Sunday, September 4, 2011

75 years of an American legend

I've been very fortunate in my life - over the years I've met many amazing people, made some fantastic friends, got to see many great things, have travelled to numerous amazing places, and had many unforgettable 'trip of a lifetime' type experiences. I've been truly blessed.

Since I've become a writer, I've also got to interview many interesting and highly successful people from all walks of life, from sports stars to politicians to businesspeople to filmmakers to talented authors. It's been a pleasue, an honour and a privilege to get to spend time with such people, who are truly passionate about what they do, and learn a little bit more about them, and through them, about the wider world.

Amongst my most memorable interviews was the hour I spent on the phone last year with the incomparable James Lee Burke, a true legend of the mystery writing scene. To give you a sense of Burke, here's a paragraph from my Weekend Herald feature, describing his demeanour during our interview:

"Throughout, the 73-year-old laughs easily and often, almost explosively at times. He is unfailing polite, yet not at all stuffy or formal. He answers the phone with a jovial "Is this New Zealand calling?" then tells me to call him "Jim". Down-to-earth and humble, his soft-spoken manner and measured cadence belie some strident opinions when it comes to several things he cares deeply about, including the environment, "people of humble origin", and the purpose and importance of art."

In some ways, Burke is a modern-day renaissance man - his life story includes working as a landman for the Sinclair Oil Company, as a pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, clerk for the Louisiana Employment Service, social worker in Los Angeles skid row, and instructor in the US Job Corps. As I noted in my Herald article, you could say there are three main threads running through Burke’s various careers: working on the land (as an oil man and surveyor); working with words (as a journalist, English professor, and novelist); and working with those less fortunate (his social work and employment-related roles). Fans of his crime novels will notice clear similarities with issues and themes consistently highlighted through his writing, especially when it comes to man’s relationship with land and resources, and the stark reality of life for those at the lower end of the economic and social spectrum.

For an hour we discussed writing, art, society, politics, life, and more.

You can read the article based on our interview here.

Now in his 75th year, Burke's latest novel, FEAST DAY OF FOOLS is about to be released. In the YouTube video above he talks a little about this novel, particularly the villain, and his work and life in general.

For me, Burke is one of the true masters of the crime, mystery and thriller genre. He is a writer that many of the other writers I interview look up to, and one who strikes his own path and style - which admittedly, is not for every reader. His books are full of elegance, word-smithery, poetry and imagery, allegory and philosophy - along with plenty of crime and violence simmering through a multi-layered gumbo of a story.

As he says in another recent YouTube video, in a way all his stories have been about the use and abuse of power. About how power is used to scare and control people - in order that people can keep power.

I hope you enjoy the short video.

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