human beings. How far they’ll abuse that power depends on the kind of people they are…
The second book in the series, UNDER THE CARIB SUN, is actually a prequel. Did you have this back story in mind already when you wrote UNDER THE DIXIE MOON? How did it come about?
UNDER THE CARIB SUN was originally written as a semi-autobiographic story of my time in St. Barts during the mid to late nineties and predates UNDER THE DIXIE MOON. It was my agent’s suggestion that I adapt it into an Adel story somehow, and that’s how the prequel idea came about. It really came down to merging that original St. Barts novel with the short back story I’d created for Adel.
How did writing a prequel differ from your approach to the first novel? Any specific challenges to it?
In this case it was mostly a lot of rewriting and rearranging. Keeping it in the nineties helped. For one thing, I know very little of what life on St. Barts is like these days (though I can’t imagine it’s changed very much). And I would have had to update the technology—very few people on the island had cell phones or internet back then—which in turn would have forced me to do a lot more rewriting plot-wise.
Will the next Adel Destin novel take us to the distant future?
The next book uses a split timeline between 2006, a few month after Katrina hit (before the events of Dixie Moon), and 2016, shortly after the ten-year anniversary of the storm. It involves a missing stash of heroin and a police shooting.
What are some of your favorite crime and mystery books set in New Orleans?
James Lee Burke’s THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN is a classic for me. Also James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series.
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S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in Sept. 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.