James Lee Burke is my favorite living writer (and he is a writer…he continues to write into his 80s). He’s also my literary hero. Those two things aren’t necessarily inclusive, but for me Burke is both things.
The hero part comes from his persistence in getting his novel The Lost Get Back Boogie published. Burke was published in his twenties and met with some critical acclaim for his literary novels. Then, he went nearly a decade without being published. Boogie was rejected over 100 times by editors before finding a home with LSU Press. It went one to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His next novel was The Neon Rain, a literary detective novel which paved the way for his best-selling career. He’s also my hero for being a “literary” genre writer. He is without any doubt in my mind the greatest living American writer of prose. Seriously, I’d put his craft up against Pynchon, DeLillo, Morrison and McCarthy any day. Burke comes out on top in this reader’s mind.
In today’s environment of ghostwriting and collaborative, Patterson-esque writing, it would be easy to conclude that 80+ year old Burke may go down that path. But only if you have never read his work. His voice (see yesterday’s post) is so compelling, so unique that it simply cannot be replicated.
No, we will know when Burke has stopped writing. Unfortunately, it will be when he has passed.
There are plenty of reasons that he is my favorite writer that has nothing to do with him being my hero, though.
He writes vividly of setting. (One of those settings being lush, south Louisiana)
His characters are colorful, larger than life beings.
He writes unapologetically of the violent tendencies of man. And he does so in a way that makes you realize that the violence victimizes the inflictor as much as the victim.
His explorations of evil are downright Biblical.
He believably covers themes of the struggles of the poverty stricken in the face of greed.
He does all of the above in the mystery/crime genre framework.
April Writing Stats
April 1 – 1038
April 2 – 1072
Total – 2110 words