An Interview with John T. Davis and Manning Wolfe

losers-gumbo-kindle-360x570-1In Loser’s Gumbo, the latest Bullet Book, Manning Wolfe picked music journalist John T. Davis—and one of the three writers who make up the Miles Arceneaux pseudonym—for a tale of a road weary musician who discovers a body in a drum case. As he has to clear his own name, he gets involved in a fast moving plot tied to a historic lost recording. Manning and John were kind enough to talk to us about collaborating, music, and murder.


Scott Montgomery: How did the both of you come up with the idea of Loser’s Gumbo?

John T. Davis: Given that the over-arching idea was for a murder mystery, we wanted to give it a memorable setting. Because of my experience as a music journalist and affinity for Louisiana and New Orleans and that musical climate, we decided to set the story in that environment.

Manning Wolfe: Growing up in Houston it was a common road trip to scoot down I-10 to Breaux Bridge for the Crawfish Festival or New Orleans for Mardi Gras. When J.T. and I set our reluctant hero on a path back and forth between the high rises of the Houston Medical Center and the cypress knees of the Lafayette Swamps, it was easy to visualize Mack traveling up and down the highway with his band.

SM: John, I’m assuming you’re the one who provided much of the details about a musician on the road. What did you want to get across to the reader about that life?

JT: I wanted to express the uniqueness of that lifestyle, and the commitment it requires to be successful in it. Musicians have a whole other way of relating to the world. To paraphrase a line in the book (which I originally heard from singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard), the world is divided between the “day people” and the “night people,” and it’s the job of the night people to take the day people’s money. Back when I was committing journalism for the daily paper, I naturally developed an affection for late nights and larger-than-life characters.

When I moved to Austin in 1975, it was (and still is) an incubator for all sorts of music and artists. Back then, the longhairs and the rednecks were eyeballing each other’s music with a certain wary curiosity. As a result, rock and country bred a natural, Texas-specific offspring.

As my own musical horizons began to expand, I soon became aware of fascinating sounds emanating from fabled, far-flung regions—zydeco and swamp pop from South Louisiana…greasy, horn-driven rhythm and blues from the inner city wards of Houston…Bouncing soul and street parade sass courtesy of the hoodoo piano professors and marching brass bands from New Orleans…hardcore honky-tonk country from the oilfield towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur, and ancestral country blues from East Texas.

Over the years, mostly in the line of duty but sometimes just for fun, I went out on the road with Jerry Jeff Walker, Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell, Delbert McClinton, Asleep At the Wheel, Rosie Flores, Stephen Bruton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and others. All of these guys were lifers. It was music or nothing. No one had a Plan B.

I got to see The Life from the inside of the bus, so to speak. The big festivals and tiny roadside honky-tonks. The shitty motel rooms and the steady diet of convenience store cuisine. The shady promoters and sketchy backstage hangers on. The all-nighters and the mornings after. Jerry Jeff used to say he played music for free; he got paid for all the weary miles traveling the endless highway. “Every place you go,” he once remarked, “You’ve got to be everybody’s Saturday night.” That’s a sentiment to which our protagonist, Mack Mouton, would drink a toast.

SM: As with all of the fiction you’re involved with John, the gulf area really comes alive. What makes it a great location for fiction, particularly crime fiction?

JT: The Gulf Coast region really resonates as a setting for a mystery. There’s something about the coast—the heat and humidity, the colorful characters, the quirky regional culture—that really makes a great venue for a story. Obviously, we’re not alone in this perception as great writers from James Lee Burke to John D. MacDonald to Carl Hiaasen and others have worked the same territory.

SM: Manning, you say you always learn a little from the Bullet Books authors you collaborated with. What did you get from John?

MW: When I wrote my second legal thriller, Music Notes, I incorporated a lot of the history of Texas music and musicians that I loved. I had also enjoyed a lot of jazz around Louisiana. Working with J.T. expanded my musical knowledge further to include the blended sounds that developed between Texas and Swamp country.

SM: John, was there a difference did you have in working with Manning as you did with the Miles Arceneaux crew you’ve known for decades?

JT: The main thing is that Manning and I have a professional relationship, versus the longtime personal  friendship I have with the other two “Miles” authors. That being said, her insights and perspective made for a very rewarding and enjoyable collaboration.

SM: This is a very fun read, what made it a fun one to write?

JT: As for me, I really enjoyed working in the Bullet Books framework—a fast-paced format designed, as Kinky Friedman memorably said of his own mysteries, “designed to entertain Americans in their airports.”

MW: I enjoyed the sassy dialogue that J.T. is so good at writing. Trying to match his voice was challenging, but fun, as I dug deep for my inner Cajun.


Loser’s Gumbo and other titles mentioned in this post are available to purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

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