Saturday, January 17, 2015

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke's latest novel is Wayfaring Stranger.

From his Q & A with Sean Salai, S.J. at America:

Who are you writing for?

Well, I write for anyone who will read it. But I hope this book—it’s doing very well, actually—gives people a sense of traditional America. It’s my sense that my generation, born in the Great Depression, will be the last one to remember traditional America. People might say it’s nostalgic, but it’s not. There were a lot of downsides to that period—segregation, McCarthyism and other things—but there was a lot of excitement too. In the post-war era, people discovered two portals to acquiring enormous wealth. One was Hollywood and the other was the oil business. Some of these oilmen called “wildcatters” could hardly read or write, but became men of enormous wealth and power. My father was in that industry and I don’t think anyone has written about it from the inside. What people don’t understand is that the grunts on the ground who drill for the oil are the bravest people I’ve ever known—it’s really easy to get killed in that work. They’re like the cutting edge of an empire, the Roman legionaries of our age. But the guys at the top do business with baseball bats. If you call them ruthless, they’re the first ones to agree.

The hero of your book connects what you call “a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.” How much of your personal experiences influenced the story?

This is the most biographical book I’ve written, undoubtedly, and I’ve dedicated it to my beloved first cousin Weldon Benbow "Buddy" Mallette, who is the main character. He walked all across Europe and liberated an extermination camp. He came home with two Bronze Stars, the Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. Many other characters in the book were also influenced by real people. In fiction, characters tend to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue