Cheré Dastugue Coen
Writer Spotlight: Jason P. Reed
Name: Jason P. Reed
Book(s): "Tattoos and Tans" and "All Saints’ Day of the Dead" (both published in 2021)
Website: New Bayou Books
Instagram: New Bayou Books
Hometown: Eunice, Louisiana
Give us a brief description of your book(s). Feel free to list as many as you like.
“Tattoos and Tans” is about a guy from Eunice, Louisiana, who moves back after a decade working the tattoo-circuit in Texas and New Mexico to open the town’s first tattoo shop. When trouble arises, the tattoo artist recruits his childhood friend, an intelligence analyst with a love/hate relationship to their hometown of Eunice, to come help him.
“All Saints’ Day of the Dead” is about a West Virginia girl who seeks refuge from an abusive boyfriend, meeting up with her friends from a popular Cajun band in Lafayette, Louisiana. It involves themes of religion, the spiritual nature of music and friendship.
What brought you to write these stories? For instance, was it a personal experience that inspired you, your “day job” or perhaps an overactive imagination?
I started writing “Tattoos and Tans” on a lark, just to entertain my friend who did actually open one of the first tattoo shops in our hometown of Eunice. I never really intended to do anything with it, but in the process of writing that first novel, something awakened in me. My dormant dream of writing novels came to life.
After I wrote the first book, the relative absence of edgy, South-Louisiana literature in the commercial fiction market caught my attention. This will sound corny, but it’s true: since I don’t live in Louisiana anymore, starting New Bayou Books and trying to spark some kind of revolution in South Louisiana literature is what I’m doing to sort of give back. I believe there are some really great potential writers hiding in plain sight, and through my books I am trying to draw them out (either because they dig what I’m writing or they think “I can do better than that”).
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
It’s simple. I’m trying to write the kind of books I would want to read. Some of the key elements are: they are set in South Louisiana, where I grew up, they are written like people talk (not fancy, but colorful), and they involve characters you feel like you know . . . or in some cases, you wish you didn’t. For me, it’s all about creating an interesting character and setting them in motion, somewhere in Acadiana. From there, I layer in some sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Why? Because that’s the kind of book I want to read.
Where does the story (stories) take place?
In South Louisiana, also known as Acadiana, which includes 22 of the 64 parishes that make up Louisiana. I grew up in a town called Eunice, in St. Landry Parish, and went to college in the much larger city of Lafayette. Though I haven’t lived in Louisiana in a good while, the place still has a grip on me. There’s just something about the colorful complexity of the area that sets the stage for some pretty compelling storytelling. But sadly, South Louisiana is grossly under-represented in modern fiction. That’s really the reason I started New Bayou Books, to help do my part to bring South Louisiana literature to the rest of the world.
How does setting play in the telling of the story?
I’ve lived in different parts of the world and talked with people from all sorts of places and walks of life, and every time I mention where I’m from, people light up. That’s because South Louisiana stands out as a wonderfully weird, welcoming place in a country that’s growing ever more homogeneous. That’s why I love setting my novels there — the place itself becomes a character. What I try to do is use the South Louisiana setting the same way I use my cousin Bruneaux’s Cajun spice mix: just sprinkle it lightly on everything, and watch it all come alive.
What do you think makes a good story/book?
I’m all about character. Give me a person I can see in my head while I get into their head and I’m happy. Even if the plot isn’t super compelling. There’s an amazing book, set in Mississippi by Lisa Howorth called "Flying Shoes" that’s a perfect example of this. I had a crush on Mary Byrd, the main character, within 10 pages. I just kept turning the pages, following her around like a puppy dog as the story unfolded in my head.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I was probably 18. Writing was my first outlet for the strong sense of non-conformity that emerged in me about that time. In my first basic composition courses in college, building the different types of sentences we were taught just came easy. I found I had a knack for writing essays that had a sense of flow. Of course, I could barely differentiate my ass from a hole in the ground, but I could write stuff that sounded cool, at least. That was the beginning.
When did you write your first book? And how was that experience?
I wrote my first novel during my Peace Corps service in Mongolia from 1999 to 2001. The school where I taught had a computer nobody knew how to use, so I commandeered it, saving my Word file to a three-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disk every night. The story was about a sort of nerdy student journalist at a fictitious version of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The main character accidentally uncovers a student-run prostitution ring at school that his editor happens to be the madam of. I only managed one draft of the comic novel, but honestly, writing that book probably kept me sane out there on the edge of the Gobi. That and a bunch of cheap vodkas.
Is writing your primary job or do you have another career?
I haven’t made any real dough from the first two books I published, which is a bit of a drag. But at the same time, my day job compliments my creative writing nicely. The corporate communications I do keep my writing chops sharp, and the bread I earn from it mitigates any stress I might otherwise be feeling because my New Bayou Books haven’t yet ascended to the great literary heights I imagined. It will do, for now at least.
What does your family think of your writing?
My mom really wants to read the books, but I advised against it because of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that’s peppered throughout. That’s just wrong, you know? But my older brother — who could easily be a character in one of my books — has read everything I’ve published so far, and that just tickles me pink. He’s a diesel mechanic . . . hardly a “literary” type (thank God!), but he digs reading my stories and, honestly, that shit means the world to me.
What was the most surprising thing you learned writing your stories?
That’s easy. It’s how the characters and the storyline take on a life of their own. I always thought it was pretty cheesy when writers started talking about “the muse,” but it turns out to be true. If you make yourself sit down and write every day, the characters start to operate independently. You can manipulate them if you want, but it’s way more fun to take a backseat and just see where it all goes. It doesn't happen for me every day, but when a character does something totally unexpected, it feels like magic. I’ve reorganized my whole writing process around trying to make that magic stuff happen more frequently. (Okay, can I just tell you more directly what I mean by that? It’s a little embarrassing, but I’m in a sharing mood. What I do is I imagine the muse is this dominatrix — boots, bustier, the whole deal — and if I do my writing like a good boy, she’ll show up and whip up something magical.)
Did writing your book(s) lead you to other things?
For sure. The easy answer is it’s led to meeting new, interesting people. Which is more than enough right there. I’ve found the older I get, the harder it is to make friends. But writing has opened the door to relationships I would not have otherwise had. So that’s totally rad. More generally, writing books is a big, meaty project I can sink my teeth into. I like that. Plus, you know . . . it keeps me out of the bars at night.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
Write every morning, with a timer. Any productivity expert will tell you to do the most important thing first, in the morning . . . so if you really want to be a writer, get your fingers on the keys before lunch. And set a timer. You’ll be surprised at how much it helps. Start with a duration you can easily manage, even five minutes. Write every day for the full time. It won’t be long before you’re doing much more lengthy sessions. A lot of times the timer rings and you just keep blazing.
How can readers find and purchase your books? (Please list all outlets and links.)
NewBayouBooks.com has direct links to buy the books, but you can also find them on Amazon if you search by title. I am also building an audience on Goodreads.com. From there, you can read my weekly blogs, see book reviews, and even pose questions I will happily answer and post. Please find and follow me there.
Are you a Southern author wanting to share your talents with our Weird, Wacky & Wild audience? Drop us a line through our contact box on the About page.