Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2016 12:30 am
By LAUREN LANGLOIS firstname.lastname@example.org
For the writer-in-residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, being simultaneously interested in the contemporary South and the region's past is not contradictory at all.
"I'm a fan of history...but I'm also a fan of what's happening right now too," Chris Tusa said. "That shouldn't be strange."
With historic novels, he gets to explore the past, particularly New Orleans' past that he finds fascinating. With contemporary novels, he can examine how modern technology shapes people's perspectives and interactions with others, he said.
"It's really interesting to do both," he said.
Tusa, who is also an English professor at LSU, has been the writer-in-residence at Southeastern for about four years.
He is the author of "Dirty Little Angels," published in 2009, and is promoting his new published novel, "In the City of Falling Stars," which is expected to be officially released by the University of West Alabama at the end of this month. He is also working on two new novels, one a historical fiction and another that will be set in modern times.
The contemporary South is a place that he believes does not get depicted enough in popular culture. Instead, outdated images of uneducated people sitting on porches is the prevailing depiction of the region, he said.
"Why not see how the South has changed," he said. "We are much more complex."
Tusa said he has seen first-hand how the region has evolved. There is more acceptance of people who are different and less division among groups.
Tusa grew up in New Orleans and went to Brother Martin High School. He described his neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s as a mix of black and white families that were nonetheless divided during a time when racism was more prevalent. Now he sees students of different backgrounds hanging out all the time.
Bucking Southern stereotypes is what he hopes to do with "In the City of Falling Stars." The main protagonist is a black New Orleanian who is in an interracial marriage shortly after Hurricane Katrina when the city is still reeling from the devastation. He described the setting as a kind of post-apocalyptic place.
Modern technology plays a prominent role. Maurice Delahoussaye, the main character, starts to unravel as he becomes increasingly paranoid about the world around him, believing the government to be behind a grand conspiracy. Dead birds are falling from the sky that he blames on the air quality, and he begins seeing religious visions that make him suspect his wife, who had an affair with another man, is going to give birth to Jesus Christ.
Tusa described the book as dark, much like his first book that follows a brother and sister who fall under the influence of a disturbed preacher. But he wanted to inject some humor into the novel as well. For example, when Maurice tells his wife his suspicion about the baby, she assures him that she certainly is no Virgin Mary.
"I tried to add some comedy," he said.
Tusa said he is interested in exploring how technology and access to almost limitless information can change individual's perspective of their surroundings and themselves and "impact us in ways that real life can't."
Most of all, he hopes what readers get from the book is how technology can sometimes create an alternative, crazy world for people and that some are more susceptible to getting stuck in that world.
For his first book, he said reviews were mixed, possibly because the plot of "Dirty Little Angels" may have been too dark for some. His second novel has gotten a better reaction from critics and readers, he said. He was happy to hear feedback from several readers who said they were surprised by where the book ended up.
"I always felt like the reader deserves to be duped," he said. "If I'm reading a book, I want you to dupe me."