It was with some trepidation, tempered with a bit of excitement, that I approached my subject, mostly because I'd never conducted a person to person Q&A before. But I like a challenge, and it helped that this writer is someone whose work I've long been a fan of, who has always tried to do a little something different with his books. A bit of serendipity helped, too.
Although I live in Ottawa at the moment, I'm woefully unfamiliar with the literary scene. I know it exists, but I don't much take part in it. So while perusing Michael Connelly's site one day in May, I came across a listing for an upcoming event in Ottawa. At first I laughed, because hardly any crime writers come to Ottawa (even if this is false, that's what I thought at the time.) And since I was about to revamp the blog and add new features, an occasional interview series seemed like a good idea. Also, I wanted to ask Connelly some stuff that I hadn't seen mentioned in prior interviews. So I jumped at the chance.
Several email exchanges later, the deal was struck, and on a sunny day in June I drove over to the Chapters near my house to wait for Connelly as his very first stop on a mini-tour of Canada. The staff were awestruck that he'd be coming to their store to sign books. I smiled inside, because I don't get starstruck much with crime writers anymore. I do, however, get tickled any time I see those folks who do.
Later that evening was the real reason for Connelly's appearance in Ottawa, a ticketed event held at the Chateau Laurier. I have been to many events and signings; I haven't seen this kind of crowd in ages, if ever. They gave him a standing ovation before he said a word. A cursory glance at various members of the crowd found eager, hopeful, and nervous looks. They were here to see Michael Connelly, Bestselling Crime Writer. And he put on a great show, first talking about THE NARROWS, then reading an excerpt, then answering questions from a local radio disc jockey. The best part was when Connelly related some journo anecdotes from his time as the crime beat reporter for the LA Times, and also when he realized he'd made the right decision in getting out when his successor was among those scrumming at O.J. Simpson's house after the car chase and infamous arrest.
I enjoyed it immensely, and chuckled at the signing line that went both ways. I had a long conversation with Kari Atwell, Connelly's Canadian publicist, about authors we knew, those we had yet to meet, the book biz in general, and (naturally) Bouchercon. Eventually, the signing line dwindled, and I said my goodbyes to Atwell and Connelly, who were on their way to another event in Montreal the next day. He cracked that I'd come to listen to the same questions I'd asked him earlier in the afternoon. Not exactly, I replied, because with every interviewer, it's different.
It's true. And it's also bloody hard work, but a lot of fun. Helped by the fact that Connelly, who's been through this a zillion times, is a class act throughout, whether with a nervous blogger or a crowd of hundreds, if not more. We spent three quarters of an hour talking about book tours, his work in progress, switching from first person to third and back again, inside jokes that pop up, his longterm relationships with his agent and US editor, and the two interviews that nearly caused him to file a complaint (with very good reason.) For those that have not read THE NARROWS yet, there are spoilers. You have been warned.
Thanks go out to Shannon Byrne at Little, Brown & co., Kari Atwell at H.B. Fenn and Jane Davis for help in setting this all up. And without further adieu, the interview starts after the jump.
THE IDIOSYNCRATIC INTERVIEW: MICHAEL CONNELLY
Conducted on June 15, 2004
SW: Have you been to Canada before?
MC: Canada, yes, several times. I’ve never been to Ottawa before.
SW: How much time are you spending here?
MC: One night in Ottawa, one night in Montreal. It’s a book tour after all. (laughs)
SW: Aside from Canada, you’ve been doing a lot of touring, not just this year but in general. Do you write on tour or do you leave the work-in-progress at home?
MC: I used to, and I tried to this time, but in the last couple of years the nature of touring (especially in the United States) has changed in that [the publishers] have been able to chart across the country places that do a good lunchtime signing, Chicago for example—
SW: New York, too.
MC: To a degree, but New York’s always been a difficult signing town, for me at least. But anyway, four years ago I’d go on a book tour and I wouldn’t have to do anything till that night, otherwise I could go to my hotel and sit in my room and write. Now things have completely changed because I have to get the earliest flight to the next city and have to do something at noon. So it’s really disruptive to write on the road and consequently this year, this book tour I did no work at all. That’s probably the first time it’s ever happened.
