Thursday, December 1, 2022

Q&A with Junior Burke




Junior Burke is the author of the new novel Buddha Was a Cowboy. His other books include the novel The Cold Last Swim. He is also a songwriter and recording artist.


Q: What inspired you to write Buddha Was a Cowboy, and how did you create your character Aaron Motherway?


A: Hello, Deborah. I’m both fascinated and distressed by the cultural gulf within contemporary America. An alternative institution (a true contradiction of terms) being surreptitiously taken over by fundamentalist forces seems ripe for exploration.


So it’s a campus novel, but the nature of that particular university makes it different than most any portrayal of the American academy. The protagonist, Aaron Motherway, comes not from academia but from Hollywood, which affords the opportunity to have fun with that genre as well. It also posits him as a genuine outsider.  


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Norman Mailer said, and I mostly agree, that outlining takes all the air out of the story. As I write, however, I do identify key elements that can be activated to move the narrative forward. As Chekhov advised, if you have a pistol up on the mantel, by the end, somebody needs to pull the trigger.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I was careful, or felt I was careful, not to disregard anyone’s faith or practice. I did, however, portray certain aspects that I feel trivialize very profound sets of beliefs. An athlete suggesting that the Son of God is at their side helping them shut out the other team is simply absurd. How about praying in private for something that truly matters? World Peace, for example.


The title “Buddha Was a Cowboy” comes from a song that one of the faculty members of the aforementioned alternative school has composed. A terrible song, by the way. 


Q: What do you think the novel says about culture wars?


A: I feel that it depicts the dysfunction that’s epidemic in the vast scope of institutions, especially those that are political and religious. Greed is rampant, as is all manner of duplicity.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Am currently on strike, looking to unionize.  


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: While I don’t get out much, were I invited to an online Book Club chat, I might show up.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Junior Burke.

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