My latest guest on Razored Zen Author Interview is Kent Westmoreland. Kent is the first author I’ve interviewed who lives in my geographical area. He resides in New Orleans now, though originally he hails from a farm. Like me. His was in North Carolina, mine in Arkansas. As Kent says, he eventually “stumbled into New Orleans and never made it out.” We’ve met a number of times. I first got to know Kent when he and I were in a writer’s group together. We met at a local bar called Cooter Brown’s. That’s about all I can tell you. Perhaps that’s enough.
Most recently, I attended a talk and a signing by Kent for his book BARONNE STREET, a detective novel in the grand tradition. It’s available in both trade paperback and Kindle. I read it, enjoyed it, and reviewed it on Amazon here. Without further ado, here’s Kent. (RZ represents Razored Zen and I’m sure you can figure out what KW stands for.)
RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Hometown. Family. Job. That sort of thing.
KW: I don’t think I have been to Cooter Brown’s since the writers group stopped meeting. We exchanged some good ideas during those elbow bending sessions.
My personal story is not exciting. My parents were generous and loving; I have no sad stories of being tortured and abused. However, I made their lives a living hell.
The stork dropped me in rural North Carolina on a farm with cows and chickens; a situation I never really cottoned to (a nod to my native vernacular). But the location came with my parents and a pretty cool older brother, so there are no complaints.
After high school I moved to Charlotte and spent a few years drink and stupid before eventually attending college to become a software developer.
A few years after college I wound up in New Orleans as a stopping point on my way to south Florida. I never made it to south Florida
My day job is project manager for a company that provides banking software and technology services. My wife, Leslie, is CPA. We live in uptown New Orleans with three cats.
RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire? Is there something about growing up on a farm that makes one want to write?
KW: Before I started to school I would dictate stories to my grandmother. I don’t know if she actually transcribed them or made a grocery list as I rambled about Civil War battles. The stories most likely had no plot, characterization, or point.
In second grade I started writing stories that were what you might expect from a seven year old -super heroic fantasies featuring me.
In junior high and high school, I wrote a number of short stories that were mostly period pieces: westerns, civil war, post-civil war. One story was set at the Woodstock music festival. I did write a an alternative history novella with the same premise, but different storyline, as the movie Red Dawn. It was quite dreadful as I recall.
After high school I put writing on the back burner. I wanted to focus on a financially rewarding career, a health plan and a 401K. My life has always been a left brain/right brain struggle with the left brain usually dominating. A few years ago I knew it was time to start writing again. The result was BARONNE STREET.
RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.
KW: In BARONNE STREET my goal was to tweak the traditional detective novel format. I started with the format pioneered by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. To give the novel a more post-modern attitude I studied The Horse Latitudes by Robert Ferrigno. To create an atmosphere of decadence and ennui, I listened to the music of early and mid-period Roxy Music while writing the novel.
Burleigh Drummond, the protagonist, has a self-aware, sardonic voice I borrowed from the narrator of the Kurt Vonnegut pastiche Venus on the Half-Shell which was written by Phillip Jose Farmer. Drummond shares DNA with James West from the TV series The Wild, Wild West. What I always loved about James West is wherever he went people said: “There’s James West, secret agent for the Secret Service”. It was so absurd. But I realized this would happen to Drummond since he operates in small, insular New Orleans, a city with only three degrees of separation instead of six. So I worked that concept into the novel and the stories. Drummond seldom engages anyone who doesn’t know him or know of him.
RZ: Kent, much of your fiction, BARONNE STREET included, is set in the New Orleans area. What is it about this area that attracts you as a writer?
KW: Initially I had planned to base the Burleigh Drummond series in Palm Beach, but Lawrence Sanders had beaten me to that locale with his fine Archie McNally series. In retrospect Palm Beach would have been the wrong choice. Palm Beach is less of a city and more of a winter vacation community for the ultra-wealthy; they only stay for “The Season”. And then there is all that beautiful sunshine, white sand, and crystal-blue ocean. Burleigh Drummond needed to operate in a dark city with darker secrets.
Then I wandered into New Orleans. A city filled with secret societies whose members don masks once a year and toss trinkets to the masses. The bluebloods make backroom deals to restrain new business and influence politicians. The politicians bleed every dime from the city coffers and do nothing for the city. Then the bluebloods and politicians dance together at formal balls while the city decays. New Orleans was the perfect location for Burleigh Drummond to set up shop
RZ: Writing can be hard work. What motivates you to keep going? What inspires you?
KW: Writing is hard work. That left brain/right brain struggle keeps me from producing more. The second Drummond novel is abandoned. I admire writers like you who not only produce a lot of stories, but are prolific in subject matter.
RZ: What are you working on currently? And what’s next for you?
KW: I am working on a spec screenplay which will be marketed to production companies that make straight-to-video and TV movies. I think that avenue is less of a long shot to sell than a novel and more lucrative. That’s the left brain winning again.
RZ: What work is available from you right now, and where can readers find it? Is there a place online where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?
KW: In addition to BARONNE STREET, I currently have two short stories in Kindle format on Amazon.com. Ash Wednesday and Price Tag Attached. Both feature Burleigh Drummond.
Ash Wednesday is a re-telling of Cinderella with Drummond in the fairy godmother role. The Kindle edition has two versions of the story. The first version originally appeared in the anthology Erotic New Orleans and reads like a vintage Penthouse Forum letter. The second is safe to use as bedtime story and was published in Thrilling Detective magazine. An Amazon reviewer said the Kindle package is a good example of “how the same story can be written so differently”.
Price Tag Attached is collaboration with O’Neil De Noux. Drummond assists New Orleans homicide detective Jodie Kintyre in solving the murder of a French Quarter antiques dealer. Jodie is a character from O’Neil’s Dino La Stanza series. Since the La Stanza series exists in the 1980’s and Drummond is set in modern times I guess we have to term this work an alternative history mystery. The story was originally published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
My web site is www.KentWestmoreland.com. That's here. If anyone wants to contact me directly my email address is Kent@KentWestmoreland.com.
RZ: Kent, thanks for visiting Razored Zen.
KW: Charles, thanks for inviting me. We need to go back to Cooter Brown’s. In addition to your company I miss the dark German beer and the pastrami sandwiches.