I was recently interviewed by “Voyage MIA”, a magazine that “fosters collaboration and support for small businesses, independent artists and entrepreneurs, local institutions and those that make” Miami interesting. When the magazine reached out, I was asked if my work or career had any connections to South Florida. I initially thought the focus on my work was elsewhere, but after I reflected on it, I realized there were a number of South Florida connections to my work. You can see the actual article online http://voyagemia.com/interview/rising-stars-meet-ce-hunt-of-new-orleans/.
I thought I’d post an expanded version of what I said and thought about while responding to the interview questions. It will give you a little insight as to how I became a writer. I also spiced it up with some photos!
Tell our readers some of your backstories.
I always felt like I had a story to tell. I grew up in a modest blue-collar/slightly white-collar neighborhood in the heart of Houston, not very far from downtown. My mom had grown up all across Texas including a number of formative years in West Texas where she attended schools where Spanish was the dominant language. My dad was a product of East Texas but had spent four years all across the Pacific Ocean “island hopping” during World War II. I also had a mischievous uncle or two who filled me with stories as well.
The story I had to tell at that time was inspired by the values they taught me plus all the cool stories they shared with me of their life experiences along with my being a kid growing up in the heart of Houston. Though I was predominantly of northern European roots (aka very white) I was always very much the minority in the public schools I attended from K-12. It was always easy to pick me out of my school photos! Many of my friends were Mexican American or black. All these experiences enriched me, and I knew I had stories to share, but I wasn’t quite ready. I needed to have more of my own life experiences out “in the world.”
I didn’t want to lead a completely “normal” life so I sought another path initially. I was reluctant about going to college. It took some soul searching and spending some time in the military to finally “conform” and go to college. After completing my undergraduate degree from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, I worked for the federal government for a while taking Social Security claims.
I never really liked the job, but, along with a decent paycheck, it served me well in one respect. It taught me a lot about people and relationships. I had to determine the validity of common law marriages, who was the actual parent of dependents, had a person really retired and things like that. It gave me insights into the lives of people with a wide range of income and educational levels. I was the only Spanish-speaking employee, so I also took claims from some “Marielitos.” That too was educational. It was then that I first started thinking about Florida and its interesting relationship with Cuba.
I finally quit that job because I realized that while the human components fascinated me as a future writer, doing tons of paperwork was not for me. I then completed a graduate degree from Texas A&M University and worked for the Texas A&M Sea Grant Program, doing research on coastal issues. Upon graduation, I resumed a career as a federal bureaucrat but in a very different field. This time in conservation of natural and cultural resources. That was much more to my liking and resulted in my really getting to know conservation issues and the western United States. I was also able to spend five years abroad working in Europe and picked up a fair amount of French and a bit of Italian as well. I had already started writing by this time, but as I traveled in France, England, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Germany my desire to write became overwhelming.
So, did you start writing in Europe?
Let me step back just a bit and also cover some of my influences from South Florida. On my journey to become a writer, I had a lot of inspirations. Somehow, Florida played a key role.
Since high school, I have been a fan of John D. MacDonald. I might not be a writer were it not for the world MacDonald described around Fort Lauderdale in the 1960-1980s. His Travis McGee series opened me up to a world filled with reality, great aspirations, and a lot of shady folks. MacDonald could wonderfully entertain and subtly preach at the same time about the ills of society whether it be about corruption, racial injustice or the need to protect the environment. As much as I wish he were still writing and helping us make sense of the world, I’m glad he is not witnessing the divisive state of politics in Florida today. I highly recommend you start out with “The Deep Blue Good-by” (1964) to get a taste of his excellent work.
From MacDonald, I went on to become a fan of Carl Hiaasen, another incredible writer with Florida roots. He was born in Fort Lauderdale. Like MacDonald, he too uses South Florida-based storytelling to entertain and urge his readers to be more thoughtful on many of the topics about which MacDonald was concerned. Unlike, MacDonald, Hiaasen relies heavily on humor. I recommend you start out with “Tourist Season” (1986) to get a sense of his style. He is one of the funniest writers I have ever read.
Lastly, as a writer, I have been greatly influenced by one other writer with a strong South Florida connection, Ernest Hemingway. He wrote many of his classics in Key West, including “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Green Hills of Africa.” Thanks to the advice of another American writer, John Dos Passos, Hemingway moved to Key West in the late 1920s after having lived in Paris about seven years. I touched on this in my book, “The Sommières Sun.” Hemingway’s work would be greatly influenced by the people and environment of South Florida and Cuba. “The Old Man and the Sea” is regarded by many as one of his best works. “The Sun Also Rises” and “In Our Time” are some of my favorites.
After having acquired some interesting personal experiences and inspired by other writers, I was ready to write! In reality, I had been doing a little writing since high school. In college I wrote a short story about a couple of German explorers in East Africa. Later I wrote “Chez Danger” and “La Vida and the Flame,” my first stabs at novels.
