Michael Allen Zell’s thrid book, Run Baby Run was just published by Lavender Ink. A slight departure from Zell’s previous work, Run Baby Run is a crime novel set in New Orleans. NoDef sat down with the author to gain some quick insight into the story and its relation to the City.
Describe your book in three sentences?
I’ll go with the official description that we developed. Criminologist Bobby Delery has just returned to New Orleans after decades away, and NOPD is begging for his help to find almost a million dollars stolen from a French Quarter club. He’s only one of many after the money, though. Thieves, church-goers, and everyone else ride the sweaty pace from the Ninth Ward to the foot of Canal Street.
Beyond the setting, how does New Orleans play into Run Baby Run?
New Orleans is essentially an ongoing character in each of these books. One review actually criticized me for too much geographical content. I want anyone who is born and raised here to recognize the details. The setting is a New Orleans that exists today, but also one that is heightened for the sense of this book. (It was a little bizarre that some elements of the book—that I considered absurd— have actually come to pass).
So, sense of place is key.
I want this to be a book that a person who lives here is able to read and enjoy. But in a different way, I think that it is important for someone who is visiting or has never to gain an understanding of the City. When I travel, I like to read crime fiction to get a sense of place.
For lagniappe, the protagonist, Delerey, shares a name with the last street in New Orleans.
How does the actual crime in New Orleans tie into the writing process?
Because New Orleans has crime at every level, both street crime and public corruption, any novel that takes a scope of New Orleans is a social novel or crime novel. Since this work is officially a crime novel, it is more forward. As far as anyone who is committing a crime or is a victim, one of my mantras was to find the dignity and indignity in each character to provide the full person. We all have our flaws and grey ideas. I am not trying to justify crime, but I am trying to understand why someone commits a crime.
I wanted something that could happen in the CIty, not a "ripped from the headlines," but something realistic along with the humor and the absurdity. And, form there I tried to let them go where they will.
This is definitely two cities as far as jobs, and hope, and neighborhoods are concerned. I tried to be respectful when writing about some of the communities that are not my own.
Which New Orleans books do you enjoy reading?
Obviously Confederacy Of Dunces. James Sallis . His books are labelled as crime fiction, but they are much more so about identify. Any of Rich Campanella's books are so well researched and interesting. Andrei Codrescu writing about the city is interesting. We have a really strong poetry scene here and rather than reading, going to events and hearing poets slam and recite is great.
Where do you go to write?
I recline on the bed with ten blank sheets of paper, my notes, and my cat cuddles up with me. I don’t type it. I just surround myself with my notes on the mattress and write it out longhand. I did all of my research and legwork in advance and then wrote 15 chapters in one month on the first draft. So, half a chapter a day.
Mind you, there were seven more drafts before I let readers look at it.