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James Lee Burke is the author of numerous novels. He grew up in Texas and Louisiana and now splits his time between the two states, where his latest novel is set. In the Moon of Red Ponies follows the transplanted Texan attorney Billy Bob Holland to Montana where his nemesis Wyatt Dixon, who Holland once sent to prison, is on the loose and harassing Holland's loved ones.

Burke's work has twice been awarded an Edgar for Best Crime Novel of the Year. The Lost Get-Back Boogie was nominated for a Pulitzer. Two of his novels, Heaven's Prisoners and Two For Texas, have been made into motion pictures.

The Moon of the Red Ponies has been nominated for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. But you are a role model for the writer who starts fast and then hits a roadblock. You had a nearly 15-year dry spell where you received more than 100 rejections. What kept you going?

I'd published three novels when I was a young man and it was remarkable to have done as much as I did. I thought my career was well established. I wrote a novel called The Lost Get-Back Boogie, and I thought I would just published, and that did not happen. I stayed out of hardback print for 13 years.

The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times, and that's when I met my current agent, Philip Spitzer. He was driving a cab in Hell's Kitchen [New York City], and he took my account. He was my cousin Andre Debusse's agent and Andre, at that time, did not have the recognition that he has today. But Philip kept the work under submission all those years and Louisiana State University Press published it.

I really learned an old lesson that I had learned as a young man: You do it a day at a time. You write as well as you can, you put it in the mail, you leave it under submission, ...

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James Lee Burke is a Cowboy with a Conscience
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June 2004

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