The murder of a U.S. government “black projects” engineer in New Orleans propels Good Junk: A Cliff St. James Novel, Ed Kovacs’s second novel featuring PI Cliff St. James.

In what way did your upbringing shape your fiction?

I grew up in a lower-middle-class blue-collar family. My father and uncles all fought in WWII and were loyal Americans who argued that Wall Street doesn’t care about Main Street and that D.C. politicians only care about Wall Street... and getting re-elected.

What led you to use post-hurricane New Orleans as a setting?

I got the idea for the first book [Storm Damage] while working a security contract post-Katrina—some cops told me about the last murder in the city before the hurricane hit. I thought it would make a good jumping off point for a series. I didn’t want to be locked into telling stories solely in the very specific wake of Katrina, and so never name the storm. I’m a fiction author, not a documentarian, and wanted the flexibility to create events as they suited me, not as they actually happened.

What does detecting during disaster enable you to do in terms of character development?

It’s always wise to give your heros lots of problems to overcome during their quest. New Orleans functions as a character, a dangerous, malfunctioning, dysfunctional character, adding to St. James’s woes. In Good Junk, I riff on aspects of lethal force. What does it do to the people who apply it? Since St. James is on a path leading him to more violence and death, I wanted him to confront that head-on.

What were your experiences during Katrina and with the government response?

It was strange getting shot at by local thugs for no reason, since my team was part of the initial response to help the city recover. In terms of the government response, there was plenty of culpability to go around. The disaster was so massive, however, I don’t think a response that satisfied everyone would have been possible. Americans want instant gratification in most aspects of their lives, including disaster relief.

You’ve been a reporter, steel mill worker, screenwriter, security consultant, and DJ. Is there a common thread?

Other than the desire to receive a paycheck, my unconventional career track is too bizarre for me, or the IRS, to fathom. I currently live in Vientiane, Laos, on the Mekong River, although I use a Thai SIM card because it works better. I enjoy corrupt border towns. When I’m here, I’m writing and don’t have much of a social life. I’m about to leave on a deployment to Central Asia as a security contractor, so wish me luck.