SW: How far along are you with the new book?
MC: Percentage-wise, my books are usually 400 pages in manuscript and I’ve finished about 240, so more than half.
SW: So did you stop at a point where you could put the book aside, or are you still thinking about it and working out things with regards to the book?
MC: While I’m traveling I haven’t typed a single word, and it’s a loss of momentum. So much about writing a book is about keeping up energy and momentum in a single year, so for the tour to happen right in the middle of writing is pretty detrimental. I have to just restart the momentum when I get back.
SW: You were saying off-tape that you’d been back home for about a week after touring the UK. Did you do any writing during that week?
MC: No (laughs). I was too exhausted. And I didn’t want to start again knowing that I’d have an interruption, with this trip and another one in Italy, so I’m really looking at July 1st as when I’ll start again. What I’ve got going for me is that the second half of a book is always easier for me to write than the first half, the first half is like climbing up a roof; the second half is going down the roof. I’ve got a feeling that once I get going again in July it won’t take me too long to finish.
SW: When’s the deadline?
MC: I have to be done by October or else I’m really in the area of…the publishers want to keep me on this regular cycle, late April, early May, so to make that I have to turn it in by October. That’s what I did for the last book.
SW: I talk a lot on the blog about the pressure for authors to stay on a book-a-year schedule. Is that something you feel or is the annual cycle more of a natural rhythm?
MC: It was a natural rhythm or it’s always been one, coming out of journalism and having deadlines, so it’s never been a problem to write a book a year. Sometimes I’ve written more than one a year. But in the last couple of years the demands—I shouldn’t even say it that way because it’s not like I don’t want to do this, because I’m willing to do it—but the amount of travel on a world view has increased so much that it’s making it a little more difficult to do a book a year. So what’s happened is my publisher’s constricting the editing, the preparation and marketing, and there’s less time for all of it.
SW: How much time did they devote to it before as compared to now?
MC: Well, I was on this cycle where [my books] would come out in April, and for a long time I’d turn in the new book just as I’d go on a book tour. So I wouldn’t be writing and I’d be gone for two or three weeks and that’s when my editor would read the new book. But the last few years I haven’t been able to do that…so they still come out during the same period but my turn-in times have gone from June or July to October. It’s a carry over from the year I published two books [CITY OF BONES and CHASING THE DIME, both published in 2002], so that’s what messed me up a bit.
SW: So you turned in CHASING THE DIME the previous October and the following book the year after?
MC: I can’t really remember….I think so.
SW: Just to change directions a little bit, it seems that writers, even those just starting out, are faced with so much to do from a publicity standpoint. Do you ever just want to say “enough already”?
MC: Yeah, in the middle of a tour I feel that way, because I’m not writing. But I actually don’t agree about what you said about new writers because what I’m getting is very rare. That’s why I hesitate to say “enough,” because not that many writers get this kind of attention—
SW: We only hear about the ones who get so much attention.
MC: Yeah, and especially in the crime fiction field, most books that come out don’t get any attention. Even the best ones get very little until they’ve been out a while and win some awards, then people might notice. I’m very cognizant of the opportunities I get, so it’s not like I throw up my hands. It’s about finding a balance and keeping on a routine that’s comfortable for me.
SW: Have you reached a comfort level or are you still striving for it?
MC: Well, this year is a little unusual because of the nature of [THE NARROWS], the demands would be higher. THE POET was the one that really put me on the map in other countries, especially Europe, so we knew that if we had a book that would be seen as a sequel, that every country that publishes it would want me to come over. So either we’d have to say no or look at this year as one of more travel. And I’m not nearly done yet. But that’s how I live with it, by saying this isn’t always the way it’s going to be. Next year I might do a total of only two weeks’ travel. This year it’s almost two months when all is said and done.
SW: There was one book, VOID MOON, where you decided not to tour at all.
SW: I think you’d said before that not doing so had an adverse effect on sales, so is there a danger that not touring much would have the same effect again?
