PW: Okay, why write "The End" to your most popular character, as you've done in Ghost of a Flea?
JS: Someone has suggested to me that I could go on writing Lew Griffin books until I'm 83, probably. If you look back at the first book, it's pretty much set up to show this man's entire life. Initially I intended it to be just the one book. But the way I write is instinctive, intuitive, sort of improvising on what's there and trying to find out what else is in there. In The Long-Legged Fly I ran the melody, and then in the other books I've been doing the higher intervals off the melody. I knew from very early in the second book how the other books were going to go. They seem to just wander around, but there's really a very careful structure to all of them, and with this sixth book I completed the structure. I kind of think of it as just one big novel. Everything that attracted me about the situation, about the characters, about the city—the interaction—I've done it.
PW: Tell us about the insect titles you have chosen for this set of novels.
JS: I wish I had something really smart to say about that.... With the first novel, it came to me very quickly that the title was going to be The Long-Legged Fly, from a Yeats poem. Since I write so many other kinds of things, I needed to identify that these books were mysteries and part of a series, so people would realize that these aren't some high-flown literature or science fiction or poetry. That's the only explanation.
PW: It's like John D. MacDonald using colors in the titles of the Travis McGee series, then?
JS: Exactly. I really meant these to be indicators of what these books were. I once said if I went much past four, I would have to start naming them after trees or something. But I managed to squeeze out six titles.
PW: In addition to poetry and science fiction, you've written musicology, essays, a biography of Chester Himes—is there any literary form you still want to try?
JS: I would love to write plays. Strangely enough, I started off thinking I wanted to be a playwright when I went to Tulane University. The drama department there was huge. I think that's about the only form I haven't worked in. Besides, what else could I write—I've already tried poetry, after all— that would make absolutely no money and go unread?
PW: Do you think New Orleans as a noir setting may pull you back someday?
JS: I'm sure I'll write more about New Orleans. I can't leave New Orleans alone. The thing I love about New Orleans is that it is such a cross-cultural city. You can't avoid any stratum of American society. If you're driving to the opera, you're going to be driving through the worst parts of town. If you're walking down St. Charles, which has to be the most fabulous street in the country, and you walk half a block off you're into absolute poverty where people are sleeping on mattresses in burned-out stairwells. I like that because it doesn't allow you to sequester yourself and forget all about the problems of American society. It really is this big gumbo place, where you have all these cultures colliding.
PW: What's next?
JS: I ask myself that every morning. I'm about 130 pages into a new novel, Hollow of the Heart and Hand. It's a little more of a standard mystery, but again, I'm really more interested in the character than the mystery aspects. I'm doing something different here. I'm setting it in a small town in the South—I've always written about cities before. It's going well. I'm hoping to have it finished by maybe the end of the year.