Guest Post: Miles Arceneaux on Writing the Gulf Coast

With May being Texas Mystery Writers Month we will have several guest blogs during May from crime fiction writers in our home state writing about the Lone Star Life. We start with John Davis, Brent Douglass, and James Davis who together write under the name “Miles Arceneaux.” Here, Miles describes the setting for their books, The Texas Gulf Coast.

Miles Arceneaux will be speaking and signing their latest collaborative effort, North Beachon Wednesday, May 4th, at 7 PM. Miles will be joined by Irish crime writer Paul Charles, touring with his new Inspector Starrett mystery, St. Ernan’s Blues. 

Guest post by Miles Arceneaux

 

Though the issues in my books, including the clash of cultures, the erosion of time, the nature of friendship and loyalty, might (I hope) seem nuanced, the characters at the heart of the story are pretty simple. I write about men and women you can root for and enjoy hanging out with, bad guys who are low-down sons of bitches who get what’s coming to them and supporting characters who make you laugh, shake your head or maybe both.

The dilemma of writing mysteries set on the Texas Gulf Coast isn’t an absence of compelling characters to drive the plot and flesh out the scenery. On the contrary, there’s too damn many of ‘em to ever winnow down, even over the course of four (so far) novels.

It’s an embarrassment of riches, folks. What the Texas coast lacks in terms of sun-kissed white sand beaches, beautiful people and tony resorts (instead of Donald Trump’s sumptuous Mar-A-Lago, we’ve got the No Esta Aquí Lounge, featuring u-peel-‘em shrimp and cockfights on Sundays), we make up for in local color.

Always have. The stomping ground for my characters is Texas’ Coastal Bend, which runs roughly between Galveston and Corpus Christi. It’s a complex and fascinating array of bays, barrier islands, estuaries and wetlands that has been a magnet for dingbats and reprobates ever since Texas’ first tourist, Spanish castaway Cabeza de Vaca, stumbled ashore near Galveston in 1528, only to encounter our first Chamber of Commerce, in the form of the six-foot tall, tattooed, alligator grease-coated, ritualistically cannibalistic Karankawa Indians.

Since then the area has been as popular as Padre Island to spring breakers among a historically diverse human subset of pirates, freebooters, smugglers, colorful drunkards, pennyante empire builders, refugees and fugitives of every description, silver-tongued conmen (and women), top-shelf bullshit artists, and congenitally lying fishermen. There have been female temptresses who can turn gold wedding bands into cheap pewter with a glance, and men who have changed their names and fled to sea to escape them.

Let’s put it this way: If Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, the Coen Brothers, Molly Ivins (RIP), Gabriel Garcia Marquez and any local fishing guide sat on the deck of a Port Aransas oyster bar pounding Papa Doble daiquiris for, oh, all night, they might have come up with my fictional counterpoints of the real-life characters who give the Coastal Bend its savor.

It’s close to a photo finish, but I’d say on the balance I enjoy writing about the women of the Texas Coast more than their male counterpoints. The women not only have to put up with the men, they frequently have to force Joe Bob et.al. to confront, sometimes under extreme duress, the better angels of their nature.

In one of my tales, a particularly enterprising fry cook picked up a cast iron skillet and did a Joe DiMaggio off the skull of a B-list gangster. In other areas of the country, this might be construed as assault. In my part of the world it’s considered behavior modification. As a West Texas buddy of mine once remarked, he never understood all the fuss about Women’s Lib: “All the chicks I know are armed,” he remarked.

BookPeople, MysteryPeople and especially Scott Montgomery have been surpassingly supportive since my debut thriller starring the Sweetwater clan, Thin Slice of Life, was published in 2012. Likewise with LaSalle’s Ghost, Ransom Island and, most lately, North Beach. I’m humbly grateful. Still, with all respect to Scott and MysteryPeople, I’m not certain these epistles fall neatly into any “mystery” category. They are not locked-room mysteries by any means, neither are they noir, hard- boilers nor whodunits. I guess “comedic novel of suspense” about covers it, though that takes up a lot of real estate on a book jacket. Still, it’s a mystery to me what’s gonna happen to all these rascals when I start out on a new one, so there is that.

Since then the area has been as popular as Padre Island to spring breakers among a historically diverse human subset of pirates, freebooters, smugglers, colorful drunkards, pennyante empire builders, refugees and fugitives of every description, silver-tongued conmen (and women), top-shelf bullshit artists, and congenitally lying fishermen. There have been female temptresses who can turn gold wedding bands into cheap pewter with a glance, and men who have changed their names and fled to sea to escape them.

Though the issues in my books, including the clash of cultures, the erosion of time, the nature of friendship and loyalty, might (I hope) seem nuanced, the characters at the heart of the story are pretty simple. I write about men and women you can root for and enjoy hanging out with, bad guys who are low-down sons of bitches who get what’s coming to them and supporting characters who make you laugh, shake your head or maybe both.

We’re not talking Dostoyevsky here.

In the end, to paraphrase our former future governor (cq) Kinky Friedman, I write to entertain Americans in their airports, by their swimming pools and on their skiffs when the fish aren’t biting.

There is a thing called a “Texas Fairy Tale.” A regular fairy tale, say about Cinderella and them, starts out “Once upon a time…” A Texas fairy tale, on the other hand, begins, “You ain’t gonna believe this bullshit…”

So that’s me: Miles Arceneaux, Texas fairy tale writer. Let’s drink to that.

Miles Arceneaux will be speaking and signing their latest collaborative effort, North Beach, on Wednesday, May 4th, at 7 PM. Miles will be joined by Irish crime writer Paul Charles, touring with his new Inspector Starrett mystery, St. Ernan’s Blues. 

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Miles Arceneaux on Writing the Gulf Coast

  1. […] are looking forward to hosting author Paul Charles along with the three writers who make up Miles Arceneaux on Wednesday, May 11th. His latest novel featuring Inspector Starrett has the policeman and his […]

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