MC: Everything about publishing is unscientific. So all I know is that out of 14 books, VOID MOON was the only one that dipped down in sales. And I didn’t tour for it. So it could have been that, but the book also came out three days after Christmas, so it might have been bad timing, that people had already bought Christmas presents. The publisher also decided to move up the date at the last minute from January. So the confusion, that the catalogs and book industry magazines had the original date listed, might have had something to do with it as well.
SW: Yeah, publishers do it all the time, move books up or back.
MC: It happened with this book. Initially it was supposed to be out in April. They put out catalogs so far in advance and a lot of stores, chains will go with that date, enter it into their computers not realizing it’s been changed.
SW: That’s true. And the fact that the catalogs have the book covers even before the manuscript’s completed.
MC: Yeah. I mean right now, the new book’s not done, but this month is catalog season. So they need to know the title and other things. The nature of the business.
SW: I’ll get to the one you’re working on later, but I want to talk a little bit about THE NARROWS. Everyone asks the question about why you wrote a sequel to the Poet but no one seems to ask this: why kill McCaleb, and why now?
MC: I knew I wasn’t going to write about him again. It all came out of creative means or needs. I knew after I wrote A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT I wouldn’t write about him again simply because he was too well-adjusted, too normal and when you’re writing these books you have to figure out which character can sustain you, keep you interested, gives you that juice for your engine over a year’s time. I didn’t think I’d want to spend year writing about that character again. Initially, if I stare at a blank screen in front of me and decide what to write, it’s really a) a character I know or b) somebody new. And if it’s a), there’s no way Terry McCaleb could ever unseat Harry Bosch as far as someone I’d be excited about writing again. That was 3-4 years ago, so for this book I decided to use him in a way that would be an exciting incident for another story.
SW: Sure, you could have just decided not to write about him again and leave it at that. But doing it like this is certainly a shocking way to open a novel.
MC: I think it’s better to conclude stories even if you’re writing about series characters. Even if it’s not a conclusion people will like.
SW: One of the criticisms someone like Robert B. Parker gets is that Spenser, throughout the series, stays static and doesn’t really change much. Whereas Harry Bosch definitely grows and changes throughout the series, which is more of a risk to take.
MC: I don’t know if it’s risk, more like a creative choice. There are a lot of people who write series where the character doesn’t age, the time doesn’t change, and there’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. But coming from journalism, I thought it would be better to show things in a chronological fashion and a character that ages so that, if I was lucky and got to write a number of books about that character, I could show his evolution as well as the city’s evolution. So there were a number of almost sociological reasons for doing what I did and it worked out well but the downside is Robert Parker can keep writing about Spenser as long as he wants. I can’t do that with Bosch. I’m getting close to the end because he’s aging in real time and I’m not going to suddenly stop that.
SW: So the end is definitely in sight. Will you know, at the time you sit down in front of the proverbial blank screen, that it’ll be the end for Bosch and you’ll know how to construct it? Or will it be more of a surprise?
MC: Well I hope it will be! And I know I’m repeating myself but it really does come back to that year, can you keep it going the entire time. And sometimes I’ve been writing a Bosch book and thought “this could be the last one” and I almost ended the series that way. Though I was hoping, as I wrote them, that it wouldn’t be the case, that I’d get the juice to keep the series going. And it turned out I did.
SW: With LOST LIGHT, yeah, if you had decided not to bring Bosch back, that book would have been a fitting ending. But with THE NARROWS it was like you brought Bosch back to what he was once before, what he did best—being a cop.
MC: Something happened where I got rejuvenated—not about Harry because I’ve felt close to him all along—more about opportunities I got from the Police Department. People helped me, doors opened, and so forth. Different areas of the LAPD opened up and that was very exciting. So THE NARROWS doesn’t have the same feel that CITY OF BONES or LOST LIGHT did. When I wrote THE NARROWS I was definitely setting up future books. Hopefully Harry has at least 3 or 4 more books in him.
SW: I also found with the last two books that Harry was trying on a different genre (LOST LIGHT was more a PI novel, THE NARROWS more suspense-driven) and much as I enjoyed the books, maybe Harry was uncomfortable in these new skins. But in this new book you’re writing, you’re returning to a more procedural-driven format. Were you attempting to put him back in his rightful place?
