I THINK I GOT interested in writing when I was in the fifth grade. I started writing short stories, and I remember wanting to get them published in the Saturday Evening Post. In high school I wrote a lot of poetry, but I wasn’t a good student; I think I majored in wood shop. Anyway, it was the fifties, and what I really cared about was the music of the era. My best friend, Johnny Falwell, and I used to go see a lot of live music, mostly rhythm and blues acts. I saw B. B. King at the Houston City Auditorium in 1954, and he was onstage with Big Mama Thornton when she sang “Hound Dog,” which Elvis later covered. When I saw that concert—get this—the audience was segregated, and whites had to sit in the balcony and blacks were on the dance floor. I saw that happen many times, and it shows something about the “wisdom” of segregation: The whites actually punished themselves because of their own racial bias.

James Lee Burke was born in Houston and graduated from Lamar High School. He is the author of seventeen novels, including Cimarron Rose, which won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best mystery of 1997. His latest book, Sunset Limited (Doubleday, $24.95), will be in stores June 1.