Finally in 2006, I started a novel that I would finally publish, “A Moveable Marfa.” I started it while living right down the road from Marfa in Fort Davis, Texas. I worked hard to synthesize the styles of my three literary influences into a style of my own. I had no Internet or television. All I had was my quiet nights, laptop and radio which could receive three stations. Fortunately, one of the stations was Marfa Public Radio. That station’s original music programming was my nightly companion while I wrote the first half of the book or so.
After a few years in West Texas, I spent five or so years in France. It was there where I wrote the scenes in France and Spain, often sitting in the places I was describing. I like “in situ” or “plein air” writing whenever possible. I like to write scenes when I am sitting in that exact location as much as possible. It just makes my writing seem “truer.” For instance, the scenes in the Dix Bar in Paris in “A Moveable Marfa” were written over a couple of nights sitting in that bar drinking its famous sangria. I wrote the preposterous “leg contest” scene while I sipped wine (perhaps too much?) at a table at Place de l’Odéon not far from the Jardin du Luxembourg. I love those memories.
However, I did not finish “A Moveable Marfa” until January 2020 after having lived in New Orleans for a year or so. New Orleans was the inspirational tipping point that made me feel compelled to start sharing my work with others. I may write more on this in the future, but in New Orleans it is perfectly alright, actually expected, to talk to strangers. These interactions somehow helped me feel comfortable as a storyteller with a voice that people might find interesting. Anyway, “The Sommières Sun” would quickly follow suit being published in April of 2021. I am currently working on the concluding part of the Steve Miles trilogy. It is entitled, “Twilight in the Quarter,” and I anticipate it going to print in 2023.
In all my writing, I stress thoughtfulness and authenticity. I work to entertain my readers and quietly inspire them to grow, be mindful and care about others and their surroundings. I want people to regard my work as original, thoughtful, authentic and enjoyable.
Like all artists, my work is constantly evolving. My style has drifted towards less reliance on humor and more on character development and human interactions. One will be able to see that more fully upon reading “Twilight in the Quarter.” “A Moveable Marfa” used humor more than “The Sommières Sun.”
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The ride has been both smooth and not so smooth.
Good writing needs great inspiration and time. (Good coffee and wine doesn’t hurt either). Having a confluence of inspiration and time has at times been a challenge for me. It took fourteen years to write “A Moveable Marfa.” There have been times I just didn’t want to write. There have been times I very much wanted to write, but there just wasn’t time.
Writing a novel isn’t easy, but one thing that has helped smooth the ride in the Steve Miles series is that I really identify with Steve. As the covers of “A Moveable Marfa” and “The Sommières Sun” share, the story is about a guy finding himself. It shares his journey to figure out who he really is. I hope the journey is perceived as thoughtful, humorous and inspirational. So far in the journey, he has navigated the cultural complexity of an artist colony in Marfa, Texas, suffered his very quirky family, explored the crowded but lonely streets of Paris, experienced the second coming of the “Lost Generation,” befriended a very free-spirited Brazilian neighbor, explored the culture of numerous villages in the South of France and experienced a little bit of my favorite American city, New Orleans. A lot of the storyline is inspired by things that have happened to me. Some of it is inspired by things I wish had happened to me.
Steve will get to know New Orleans and have some fascinating encounters there in “Twilight in the Quarter.” As is my typical approach, many of these encounters will be inspired by personal experiences in New Orleans. New Orleans has helped me as a writer. If I ever have writers block, I walk around the corner and plop on a bar stool. The stories, just somehow, start coming to me. It is almost magical.
As for other challenges? You pour your heart out in your books, and your sales go through very slow periods. It can be hard to keep going at times. However, if you really are a writer, you just keep going. You just have faith if you do your best, the sales will come. Money is nice, but what I most want to do is touch people. I want to entertain them, but most importantly, I want to somehow invite them to think about a range of subjects in a broader, more sensitive way.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on? I mean, what makes your work different? What’s your niche?
I’ve been asked a few times what my niche is. Well, I wish I could say I’m really known for being a thoughtful, entertaining writer that can weave a story that is very enjoyable yet thought provoking. That is my goal. I’m not that well-known yet. I have a small, lovely cadre of readers that helps me to keep writing. I hope the cadre grows over time, only because I hope to inspire more people to care more, to enjoy life more, and to love more.
From a professional writing standpoint, I am proud that I have authored or co-authored five published books–two novels and three non-fiction and am well into the third novel. I am happy that I have had a few incredible people reach out to say kind words about my novels and even make an effort to meet me. One reader indicated that “A Moveable Marfa” and “The Sommières Sun” helped them get through a challenging period in their life. They said my novels gave them perspective as they dealt with a difficult decision. Hearing that made it feel like my time had been well spent writing.
As for what makes my writing different? That’s for my readers to determine. I hope my work comes off as original and a bit eclectic. I write about spirituality and relationships balancing between the serious and humorous. I try to embrace the notion that we are here for a reason while not totally rejecting the philosophy of absurdism. (Albert Camus is another of my favorite writers.) I also try to weave in commentary on social issues, differences in culture and conservation.
Above all though, I hope my readers find my books an enjoyable journey that they reflect back on from time to time.