MC: Yeah, not just Harry but me as well. I think Harry’s more interesting as a character when he’s inside the system, manipulating and trying to find his way around the obstacles of bureaucracy. I lost that when I took him out of the police department. What I found after only two books was that this was going to get old fast, and unrealistic, and was I going to end the series or find a way of putting Harry back in the Department. So one of the things that happened was that William Bratton, the former NYPD chief (and current LAPD Commissioner) who came to LA a couple of years ago, I heard through mutual contacts that he was a fan of my books. So I sent him a message asking if there was a realistic way for Harry to come back to the police department even though he was retired. He contacted me and said yes, because he was championing what happens in THE NARROWS, this thing of bringing veteran detectives back. So when Harry comes back in, it’s a realistic way of doing so.
SW: When I came across that I did think that it was pretty ingenious and not forced at all.
MC: Some people wondered if it was forced or made up but it actually isn’t.
SW: Just another example of truth being stranger than fiction. Or really truth serving fiction. Look at Ian Rankin, how much he makes use of real-life incidents or cases and how those changes affect Rebus.
SW: A few years ago, after CITY OF BONES, you said several times that you wanted to write a couple of books about Harry’s life post-LAPD called DARK SACRED NIGHT and BRIGHT BLESSED DAY. DARK SACRED NIGHT obviously became LOST LIGHT, but what relation did BRIGHT BLESSED DAY have to THE NARROWS?
MC: Probably none. When I said that, I had no idea what BRIGHT BLESSED DAY would be about. Both those titles are lines from a song I like (Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”). My publisher dissuaded me from using DARK SACRED NIGHT as a title, so once that was gone there was no reason to use BRIGHT BLESSED DAY because it might run into the same marketing problems. I don’t plan my books out that far, but I knew I’d try to do this private eye thing for a couple of books.
SW: The other thing with THE NARROWS that’s been criticized is that you bring things together so much so that you throw in some “Easter eggs,” that you make reference to Ian Rankin, George Pelecanos—
MC: What’s funny getting so much attention about it for THE NARROWS is that I’ve been doing this kind of stuff all along. I’ve mentioned George’s books, mentioned Rankin before. On the one hand, it’s giving a nod to people I admire or who have helped me, but on the other hand it’s creating a reality for the stories. I really want people to think that these characters—Bosch for example—really operates in the real world that you know. So I’m always referencing real things that happen, trying to make the books as contemporary as possible. So that’s why I do it. It’s also—I keep coming back to it—but it’s also about spending that year of writing, figuring out what to do so you don’t need an alarm clock to get up. These are little things that help. And there are many real people in the books that people don’t even realize are real. They just help me keep going. The cop who talks Harry into rejoining, he’s a real cop who’s helped me over a number of years. The guy who owns the bookstore, Ed Thomas, is a real guy. He was just a passing reference in the Poet but became an important part of THE NARROWS so I had to use him again. A lot of people outside publishing don’t know these people are real but it helps me to keep the reality within the books.
SW: So it’s more of an amusement to you as you’re writing.
MC: Yeah, I mean I’m also aware of the reading process, that when you run across these references, like an inside joke, it makes reading more fun.
SW: Like when Harry was talking about first edition prices of a Pelecanos book.
MC: Well, when I first wrote that, I said it was 300, 400 dollars. Because I was using real people I gave the manuscript to Ed Thomas, since I didn’t want to write anything he’d object to, and the note he came back with was that the price was way too low. He could sell it for whatever’s in there now, $700 or something.
SW: Talk a little bit about the book you’re writing now, with Harry back in the LAPD. He’s working on a cold case?
MC: Yeah, in the department they call it open-unsolved. Cold case is kind of like the media catchphrase, what you see on TV shows. I hesitate to boil it down to saying Harry’s working on the Cold Case squad. What happens is when you go back into the program the Chief’s implemented, you’re there at his convenience and so he puts Bosch on a case [Bratton] wants an answer to. It involves a murder from 1988 so in a way you could say it’s a cold case. But if you look back over the course of the series, Harry’s investigated a lot of old cases. So it’s really a case of the Chief recognizing Harry’s expertise and using it in a proper way.
