JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
LaTonya Jones, author of Southern Discomfort
Nine months after Hurricane Katrina, the stress of living in east New Orleans (dubbed “FEMA Wonderland” by its residents) has taken its toll on school teacher Janae St. John. Her marriage is in the toilet, and her flood-damaged house is uninhabitable.
Just as she is about to abandon her rebuilding efforts and leave the city for good, she is reunited with Lucien Roque, a childhood friend who promises to make all her dreams come true. But the price of Lucien’s friendship may be much more than she is willing to pay.
Aeneas “Neo” Henry, a local musician, has simple goals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Widowed by the storm, he plans to rebuild his home and reclaim his two sons, who now live hundreds of miles away in St. Louis with the in-laws who blame him for their daughter’s drowning in the flood waters that swept New Orleans. But Neo’s drinking problem threatens his plans and fight for survival in the city that’s not only his home, but the core of who he is.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the idea and inspiration to write Southern Discomfort?
LaTonya Jones: I got the idea/inspiration for this book back in 2006, when I visited East New Orleans exactly one year after the storm (Katrina). The first thing that struck me was that, after a full year, a lot of the images I’d seen on the news back in 2005 were still visible.
Seeing hacked-through rooftops, tarp-covered buildings, rusted-over cars and river silt was a surreal experience. So was seeing and talking to everyday working folks who didn’t make the news, folks who were living in FEMA trailers until their houses could be restored. I wanted to explore things from their point of view.
JP: What sets Southern Discomfort apart from other novels in its genre?
LJ: I think the main thing that sets this book apart is that it’s what I like to refer to as a hybrid. For the most part, I see myself as a writer of contemporary Southern fiction. Southern Discomfort is not what you would call literary fiction, but neither is it urban. Yet, there are definitely elements of both.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that lead to Southern Discomfort getting out to the public?
LJ: I believe, first and foremost, that an author needs to be passionate about his or her work. In order to do that, you have to spend a good deal of time really getting to know your characters. With that done, it’s easier to put yourself out there and become a tireless promoter, which is a necessity these days.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Southern Discomfort?
LJ: I guess I’m what the writing community calls a pantser, meaning I do it by the seat of my pants – no formula whatsoever. I carry a small notebook in my purse for whenever I get an idea or see an interesting character I might like to build a story around. Basically, I write when I’m inspired. That may have to change once deadlines start looming.
JP: What’s next for LaTonya Jones?
LJ: Well, book-wise, I’m about two-thirds of the way done with my next novel, which is about a retired professional baseball player and how a thoughtless action nearly ruins his family. It’s set in north Louisiana – my neck of the woods.
It’s tough, though, because Luce, a character from Southern Discomfort, is clamoring to explain his unsavory behavior. He feels like he didn’t get a fair shake. I’m also piecing together Book 3 and trying my best to rein Luce in.