I’ve written about James Lee Burke before, and I read this Tribute years ago when Burke was awarded the Grand Master title by the Mystery Writers of America. It came up on my Facebook feed today, and I am sharing it here as a gift…because if you have not read James Lee Burke and you are compelled to read him after reading my post, than that is what this is — a gift.
I do not believe there is a Literary genre in fiction. And I think it’s a little egotistical for a writer to claim they are writing in the Literary genre. I believe Literary is term for quality that the reader gives to a work regardless of genre. James Lee Burke writes, mostly, crime fiction, but to say he transcends genre is an understatement on the likes of saying The Great Gatsby is a nice little crime novel. Mr. Burke is THAT good. He is literary.
Like most of us, there are things that I see in my hero. Things I learn or hope to learn. There is a short line in Alafair’s beautiful tribute (she’s a good writer, as well!) about Burke’s refusal to outline or see more than a couple of scenes ahead. I first encountered this bit of Burke’s process in The Tinroof Blowdown, the post-Katrina novel mentioned in the tribute. In it, Robicheaux comments on Alafair’s (yes, the character shares a name with the author’s daughter) writing process as she is a budding author. Intrigued, I contacted Mr. Burke to ask if the fictional Alafair’s process resembled anything in his own process. Burke was kind enough to respond to me, that it was exactly his writing process. From that day forward, I became a reformed “plotter” .(That’s a nudge and a wink at all of the writers out there who say they are reformed pantsers, as if somehow becoming an outliner is a higher calling.) Writing became a lot more enjoyable. Since then I’ve learned most (not all) of my favorite authors do not outline…(and don’t rewrite).
Of course, the perseverance that Burke exhibited with The Lost Get Back Boogie is heroic, and something I regularly consider and remind myself when a case of the “why bothers” hit.
But those last two paragraphs are too much about me. Do yourself a favor. Read Alafair’s tribute. Then introduce yourself to Dave Robicheuaux and Clete Purcell, or any of Burke’s other fantastic, colorful characters.
Oh, and you’re welcome.