SW: And you’re writing it in third person POV?
MC: Yeah. He’s back to the badge so it’s going back that way.
SW: How is it to switch back, even though you’ve written Harry in third person several times before?
MC: It really wasn’t an adjustment, and I actually like it better because I enjoy making people curious about Harry, when he’s doing something and the reader’s wondering what he’s up to, if they can get ahead of him on this curve to figure out what he’s doing. It’s really impossible to do that in first person because it’s Harry telling the story, so he’s not telling you what he’s doing. He’s kind of cheating you. I lost that when I went to first person, though there were also positives: he became a richer character. But I think Harry, operating within the department, works best in third.
SW: Have you tried writing Harry in first person within the department setting?
MC: No, I never have. It just wouldn’t work out. Though I’m a little more than halfway through, I guess I could always switch.
SW: This is the third straight book with Bosch which is the longest you’ve been in his head.
MC: Yeah, since the beginning when I wrote four in a row. The personal changes he’s gone through in the last few books have been pretty dramatic in a short amount of time while the earlier books didn’t have as much evolution. So I think these changes like becoming a father have increased my interest in him, and I’ve gone from one book to another to the other, wanting to continue the story. It’s also knowing that time is short with him. He’s 54 this year, so I’m only going to write about him another 3, 4 years. At least in the present; I could always go backwards.
SW: Have you given the idea of a prequel much thought?
MC: When I read books like HARD REVOLUTION (by George Pelecanos) that do it so well, then yeah, it sets the bar really high for that kind of story but it’s also very inspiring. Over the years I’ve made a few mentions in the books and I know some people that were involved in the Patty Hearst case in the early ‘70s. I’ve made reference to Harry patrolling during that time, during the shootout with the SLA. It was a big thing in LA in the early 70s. That era is interesting to me and I’ve been figuring out a story that would go with it. I don’t know if it would ever become a book or not, maybe a short story.
SW: Wow, that is interesting. Especially since most people, when they think prequel, think of Harry’s Vietnam days, but at least to me, the post-Vietnam time would make for a richer story.
MC: Right, and Vietnam would be prevalent in Harry’s mind, so it could be a Vietnam book, just not set there. Because it would be very hard to write a book set in Vietnam since it wasn’t my own experience, and I have this journalistic sense of trying to get it right, so it would be hard to write a 300-400 page story set there and get it all right. Although there was a flashback sequence in Bob Crais’s THE LAST DETECTIVE that was riveting. So that, and HARD REVOLUTION have made me think I can try to do it.
SW: That leads into my next question: What do you want to try in the future that you haven’t done before?
MC: I don’t know. It’s not like I have these long-range goals, or that I want to write a historical novel or a non-crime novel. Those things could happen but I don’t count them as goals.
SW: You have made mention of tackling a non-genre novel at some point.
MC: But the question would be “why?” Is there something that I have to say that I can’t be said through a crime novel. So far, I don’t think there is.
SW: Thankfully the crime genre encompasses so many facets and subjects that I’d be hard-pressed to think of a reason to do so, unless you’re really going out of left field.
MC: Yeah, I mean I could reach that point where I feel like it’s constricting but I don’t think that will happen.
SW: To bring up your journalistic background again, but in a different context: Every year you tour and, for lack of a better phrase, do the dog-and-pony show of people coming around to interview you (like I’m doing now.) One of the things that has interested me, especially because a great many writers are former journalists, is how that training comes back when you’re on the other side, someone interviewing you instead of you interviewing them?
MC: I don’t know how much it prepares you; maybe it makes you more cautious about your answers. It also makes you a little more empathic to the interviewer because it’s something you’ve done. I’ve done many interviews and now I’m on the other side of the microphone, so to speak. I will try to give things I haven’t given to everybody else. There develops a kind of conveyor-belt quality to all the media you suddenly do; you go ten or eleven months a year without talking to anyone and then you’re talking to five or six people a day. So it’s hard to keep anything individual but it is something I try to do.
