Pick up Louie Maistros’ The Sound of Building Coffins and you’ll hold a beautifully made book, heavy in just the right way; a book set in New Orleans’ Storyville era that does justice to the city as no other novel has since A Confederacy of Dunces, according to fellow author Donald Harington. He’s not the only one praising Maistros’ novel, which has received a positive Library Journal review and good words from Poppy Z. Brite, among other New Orleans mainstays. The Sound of Building Coffins is making noise.
“New Orleans is the only place I’ve ever lived by choice,” says Maistros, who has lived in Los Angeles’ Canoga Park and in Baltimore. He now identifies himself as a deeply rooted transplant, raising a family with his wife, Elly, who he met in his new hometown. His first trip in 1991 was fraught with engine trouble, but when he arrived in the city whose music and cultural history had so long fascinated him, he felt like a wide-eyed Dorothy glimpsing the Emerald City. He couldn’t think of leaving.
“Life may not be easy in New Orleans, but it is never uninteresting or uninspiring,” he says. “You can walk down the center of Canal Street in your pajamas and a top hat and not raise an eyebrow. In New Orleans, misfits are treated almost as royalty. Odd behavior breeds laughter and love, not contempt and disapproval.”
A compulsively creative person, Maistros sings original songs at his readings while playing guitar. He even opened Louie’s Juke Joint—now exclusively online—to sell music memorabilia and art.
The Sound of Building Coffins began with a short story called “Can’t No Grave Keep Me Down,” a piece that became the final chapter of the novel. The process of writing the entire book felt observational as Maistros explored the characters and the world in which they lived. The story centers on a group of disparate people trying to save the possessed son of a hanged man. The young Typhus Morningstar essentially has three father figures in the other characters. “When I began, my son was just a baby, so those contemplations played heavily into the storyline,” Maistros says. The book is dedicated to his son and Maistros suggests it served as a kind of therapy, a way for him to determine what kind of father he needed to become.
Maistros is in the midst of writing a new novel set in the underground R&B culture of early 1960s New Orleans. He’s calling it Holy Meaux.
“The story involves a piano-pounding, Bible-thumping, junkie-pimp who gets wind of the plot to kill JFK,” he says. “Of course, he is a person who lacks credibility with the authorities, so he cannot get anyone to believe there is such a plot in the works.”
While Maistros works on Holy Meaux, The Sound of Building Coffins is in stores now. louismaistros.com