INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL CONNELLY

By Denise Baton

Michael Connelly Michael Connelly won the Edgar Award, Best First Novel, for THE BLACK ECHO, number one in the Hieronymous Bosch series, plus the Anthony Award, Best Novel of 1998, for BLOOD WORK, a Terry Caleb mystery. Michael is also the winner of the Macavity, the Nero, the Maltese Falcon in Japan, the .38 Caliber in France, and the Grand Prix, also in France. I wanted to interview him not only because he is a big award winner but because he is the quintessential mystery writer. His work sells extremely well and heís known, not only in Europe and Japan, but also the Netherlands and Korea. In no time, his books are scooped up and optioned by a powerful star or studio in Hollywood. Even Clint Eastwood had to get in on it and presently has the rights to BLOOD WORK.

Michaelís glory is hard-earned. He has a background in journalism and worked the crime beat in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, covering everything from cocaine wars to airline crashes. Michael landed a position as crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times and heís been in the city of lost angels ever since.

For those of you who are book collectors or just diehard Michael Connelly fans, B.E. Trice Publishing is now offering a limited edition of Michaelís next book, A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT, which will be available in late November. You can also purchase a deluxe edition that is leather bound.

Level 9 Whatever you do, donít miss Michaelís television series, LEVEL 9, an exciting new show about a unique task force that fights cyber crime, which premiered on UPN Friday, October 27 at 9:00PM/8PM Central. The producers and writers of LEVEL 9, Michael is both, have a concept for this series that is not only reality-based but also a vision of the future. A mix of FBI, Secret Service and computer hacker personalities versus never-seen-before techno-villains makes for unending digital possibilities.

Interviewing Michael was a real pleasure and Iíd like to do it again because I have so many more questions.

 

Denise: I'm pleased to hear that we will be seeing more of Harry Bosch and I'm quite curious as to what trouble he gets into in your next book, A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT. That Terry Caleb is smart but he's no match for Harry! What made you decide to have these two do battle? How did that concept occur to you? It's almost as if your good and bad angels have gone to war.

Michael: I think because it was my tenth book I wanted to do something that might bring together many of the different characters I have written about. Also, for a long time I had wanted to do an exploration of Bosch's character through another set of eyes. In other words, every Bosch book is an exploration of his character, but in those books the world is seen through his eyes. So what we know about Bosch essentially comes from him. In Darkness you get a different view, Harry Bosch through the eyes of Terry McCaleb.

Denise: You mentioned that you were concerned that readers might not be pleased with Harry in DARKNESS MORE THAN LIGHT. Does that mean he does something that you don't approve of? In my world, Harry Bosch can do no wrong.

Michael: Well, I think what makes Harry an interesting character to write about and hopefully to read about is that he is a flawed character. In this book his flaws are magnified because he is more or less studied by McCaleb. Also, Bosch has always walked on the edge above the gray area of the abyss. If you are a character like that, in real life or not, you can slip and fall if you take your eyes away for just a moment. In Darkness, Harry takes his eyes away for a moment and things happen.

Denise: I've noticed in a number of your books that there are recurring characters. For instance, characters and locations that were introduced in TRUNK MUSIC, a Harry Bosch story, were mentioned and/or appeared in VOID MOON, a story that features a female criminal and her spine-tingling drama. Is that part of a fun puzzle for you? Or is that merely where the characters are living in your mind and so they jump out in appropriate stories?

Michael: I think all of my stories and characters are moving on the same plane of time. So when I can and where it is possible I like mixing them together, so that one minor character in one book might show up in another. It helps link all the work so that in my mind it is all part of the same story mozaic.

Denise: I have to say that THE LAST COYOTE is my favorite Harry Bosch story because we, as the readers, get an intimate look at Harry's deeply personal emotional life. You mentioned at the fundraiser for the Pasadena Library that your favorite is ANGEL'S FLIGHT because of its evaluation of community and its social/political content. This indicates a wide range of ability on your part. Do you think this has to do with your background in journalism? Or some other aspect?

Michael: I don't know where it comes from. I guess a dedication to the work. If I'm a good writer it is because I am a good reader. I am able to observe the aspects of novels that make them good. I then try to take it into my own writing. I write crime novels but the crime and the mystery and all of that stuff is always secondary to what I want to say about the protagonist and his or her relationship to the world.

Denise: LEVEL 9, is that in reference to severity of crime? Where does that term come from?

Michael: The TV show I created with a friend of mine is called LEVEL 9 after the FBI's designation for cyber crime of the highest severity and concern.

Denise: Can you share with us some of the joys and heartaches of being both a producer and writer on a television series?

Michael: I was executive producer on the pilot and will now serve as a consulting producer as the show goes into production. I needed to step back from it so that I could continue writing books. It has been an interesting process. Seeing a story on paper become something that is actually played out and filmed was a thrill. I guess the only downside I would mention is the disappointment of never being able to capture exactly what you envisioned.