SW: Especially since some interviewers just ask a few boilerplate questions and want to get out of there quickly.
MC: Yeah. Although one thing they didn’t have in my day was journalists with websites.
MC: So a lot of research that would have to be done is already available and you don’t have to do a lot of the small talk, “You were born where…?” and all that stuff. So that’s kind of nice. You can just get to the point more quickly.
SW: Then, sometimes, you can run into trouble when you encounter a journalist with a preconceived agenda. Have you had any instances of that happen to you?
MC: This is my fourteenth book so I don’t even know how many times I’ve been interviewed, but it’s a lot. I’ve only had two problems in my whole career where I wanted to register a complaint. It’s funny, both these things happened when I allowed the reporters to come to my house. My wife does not want to have any kind of public image or be part of the promotional efforts of my books so she religiously avoids being interviewed, does not want to be photographed, does not want to be named, and she extends that to our daughter. So we have this agreement, and it was violated once when we were living in Los Angeles. Strange people had got a hold of my address and they printed a story with my daughter’s name in it, where I lived. It was a pretty egregious violation of the agreement I had with the journalist.
SW: I’ll say.
MC: I had it on email and everything. What bothers me is that I complained to her editor and showed these emails and he did not care. So it says something about the whole organization.
SW: That was the piece (in the New Times LA) where they gave away the ending of CITY OF BONES a year early?
MC: Yeah, they did that kind of stuff. But that paper’s out of business and it doesn’t surprise me with the way they practiced journalism.
SW: And the other case?
MC: Well, I guess that was a freelance thing but it ran in the Independent in the UK. I just think…I don’t know what to say, it was supposed to be a profile of me, and it was an inaccurate profile. It seems kind of weird, and I probably shouldn’t complain about it—kind of like someone crying out “that’s not me, that’s not me” I mean, what does it matter? But I just think there were things taken out of context and misconstrued, and there were other things I know I didn’t say. Especially because there were British-type words--
MC: Yeah, vernacular, things like me supposedly saying, “In nine years’ time I want to do this or that.”
SW: Yeah, you see that all the time in UK interviews where they substitute words here and there, and you just know Americans wouldn’t say anything like that.
MC: Yeah, exactly, and there they are attributed to me. I was tricked, and it bothers me since I was a journalist, not that I’ve ever tricked anyone—
SW: Sure. (laughs)
MC: But I tried to be accurate. And in trying to help this journalist out he used my words against me.
SW: I think even someone who was unfamiliar with your work could recognize that it was a hatchet job, because the piece didn’t come together in any meaningful way. I said before that it was like he had a preconceived notion of who you were before he even showed up at your house. I wonder if it’s because you’re who you are, not necessarily outgoing or gregarious, and so some people have a hard time dealing with that.
MC: No, not really, I mean these were aberrations, just those two times. What embarrassed me in this case was that he twisted my words to make it seem like I was leading an assault on Ian Rankin in the United Kingdom, which is the furthest thing from the truth. I mention him in my books—why would I mention “the enemy” ?
SW: Never mind that you share the same publisher.
MC: In both countries! It was embarrassing. I had to tell him that was not ever my intent. And as an example of me being empathic to journalists, he wanted to know where my books sell well. So I kind of went down a long list of where they sold, and he quoted me as if I had said “aha, I’m better than Ian Rankin” when that answer had nothing to do with anything I had said about Rankin at all.
SW: That was definitely not one of the finer moments in interviewing.
MC: I had already told you that my wife wants my daughter of my public life. So this guy was traveling through the country, and I don’t normally let journalists come to my house but I agreed to it at my (UK) publisher’s urging. So he made out in the article about me not interacting with my family, it’s because he was there, he was the reason. I think it ended like, I had turned away—
SW: That’s right.
MC: I turned away from my family because I was not going to introduce him to them, to my daughter. I told him that at the beginning. So he doesn’t mention I had that rule, just that I “turned away from my family.”
