Meet James Lee Burke, Author of The Glass Rainbow

With yet another bestseller on his hands, Louisiana author James Lee Burke kindly took a few minutes to answer questions from SLR contributor Phil Jason.

Why is it important to remind readers that Dave Robicheaux’s Vietnam War experiences have shaped him and are never really distant?  

Dave’s war experience serves as a background to the central political themes in the books, namely America’s neo-colonial empire and our military involvement in Latin America and the Mid East.

With 18 Robicheaux novels now in print, how do you keep the character fresh for yourself?

Each novel is intended to stand alone. It’s my hope also that each novel addresses a problem or issue that is more than a regional one.

Aside from a gem like Clete Purcel, which characters in the supporting cast are you most attached to?

All of them.

Are you teasing your own daughter a bit by having Dave distrust her namesake character’s taste in men?


Conveying a sense of place is obviously important to you. Can you share anything with developing writers about how to evoke a vivid sense of place?

I was influenced heavily by the naturalists, particularly James T. Farrell, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos. I’d recommend others read them as well.

Do you write by wholes or parts? Revise by wholes or parts?

I don’t have a plan when I write. I see perhaps two scenes into the story and that’s all. I revise each morning.

Are you an outliner? How would you describe your writing process?

I never outline. As Hemingway said, if the author outlines he will know the end of the story. If he knows it, so will the reader.

For me there is only one way to write. I suspect it’s like chopping cotton, you do it from cain’t-see to cain’t-see and sometimes you do it in the middle of the night. Anyone who can compartmentalize his art is a better man than I.


Burke’s work has been awarded an Edgar twice for Best Crime Novel of the Year. He has also been a recipient of a Breadloaf and Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant. Two of his novels, Heaven’s Prisoners and Two For Texas, have been made into motion pictures. His short stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, New Stories from the South, Best American Short Stories, Antioch Review, Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. His novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication by Louisiana State University press was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Learn more by visiting his website. Also, read the review of his latest bestseller, The Glass Rainbow.

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