By Wendy Tyson
DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is Bill Loehfelm’s fifth novel and the third book in the Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series. His first two books in the Coughlin series, The Devil She Knows and The Devil in Her Way, were published to strong reviews. And Bill’s first novel, Fresh Kills, won the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. A prolific author, Bill’s essays and short stories can be found in a number of anthologies, including Year Zero, Life in the Wake, and Soul is Bulletproof (which feature his work about post-Katrina New Orleans) as well as Staten Island Noir and Books to Die For. Bill, who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, makes his home in New Orleans. In anticipation of his upcoming release, Bill sat down with The Big Thrill to answer a few questions.
Booklist called your main character, Maureen Coughlin, “as compelling a character as this reviewer expects to see this year.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune called her “unforgettable” and “the character of the year.” Can you tell us a little more about Maureen and some of the elements of her past that have made her the woman she is today?
I like to save the real juicy stuff for the books, but there certainly are things about her that keep me coming back. Like a lot of crime fiction heroes, she’s a loner. She’s thirty now and has been making her own way since she was eighteen. But in joining the NOPD she’s found a place and a career where she desperately wants to fit in and belong—and of course she’s not very good at fitting in. I really enjoy writing someone who’s trying to be happy, and to be the best version of herself that she can, and who has virtually no clue how to do those things.
Also, there’s the issue of power. All her life, she’s never had any. She’s a small woman, who’s not particularly attractive and who’s always been broke. When she wasn’t getting overlooked she was getting pushed around. Her history has made her tough and wily and angry, and now she has a badge and a gun. Taking her through her struggles with having some real power over other people has been really interesting. She makes some mistakes.
DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is the third book in the Maureen Coughlin series. You’ve also written two standalone novels. When you started writing the first Coughlin installment, The Devil She Knows, did you set out to write a series?
Not at all. The first Coughlin book was supposed to be a stand-alone to complement the first two, making kind of character-connected trilogy of Staten Island-set crime novels. Then there came a moment when Maureen looks out the window at a cop car late at night and starts thinking, “I could do that.” I thought, “She certainly could.” I started writing down the reasons as her own thoughts.
That moment really launched the series, it planted the seed. As anyone who’s read the series knows, once she gets going, Maureen is tough to stop. I should have known.
Like the second novel in the series, The Devil in Her Way, DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is set in New Orleans. Why did you move the setting from New York (in The Devil She Knows) to New Orleans? What were the challenges of choosing a real-life locale as the backdrop for your books?
With my first three books I felt I had said, for a good while at least, everything I had to say about Staten Island. I wanted to cover some new ground, and I wanted to take a shot at writing about New Orleans, and I wanted to continue Maureen’s story. Moving Maureen here seemed a natural fit for her. Everything I wanted to do next connected in moving her to New Orleans. The books are set after the storm. A bruised and broken city fighting to recover was a perfect fit, and a perfect metaphor, for her after the events of The Devil She Knows.
The big challenge of choosing a real life back drop is letting myself make things up about it. Playing with dates and geography and things like that. I wrote all my Staten Island books in New Orleans, and I hadn’t lived on the Island in a long time. That made it easier to fabricate stuff.
Another challenge is picking what things about New Orleans to include in each book. There’s always so much to think and write about here, but I want each book to be focused and economical. There’s a temptation to try to squeeze in everything in the paper or the street that catches your attention.
Tell us something about DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK that’s not on the back cover.
The back cover mentions some new adversaries for Maureen. Some old friends come back as well. There are several characters who people really liked from The Devil in Her Way, who return for this installment of the series.
Can you share a little about your writing process?
Mostly, I’m a night writer. I like to work late, usually between ten at night and three or four in the morning. I can do edits and stuff like reading over hard copy during the day, but most of the creating and the heavy rewriting I do at night.
The last couple of books I’ve been working with Post-It notes and a dry erase board and that’s been helpful. I can actually sit in the middle of my story and look at it from different angles. I’m not really an outliner, but I keep a notebook for brainstorming and a yellow pad for short notes and questions that come up—like how I might connect two scenes that are far apart in the book.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Living in New Orleans, there’s no shortage of things to do. I still like to go out and see music, local funk and brass bands, especially. I play drums in a rock band, which is very therapeutic. I’ve been playing with some of the same guys for a long time now. I don’t know if we’ve gotten much better over the years, but we enjoy ourselves.
I’m a big fan of coffee shops, which we have in abundance here. I like to practice what the Jayhawks called the “fine art of wasting hours.” Though I usually have that notebook with me.
My wife and I are really, really good at going out to eat.
What’s next for you? Will fans see more of Maureen?
I am hip-deep in the next Maureen Coughlin novel. DOING THE DEVIL’S WORK is a cliffhanger, so it’s fun trying to untangle all of that. She never makes anything easy.
Bill Loehfelm is the author of five novels, including The Devil in Her Way, and The Devil She Knows, the first two books in the Maureen Coughlin crime fiction series, as well as the stand-alones, Bloodroot, and Fresh Kills. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, the writer AC Lambeth, and plays drums in a rock-and-roll cover band. Look for Doing the Devil’s Work, the newest Maureen Coughlin novel, in January 2015.
To learn more about Bill, please visit his website.