SW: It’s like I was saying about preconceived notions. A lot of writers, both sides of the Atlantic, they get too confessional in interviews. And you’re very much about the writing, about what you’re actually doing. It’s admirable that you keep your family out of it, but that’s a problem for people looking for something extra.
MC: Yeah, I don’t know. He also said I kept harping about the GQ profile—I never brought it up, he kept doing a lazy journalistic thing of confirming what had been said in the article. He’d ask if I said something and I’d say, “Yes, I said that, but this is what I meant.” So I was just responding to him and he goes and writes that I can’t stop talking about it.
SW: To bring up something more positive, you are still the president of the MWA (Mystery Writers of America)
MC: Yes. Till the end of the year.
SW: Are you the only one who’s served two terms?
MC: I think they said that at the Edgars but I didn’t go and check that personally.
SW: How did you get that gig?
MC: They asked me—the president’s position is an honorary role. It’s elected, but unopposed. The board of directors get a name, they put it on a ballot, so unless you’re a real bastard you’re gonna get elected. (laughs) So they asked me to do it again, for a second year. I think the crime novel is important in this day and age and so that’s kind of like my mission statement. They like that, so that’s why they asked me to do it again.
SW: So what kind of work does being MWA president involve?
MC: It doesn’t involve a lot. Some public speaking, Edgars week, things like that. Sending letters under my name, and I think that gets people’s attention, whether it’s to publishers, to seek ads in journals, or hoping to get more people to join. People who should be members Mystery Writers of America that might not even know about it.
SW: I’m surprised that people wouldn’t know about the MWA; they just seem so ever present in my experience.
MC: Well I only know my own experience, I was totally naïve about the whole world of publishing, let alone smaller parts like the MWA. I didn’t know about it when I first published a book, but then I got a letter asking me to join. I can’t remember who the president was then, but that’s how I started out.
SW: So how much were you aware about the publishing side of things at first?
MC: I knew nothing at all about the whole world of mystery conventions and book signings and collecting, nothing about it.
SW: Did you tour for THE BLACK ECHO (his first novel?)
SW: So when did you start doing full-scale tours?
MC: I did two signings for THE BLACK ECHO on my own at Los Angeles bookstores that contacted me. I never did a real book tour until my fifth book, THE POET. I had done stuff before—my publisher had sent me to a Bouchercon, sent me to Phoenix for a signing, so I did sporadic things here and there. But when I toured for THE POET I was on the road for 28 straight days.
SW: Something else that really piqued my interest is that you’ve had the same publisher throughout your career, the same agent and I think the same editor, too.
MC: Pretty much. My first book was edited by another editor who then quit almost a year before it came out.
SW: So you were orphaned!
MC: Yeah. Then Michael Pietsch took the book over, and he more or less took it to market, but didn’t edit it. And I’ve been with him ever since. So he’s been involved with all my books, but edited 13 out of 14.
SW: So after working on so many books together, how has your relationship with Pietsch changed over time?
MC: Well the editing hasn’t changed, I hope. We both kind of climbed the ladder together, when he took me on I think he was a senior editor and now he’s the Publisher. So now he’s actually editing fewer books and now there’s a reader in between us who gives some thoughts. But the essential relationship remains the same in that we pick up the phone and call each other whenever we want to talk about things like what I’m doing next, what I’m in the middle of. Or talk about the difficulty I’ve had writing lately because of all the travel. So he’s still very much hands on. Then when it gets to editing the book I think his genius is in keeping the velocity of the book, which is very important.
SW: Has he ever had to save a book or is his work more subtle?
MC: I don’t think he’s ever saved a book but he’s definitely improved them. He really spends a lot of time on the first hundred pages, going at it with a scalpel rather than a hatchet, making small suggestions and cuts. He makes the beginning of a book move quickly and smoothly, that comes out of the philosophy of reader investment.
MC: If you can bring them into the story smoothly and they invest this time, then they’ll stay with it. So he spends a lot of time going over the first part of my books. Over the years he’s suggested whole chapters be cut, entire prefaces be cut.
SW: What’s an example of something you’d inserted and he then cut?
