PW: So how did Milo make it to 60? In The Final Country he gets shot almost as often as he has sex.

JC: Well, he's from strong, multicultural stock. Serbs and Germans and Russians and Irish. He's got good genes. His parents would probably still be alive if they hadn't committed suicide.

PW: The Final Country has a strong theme that pits Texas against Montana. Tell us about that.

JC: I grew up in Texas and I got to Montana as quickly as I could. Once I got here, they were never able to dislodge me. I've been in Montana 36 years. Obviously I'm not particularly fond of my childhood, or of some of the political things that happened in Texas, the way the Mexicans are treated and the way the blacks are treated. I'm not "a Texan." I didn't grow up believing in the Texas myth. This was a chance to say something about it. In some ways it's the most personal of my novels, even though none of that shit ever happened to me.

PW: Given that you seem to equal "easily" your best level, was this book particularly difficult to write?

JC: It nearly killed me. It was really hard. Some parts of that book have been worked nine and 10 times. I love to rewrite, but it makes everything slower. Part of the reason was my fault, because I wrote the first 200 pages, which took a couple of years, in the third person and then discovered I hated it. Partially it was a result of my wife talking to me about it that I realized I hated writing in the third person. Not every idea you have is a good one. So I had to go back and start over again. It was hard in terms of trying to get it all worked out, but it was easy in the way that it just did what it wanted to. Even though it took longer, it was as much a gift novel as The Last Good Kiss. It just sort of did itself.

PW: Were you happy with the result?

JC: To tell you the truth, when I sent it off I didn't much like it, but I never much like anything I write. Ten or 15 years from now if I'm still alive I'll read it again. I just reread Bordersnakes, a book I hadn't reread since it came out.

PW: Did you start work on The Final Country immediately after finishing Bordersnakes?

JC: Pretty close. It's one of the few books I actually started before the last book came out. I've always been trying to write something set in that part of the world, and I thought I'd never have a better chance. I had that wonderful quote from Billy Lee Brammer and also from John Steinbeck [used as epigraphs in The Final Country], and that's where it started, before I even wrote a word of the novel. The first time I ever had a title beforehand, too.

PW: Will Milo be back in your next book?

JC: No, I'm writing a C.W. Sughrue novel. It's called The Right Madness. It's going along nicely.

PW: How do you like the label you've picked up as "the bastard son of Raymond Chandler"?

JC: I don't complain about it at all. If it hadn't been for Chandler, there would have been no me. Richard Hugo, the poet, turned me on to Chandler in the '60s. I'd never read anything but Mickey Spillane and those serious novels you're supposed to read to get through college. I read Chandler in Mexico when I was down there one summer, and I just loved it. He's such a delightful writer. Every line is fun.