Denise: Do you have a funny or ironic story to share about your experience on Level 9?

Michael: I don't know that I do. I think that because I am fortunate enough to have a book-writing career going well, I was able to take the show and how things went with an open mind. This made the whole process fun. When I would look out at the sea of trailers and equipment trucks on a set, I actually felt very fulfilled thinking about how it all came from a story my partner and I had put down on paper.

Denise: I understand that the rights to all your work have been scooped up by Hollywood. Does that feel great? Do you feel tied or constrained in anyway because of that?

Michael: That Hollywood likes my stuff doesn't in and of itself validate anything. I think the most positive thing that came out of Hollywood for me was the freedom its money gave me. Taking money from Hollywood allowed me to quit my day job and concentrate fully on the writing of my novels. To me that was a great deal and one I would make again in a heart beat.

Denise: You mentioned that you kept your day job all the way through to your fourth published book. Did you ever doubt that you would be anything but a fabulously successful writer?

Michael: Sure, there are always doubts. There are still doubts today. I think a writer should be his own toughest critic, and if he is, then there will be doubts.

Denise: How does it look from where you are now? How do you feel about your journey?

Michael: The journey, no matter where you are on it--beginning or end--is the thing. I have enjoyed every step of the way. From the first unpublished efforts to the waiting for the first published book to come out, to the battle through the sophmore jinx and on and on. It is easy to say this once you've had some success, but I have liked every bit of it because it's not about money or book sales or fame or anything else other than the writing. All of those things are great to achieve but they don't come close to the fulfillment that comes when you are alone in your little room and sitting in front of the computer. That's what it was all about for me at the beginning and that's where it's at right now. I hope it doesn't ever change because then I'll be lost on my journey. Rereading this answer it sounds so corny. I'd like to delete it but I can't because, corny or not, it is the truth that all writers know.

Denise: I want to ask you more about writing the bad guy. It's said that a story is only as good as the villain is bad. In your book, VOID MOON, the villain is perhaps justifiably angry about things that have gone before, he has a charming quality and a sense of humor. In short, he's fascinating, yet still a cold hard killer. How did this character come to you?

Michael: Jack Karch came to me because of Cassie Black. I was writing a book with a protagonist who was a criminal. I knew that in order for the reader to embrace her, I had to set an opponent after her who would be totally worthy as an adversary. But I also know that no character can be one dimensional and still be successful. I couldn't make Karch evil incarnate and leave it at that. I had to give him layers, reasons, motives. That's what I did and I think he serves two purposes in the book. He is interesting in and of himself. He is also a very worthy opponent, a guy the reader wants Cassie to best.

Denise: I've noticed in a number of your books your bad guy has struck a chord for me. Who inspires these villainous characters? Are they based on real people or incidents that you have come across? Do you research them?

Michael: I don't think any of them come from real people but I try to make them real people. The monsters that are out there, in real life and books, are not monsters every moment of every day. They are real people who eat cereal and pay bills and go to coffee shops, etc. etc. We know of them or see them when they let the monster out of the cage. Those moments can be truly terrifying. But I think the terror and the evil is magnified if its grounded in the reality of these people being real. So I try to layer my characters, good or bad, with telling details of their lives. I think it makes them believable, good or bad.

Denise: Iíve noticed that there are mystery writers that have emulated you. How does that make you feel?

Michael: I don't know of anybody who is copying my style in particular. But I also think that everybody learns from everybody else so we are all kind of takers and givers. The thing I try to do is take standard archetypes and styles of writing I admire and put it all in a blender so that when it comes out there is something original about it.

Denise: Who are your favorite mystery writers?

Michael: It is hard to answer because I like different writers for different reasons. Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald and Joseph Wambaugh and Thomas Harris have certainly been influential on me and they could not be that if I didn't truly admire their work. Other writers I love for what they might do with particular things, like James Lee Burke for his lyrical writing and George Pelecanos for the telling detail and grit he gets into his books. I really admire what Lawrence Block has done with the evolution of his series character. The list goes on and on. I could never pick a favorite, either contemporary or otherwise.

Denise: Who are your favorite non-mystery writers?

Michael: Same answer basically, but straying from the crime genre I would say writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Harry Crews have influenced me. I continue to admire their work.

Denise: What advice would you give to new mystery writers?

Michael: Keep your head down. In other words, keep it in the story. Don't look up at what is going on in publishing. Forget the trends or what stories are the focus of hot deals, etc. Just write your story, the one you know that you would like to read.

For more information about Michael Connelly visit his site at:
www.michaelconnelly.com

A Darkness More Than Night Angels Flight Void Moon Black Ice Blood Work
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Copyright © 1999 Denise Baton