To be born in New Orleans is simply a terrific piece of luck, especially if you’re a raconteur, but then, every person you meet anywhere has a story they’d like to tell. In New Orleans they don’t hesitate. This is a city where creativity flourishes, from the downtown art scene to the dialogues overheard in the aisles at the grocery store.
Another piece of luck is that my mother happened to be a reader and liked mysteries. I write mysteries sometimes; there was no way to avoid that after my mother read Sherlock Holmes stories to me at bedtime for years. She gave me a way to escape, and eventually a profession, and I have run with it ever since.
When I went to college I majored in journalism at Loyola because I’d been the editor of my high school newspaper, but eventually I dropped out of journalism and read my way through a B.A. in English at San Francisco State University. After college I held numerous jobs while I taught myself to write. I was a proofreader at a Los Angeles advertising agency, worked in a drug rehab center at Tulane University Medical School, left to become the costumer for a 1950s nostalgia band, ran a bookstore, and wrote for various trade journals with subjects as diverse as lounges, restaurants and electronics, until I found myself as a short order cook at a French Quarter establishment. One Saints Sunday I put too many burgers on the grill and nearly burned down the kitchen. I lost the job, but no one can argue that learning how to put out a grease fire is a good thing to know.
Soon after this debacle, I read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler and decided I wanted to write about New Orleans the way he had written about Los Angeles. So I wrote three mysteries featuring an Irish Channel detective, Neal Rafferty. Like so many other New Orleanians, Neal has a large dysfunctional but close family, and was shaped into his own peculiarities by the city where he’d been born. Those three books are The Killing Circle, A Diamond Before You Die, and The Emerald Lizard. Next I wrote Glass House, a novel based on a true incident in which a police officer was murdered on the border of one of New Orleans’ most violent housing projects. This novel took on the challenges of race and fear. While it was set in New Orleans, the problems were, and unfortunately still are, some of the tough issues that face our country.
This was followed by The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld, a biography of Norma Wallace, the French Quarter legend who ran the last wide-open parlor house in town. The book is based on Norma’s taped “confessions” and interviews with over 100 people. The Last Madam has been produced as a play and is currently under option for the screen.
In New Orleans Noir, an entry in Akashic Books great noir series, I have a story, “Night Taxi,” the only short story I’ve ever written. I’ve written essays and journalism for The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, and many other magazines, reviews and journals. I have written two screenplays which did not find a screen, a few treatments, and co-wrote and –produced a documentary, Race and the American Dream, about David Duke and his followers, first aired on PBS in 1992. My latest book is Shoot the Money, a novel that is social commentary disguised as a dark-humor crime novel. Like my other books with New Orleans settings, its themes are both those that are peculiar to New Orleans, especially in the aftermath of Katrina, and many that are more universal. Money and friendship are at the heart of this book as it explores women’s relationship with money, their desire for money, how they begin to understand what money does to those who have it, lose it, pursue it, or steal it. The women in Shoot the Money are on a rapid chase toward a better life. They’ve got the money, they’re smart and they’re daring. And they’ve got a gun. They could just whip it out and shoot somebody, but that would be way too easy.
In addition to writing, I've also spent some time at both Tulane and Loyola Universities as a visiting writer-in-residence and an adjunct professor, teaching creative writing courses. I enjoyed teaching and I've enjoyed many of the seminars I've conducted around the country as well. Inspiration and knowledge always come from those who want to learn.
Presently, I am active in the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, and I am also on the advisory board of the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing at Loyola, and I’m a founding board member of The Women’s National Book Association, New Orleans chapter (WNBA-NOLA). My interest, besides writing about the city of my birth, is to be involved in expanding the literary infrastructure of New Orleans and helping to get recognition for the vibrant literary scene here that is full of writers, editors and publishers whose talents are wonderfully diverse.