Q. Another Kind of Eden is the latest in your Holland family saga, following the Holland family in Texas. How does this standalone novel impact the whole?
James: The narrator is Aaron Holland Broussard, the narrator of The Jealous Kind, one of the three best novels I have written. As you say it is a standalone book, but it continues the story of the Holland family and the history of the American Plains. The story takes place just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous week the planet has ever experienced. It is also a doorway into the cultural changes during the 1960s, a struggle that for good or bad we still find ourselves hopelessly inside.
I have never published a book like this one. It goes deep into the supernatural. It also deals with the advent of the drug culture, the unionization of the farm workers in Colorado, and the Ludlow Massacre. The romantic story of Aaron and the Texas waitress Jo Anne McDuffy is one of the best I have written.
Q. A theme that runs through many of your works is the menace, even evil, that lurks beneath the surface of people and places. What do your works have to tell us about the present?
James: Yes, I have written about the war between good and evil since I wrote my first novel, Half of Paradise. The themes have never changed. Geographically the great epic in America lies in the West, not the East. As my old teacher John Neihardt told me, civilization follows the sun. Since the Louisiana Purchase two groups of people have tried to leave their imprint on the West, those who would preserve its mystical beauty and those who would turn it into a gravel pit. Ironically the Clanton gang would have left everything unchanged; the Earps made the West safe for corporations and arguably the theft of half the continent.
Q. The story goes that many of the characters from the Holland family come from real people on your mother’s side of the family, including Sam Holland who killed nine men in gun duels before becoming a saddle preacher. How do you research them?
James: I have never done much research and have simply let the characters in the story walk onto the page. The American West was a state of mind or, better said, an outdoor mental asylum filled with the best dramatic characters since the actors on the stage of the Globe Theater. I sometimes ask myself this question: Would I rather walk around with an iPhone glued to the side of my head or go back in time and have dinner with the Rose of Cimarron and Sam Houston and Etta Place and Black Elk and Bill Hickock and Cochise and the Angel of Goliad?
Q. Your daughter, Alafair Burke, is a celebrated crime novelist in her own right. What amount of influence have you had on her, or she on you?
James: Since she was a little girl Alafair has always gone her own way. At age five she could read aloud from Cool Hand Luke. Her IQ is not measurable. She wrote her first short story in the first grade. It was titled “The Roller Rink Murder Mystery.” She graduated at the top of her class at Stanford Law. My wife and I are extremely proud of her, as we are of our other children.
By the way, after I have said these things about Alafair to other people, there has been a pause, coupled with a blank look, invariably followed by, “Your wife must be so intelligent!”
Q. What are you working on now?
James: I have just completed a book set in Montana and also narrated by Aaron Holland Broussard. I have never seen a book like it. That may seem vain, but it’s the truth. It deals heavily with the supernatural and is a testimony to our daughter Pamala.
James Lee Burke's Latest
The American West in the early 1960s appears to be a pastoral paradise: golden wheat fields, mist-filled canyons, frolicking animals. Aspiring novelist Aaron Holland Broussard has observed it from the open door of a boxcar, riding the rails for both inspiration and odd jobs.
Jumping off in Denver, he finds work on a farm and meets Joanne McDuffy, an articulate and fierce college student and gifted painter. Their soul connection is immediate, but their romance is complicated by Joanne’s involvement with a shady professor who is mixed up with a drug-addled cult. When a sinister businessman and his son who wield their influence through vicious cruelty set their sights on Aaron, drawing him into an investigation of grotesque murders, it is clear that this idyllic landscape harbors tremendous power—and evil. Followed by a mysterious shrouded figure who might not be human, Aaron will have to face down all these foes to save the life of the woman he loves and his own.
The latest installment in James Lee Burke’s masterful Holland family saga, Another Kind of Eden is both riveting and one of Burke’s most ambitious works to date. It dismantles the myths of both the twentieth-century American West and the peace-and-love decade, excavating the beauty and idealism of the era to show the menace and chaos that lay simmering just beneath the surface.