I heard a story about you: In your first MFA workshop, the professor threw a chapter of your novel-in-progress on the table and said, “This is neo-Faulknerian crap, it’s not why we let you in here, and we’re not going to discuss it.” How did that make you feel?

That’s not quite how it went down, but it’s close enough and better for your telling of it. Anyway, how did it make me feel? It made me feel like a writer of neo-Faulknerian crap, because the man was as sharp a reader as he was interpersonally clumsy. I understood that I needed to find a new way—and my own way—of writing about the South before I could write about it.


So you’re a southern writer?

Well, that’s complicated. My first novel was set during the Siege of Leningrad.

The Lower Quarter cover art hi res (2)Elizam smiled at the congratulatory email on his screen. It had been his first real job for the Lost Art Register, the first investigative work that had gone beyond a basic due-diligence search to ensure that some painting about to go on auction had not been reported stolen. This had been his first recovery job, and it had been successful. It had been Eli who had recognized the hand of amateurs, who had flown to Kansas City and suspected at first glance two security guards taking a cigarette break outside the art-storage facility from which the small Henry Moores had gone missing. It had been Eli who had followed them for three days, who had got the cops—that old enemy—to the right place at the right time: the moment the thieves met up with their loser local fence, statues stupidly in hand.

When Suzanne does rise she has only shaky legs for support. As on most mornings, Adele is up but Petra is not. Through the blunt headache and the whiskey aftertaste that survives toothpaste and mouthwash, she fixes Adele’s favorite breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and too much brown sugar. She sits with her as she eats, a few quiet moments before Adele withdraws to dress for school.

It must be hard to live with another writer. What’s the worst thing about it?

We’ve managed not to succumb to the jealousy and insecurity that wrecks more successful writer couples, so we’re going to say the long initial period of straight-up poverty. The key is to have separate studies and agents—two things we learned the hard way. We do share an editor these days (the sent-from-heaven Fred Ramey at Unbridled Books), but he respects that we are different writers and different people.