DIRTY LITTLE REDO
For last Monday’s ‘Read Beans’ I posted a review of local author Chris Tusa’s Dirty Little Angels, a crime noir novella about a young girl coming of age in New Orleans while grappling with the city’s violent underbelly. I recently caught up with Chris to pick his brain about what drew him to such dark subject matter and what gave him the nerve to write from the perspetive of a sixteen-year-old girl.
WV GUMBO: Dirty Little Angels is your first novel, and yet you chose to write not only in first person narrative as a female, but an adolescent who, during the course of the narrative, has her first sexual experience. It seems to be a risky choice. What lead you to choose this narrative device?
TUSA: Though it may seem strange to some, I never actually made the decision. As the story and characters developed in my mind, Hailey came to me, and I simply allowed her to develop. For some reason, I’ve always gravitated toward female narrators (most likely because I was raised with many strong females in my life). Many of my poems are in fact written from the perspective of historical female figures (Marie Laveau, Bridget Bishop, Botticelli’s Venus, etc).
WV GUMBO: You grew up in New Orleans and clearly love the city, but take on its darker side in this work. What drew you to such dark subject matter? Did this sort of fringe criminal element affect your life growing up?
TUSA: Certainly. I was robbed at knife-point at a very young age, and my mother was robbed at gunpoint when I was in middle school. Both of these experiences had a crucial impact on me. Surprisingly though, while they did instill a sense of fear in me, they also intrigued me in a way. As a child, I remember being extremely bored by people to whom I could relate. Instead, I was much more interested in those fringe characters in every family (the drug addict, the lifetime criminal, etc.) mostly because their motivations and modes of thinking were so foreign to me. Knowing this, it makes complete sense that my books would be dark and filled with fringe characters.
WV GUMBO: What has been the reaction from readers and reviewers of this stark portrait of New Orleans?
TUSA: The reaction has been mixed. Since New Orleans is dependent on tourism, I suspect that some readers think the book is doing the city a disservice by portraying it as a dark, violent place. The truth is, however, New Orleans is (and has always been) a violent place, and it’s that violence (or perhaps the possibility of violence) that makes it so alluring (at least for me). I have no desire to perpetuate the image of New Orleans portrayed in so many brochures. For me, the city is beautifully dark and dangerous, filled with love and ruin, sparkle and grime, and that depiction is precisely what I aim to convey.
WV GUMBO: I love the title, Dirty Little Angels, and we learn of its relevance late in the novel when the narrator has been hospitalized for a suicide attempt and meets a patient who has delusions of ‘dirty little angels’ eating the blackness from people’s souls. I know you like to play with language. Did you have this title in mind early on, allowing it to guide the work, or did you stumble on it naturally as the writing progressed?
TUSA: The title was one of those wonderful serendipitous experiences that writers often encounter. It simply fell into my lap. I have absolutely no idea where it came from.
WV GUMBO: What authors or works do you feel directly impacted your voice and vision in this work?
TUSA: That’s easy. Chuck Palahniuk for his pacing, as well as his ability to use stark language in new and unique ways and Flannery O’Connor for her black comedy and grotesque characters.
WV GUMGO: Thanks for your time Chris, and thanks to all the readers who keep tuning in. Be sure to click below to pick up your own copy of Dirty Little Angels!