But first, here's a synopsis of Hell or High Water:
Nola Céspedes, an ambitious young reporter at the Times-Picayune, finally catches a break: an assignment to write her first full-length feature. While investigating her story, she also becomes fixated on the search for a missing tourist in the French Quarter. As Nola’s work leads her into a violent criminal underworld, she’s forced to face disturbing truths from her own past and is confronted with the question: In the aftermath of devastation, who is responsible for rebuilding what's been broken?
Vividly rendered in razor-sharp prose, this haunting thriller is a riveting journey of trust betrayed—and the courageous struggle to rebuild. Fast-paced, atmospheric, and with a knockout twist, Hell or High Water features an unforgettable heroine as fascinating and multilayered as New Orleans itself.
10 Questions for Joy Castro:
Lisa Steinke: What three words would you use to describe your book?
Joy Castro: Hard-boiled, suspenseful, atmospheric.
LS: What is your favorite thing about your book?
JC: I love the protagonist, Times-Picayune reporter Nola Céspedes. She’s tough and smart and funny and sexy. I love her voice. She calls it like she sees it, and she gets into a lot more trouble than I do. This might sound kind of lit-geeky, but my other favorite thing was incorporating the Cajun legend of the rougarou, a predatory creature, into a realistic crime thriller set in New Orleans. There’s magical realism in the novel, but it’s not obtrusive.
LS: What was your high point while writing your book? Low point?
JC: High points were discovering my narrator’s hard-boiled voice, which was a breakthrough—once I had the voice, I had the novel—and doing the on-the-ground research in New Orleans. I love the city and have been spending time there for twenty years, but having a mandate to eat in every restaurant where Nola would eat and go to every club she’d visit was very cool.
The low point was struggling with plot. I’m trained as a scholar of modernist literature—Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner: ephiphany, lyricism, the interior world. Action and cause-and-effect were hard for me. I initially wanted my characters just to sit around and think deep, beautiful thoughts. Alas, that doesn’t really work in a thriller. Shifting gears was hard but worthwhile. I learned a lot about narrative structure.
LS: How did you come up with the title of your book?
JC: My original title was The Desire Projects, which I really loved. It’s the real name of the public housing project in New Orleans where my protagonist Nola grew up. Desires, moreover—both healthy and unholy—are the engine that fuels the plot, and they fuel New Orleans, too. The publisher wasn’t feeling it, though, so we went through about thirty alternative titles. One day, my editor suggested Hell or High Water after she overheard someone say it on the elevator in New York, and we all loved it. It just clicked. So be careful what you say on the elevator. You never know who’s listening.
LS: What are you reading now?
JC: Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest . I’m a big Hammett fan, and somehow I missed that one, so I’m reading it now. He’s brutal, and the style is so clean. I really love his work.
LS: If you could see one person, alive or dead, reading your book, who would it be?
JC: My dad. He passed away ten years ago this month. He loved all kinds of crime writing, and I think he’d be really excited and proud about this book. He’d be touched, too, that the protagonist is Cuban American, like he was.
LS: What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your book?
JC: Definitely the response of Dennis Lehane, because I’ve admired him for years. His work is a huge inspiration to me because of its humor, unflinching grittiness, and passion for justice. He wrote, “A terrific thriller set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Hell or High Water is more than just a mystery; it’s a heartfelt examination of a second America—poor but undaunted—that was swept under the rug but refuses to stay there.” I love that.
And Booklist’s starred review: “Exquisite New Orleans background, intriguing newsroom politics . . . skillfully paced suspense,” and so on. That was awesome.
LS: What’s the #1 thing you want people to feel after reading your book?
JC: Blown away and hungry for more.
LS: Favorite line or passage from your book?
JC: “Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to be marked for life, to wear your history on your skin.”
LS: Are you working on your next book? If so, any hints?
JC: Yes! My very next book comes out this September; it’s called Island of Bones, and it’s a collection of personal essays. But I also just sent my editor the final manuscript of the sequel to Hell or High Water. It also stars Nola Céspedes and is set in New Orleans. I’m calling it Bad Shoot.
To find out more about Joy Castro, visit her website.
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