Former Pioneer staff writer continues frenetic fiction run with third book in less than a year

By Steve Hubrecht
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The American South holds a place like no other in the imagination: the neon-blurred nightlife and heady, brassy mix of New Orleans music. The steaming, Spanish-moss draped Southern gothic landscapes along the rural byways of Alabama. And the charging horses, mint juleps, enormous hats (the hats!) and everything else depraved and decadent about the Kentucky Derby. A storyteller’s dream, really. So it should come as no surprise that it’s the setting for Invermere writer James’ Rose’s latest literary offering.

James Rose, author of Run for Roses, his second novel Submitted photo

Readers with good memories will recall that Rose has been on torrid tears, churning out his debut novel, a short story anthology and now his second novel in a matter of just eight short months. While becoming the closest thing the Columbia Valley has to Jack Kerouac (who legendarily pounded out the classic On the Road in a mere three weeks, writing on a single 120-foot roll of paper), Rose also managed to work full time for the Pioneer for several months, and began studying scriptwriting at the Vancouver Film School.

Rose’s second novel, Run for Roses, was released earlier this winter, and functions as a prequel to his debut novel Chung Piece. Run for Roses fills some of the backstories of Chung Piece protagonist Meko Torres, in dual narrative format, with a frame narrative following a road trip down the U.S. Pacific coast taken by footloose freelance journalist Torres and his canine companion Foxworth. During that trip, Torres relates to Foxworth the story of an earlier road trip with his cousin Sunny through the Deep South.

“That story is about how Meko and Sunny are in New Orleans, having a grand old time when they get a phone call with devastating news,” Rose told the Pioneer. A mentor and friend to both the young men is on his deathbed. And so the pair embark on an impromptu road trip from Louisiana to Louisville, aiming to arrive in time for the Derby, where they hope to win enough money to buy back the sailboat home their mentor had previously sold off to pay for experimental cancer treatment.

James Rose, author of Run for Roses, his second novel Submitted photo

“The book asks the question: which matters more, the journey or the destination?” explained Rose. “There’s humour and comedy, and there’s drama. It was fun to write.”

Rose enjoyed having an opportunity to further explore a character (Torres) he’d already written, saying, “it’s interesting to play with how a character gets to where they end up. It adds more layers.”

Rose took inspiration for the book from a New Orleans-to-Louisville road trip he, himself, had taken some years ago with his brother.

“What happened on that trip is not what happens in the book, but it gave me a part of the description,” said Rose. “The South is one of those places that’s a site of contested meaning…it’s such a fascinating place. There’s deep-seated racial issues, but at the same time, such a wonderful culture. There’s a traditional of strong hospitality, that antebellum past, the countryside around the Mississippi Delta. To me, it’s a magical place.”

New Orleans is a melting pot of food, culture, music and pretty much everything else, outlined Rose, adding this hybrid atmosphere makes “some people call it the northernmost South American city, and I have to agree.” Louisville during the Kentucky Derby? “It’s as wild as you’d imagine. A huge party, all sorts of characters. You’re almost there to watch the people…it’s a colourful experience, that’s for sure,” he said. And the bits of the South between the home of Mardi Gras and the home of the Derby (literature-soaked Austin, Mississippi, roadside restaurants in Alabama, the agricultural heartland of Georgia, the endless white fences and brilliant spring bluegrass outside Lexington)? “You’re seeing a slice of American life that is on its own. A real piece of small town America. I’ve always been fascinated by that,” said Rose.

Although Torres is a familiar character for readers of Rose’s fiction, the novel contains plenty of new elements. The dog Foxworth, for instance, which Rose writes not just as an animal sidekick for Torres, but as a complete character in his own right. Indeed the frame narrative is relayed in large part through a series of letters Foxworth writes and sends to another dog, Lula Mae. 

What’s it like to get into a dog’s head, literarily speaking? Not without challenges, explained Rose, but “it gives a unique twist, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to incorporate humour into the story structure.”

Run for Roses is also Rose’s first work to use a dual narrative, which comes with complexities, but which allowed him to develop the book’s plot in new ways.

“I’ve always wanted to play with a dual narrative and an unreliable narrator…doing so was an opportunity to have a layered narrative instead of the normal straight ahead first person narrative,” he said. “Readers can piece together what’s happening in the story before the characters do. You can see there’s a connection that’s coming, but there’s still tension, because you’re not sure exactly what it is.”

Rose has plans to eventually write a third Meko Torres novel, completing a trilogy. There’s no word yet on when this novel will be published, but Rose said it will pick up right where Chung Piece left off, with Torres on a sailboat after recovering from COVID-19.

Local graphic designer Sarah Bennett created the cover for Run for Roses. She had previously done the covers for Chung Piece and Boo Hoff (Rose’s short story anthology). 

Run for Roses is available at Sobey’s, online in paperback, Kindle or ebook format, and as an audiobook on Spotify and iTunes. For more, check out