MC: Well, everything comes in a big long letter of suggested cuts. He won’t do anything unless I actually do so myself. I never get a manuscript back and wonder what happened to a paragraph. That’s not been my experience in the editing process. It may happen to other writers in the book world—it happened to me all the time in the newspaper business (laughs)—but never in the book business. It’s more of a back and forth.
SW: [goes into a long-winded spiel about my own editing practices]
MC: I’ll give you an example. I turned in the manuscript of THE LAST COYOTE with a six page preface that was a memory Harry Bosch had of his mother when he was eleven or twelve. Michael thought it slowed the ingress into the book and rightfully pointed out that almost everything about that memory was touched on in later in the book, little snippets here and there. So whatever I delivered to the reader in those first six pages were delivered anyway in the book, so we should cut it. I didn’t want to do that, and we talked about it a lot and eventually I did it. I’ve come to realize that it was a good thing to do.
SW: So keeping the continuity aspect, you’ve been with your agent, Phil Spitzer, the whole time as well. So how much change has there been in your relationship with him, as it must be different as a young writer seeking representation as opposed to where you are now.
MC: I always had the sense of “I can’t believe I’ve been invited to the party.” So I don’t think I was a difficult client as a young writer. Our relationship has changed because of two things: one, we’ve become closer personal friends whereas at the beginning it was strictly a business relationship. And also, the priorities of what he has to do with my work have changed. He wanted to get me established, he wanted to take a long view with me at the beginning and have a career that builds, which came to pass and worked really well. Now it’s more of a world view, more about monitoring the publishers to make sure they’re doing the many things they promised to do in terms of marketing and advertising. It’s a real management situation now, about all the things that happen after I write.
SW: About the business of being Michael Connelly.
MC: Right. He used to manage a core of agents who dealt with my books in other countries, but it was getting too complicated and impinging on my ability to write when I have to deal with all these contracts and issues. To get that out of my life, a few books ago I signed a world deal with Little, Brown. So now Phil’s not dealing with all these other agents on the more recent books.
SW: So publishers like Orion, they just deal directly with Little, Brown.
SW: I guess I always thought it was better to have it the other way.
MC: It could be better the other way. It doesn’t matter so much with me because my books generally earn out (laughs), but if your agent is piecemealing it around the world, they could probably get more money in each deal and that adds up to more than what you were originally going to get but if you’re going to be getting royalties everywhere, then you’re not really going to lose anything.
SW: Both Phil Spitzer and Michael Pietsch share something in common in that they both, (or Michael as part of Little, Brown) have such amazing rosters of writers that you’re surrounded with. How does Little, Brown in particular attract people like Ian Rankin and George Pelecanos and now Denise Mina?
MC: I don’t know, I mean I keep my head down and try not to pay attention. But I’ve also recommended many writers over the years that they didn’t take on. All I really know is that from day one, they didn’t say that we’ll publish and see what happens. They said we’ll publish this book and set up the next one. They have always had a long view with me and they carry that attitude to other writers. So that when it came to crime fiction they wanted a very high quality stable of writers.
SW: I really think so. I recently finished reading a book of theirs that you blurbed, Deon Meyer’s HEART OF THE HUNTER, which was especially interesting because of the South African setting.
MC: They are taking a world view, that’s for sure. With Denise, Ian, Deon Meyer, and I think that’s kind of neat. Especially because almost all publishers in other countries look at the entire world and in this country we don’t. And I think we should.
SW: One last question: There seems to be a trend with a lot of crime writers to try their hand at children’s literature. Is that something that’s ever crossed your mind?
MC: (laughs) Not really. I have a seven-year-old daughter who loves to read, but I don’t know if I could do that, if it’s something I could do well in that regard. Although I’m getting more familiar with children’s books from reading them with her.
SW: What’s she reading at the moment?
MC: It’s probably too old for her but we’re reading THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.
SW: That’s such a great book!
MC: Yeah. We’re about halfway through that. I see this book as almost a modern-day CATCHER IN THE RYE. It’s just so well done, so why should I even try to write something like that. I’m going to stick to what I know I can do halfway well.