ANDREA GROSSMAN: Good evening, and thank you for coming
to tonights program featuring Michael Connelly and Detective
Paul Bishop. I am Andrea Grossman, the founder of WritersBloc,
a non-profit author lecture series dedicated to bringing to Los
Angeles my favorite writers and cops and having them talk to each
other on occasions such as this.
would like to thank a few people who have made tonights
program possible. To Cheryl Rhodin and the Board of Directors
of the Writers Guild of America, West for making the theatre
available for us tonight. Thanks to my volunteers, and to Debra
Frankel. My friend David Langness, who is here and told me to
mention his name, because he was the one who told me to read Michael
Connelly, so thank you David. Thanks also to Michael Connelly
and to Detective Bishop, who has sacrificed his valuable time
time he could be spending at home watching NYPD Blue,
and teaching them a thing or two.
also like to thank James Groth of Hornburg Jaguar, my most loyal
sponsor. You may have noticed a nice Jaguar parked in front of
the theatre. Its really beautiful. And although he likes
driving them, he likes selling them too, so think about that
for tonight. Michael Connelly is without a doubt, one of the best
detective fiction writers in the genre. For whatever reason, Los
Angeles has a Cop vs. Bad Guy landscape that is all its own. Michael
has helped to substantially raise the bar over the course of his
career and has given the genre a literary and substantial bent.
His cop characters, Harry Bosch, retired FBI Detective Terrence
McCaleb, have some of the usual traits of their literary colleagues,
but they both transcend the usual black-and-white. Connelly is
one of the few authors I read over and over again when I am searching
for something with a guaranteed payoff. Void Moon. Blood Work.
Angels Flight. These are incomparable stories, and they stay
just as good the second time around.
new book A Darkness More Than Night, features both Harry
Bosch and Terry McCaleb in a story that is evocative of both film
noir and current headlines. Its about the pain that cops
feel all the time over everything from internal friction to the
mayhem on the street. Its the story of cop against cop;
of good cops against really creepy bad guys who could be living
next door, and of good cops searching their souls about whats
eating both them and the city around us. Michaels books
are thrilling. They are both viscerally and intellectually gripping.
And they always shock you.
never cuts me any slack. Even if I think Ive solved the
murder, I could not possibly guess the almost impossibly perverse
twists at the end of each book. His new book is just like that.
Even though it ends too soon, its an "E Ticket"
ride. Harry Bosch and the other characters will cause your blood
pressure to go up and give you shortness of breath. Its
only writer I could think of who would be capable of tackling
Michael Connelly is Detective Paul Bishop. Hes a cop and
a writer. He knows the criminal layout of Connellys L.A.,
and he has even created a version of his own. He has served as
Supervisor of Sex Crimes and Major Assaults in the West L.A. Division
of the LAPD. He now heads up Robbery. He worked in the Anti-Terrorism
Unit, which begs the question, is there a Pro-Terrorism Unit?
BISHOP: Its called Rampart Division . . .
Hes the author of the popular Fay Croaker series. She
currently appears in his new book Chalk Whispers as she
did in Bishops acclaimed Tequila Mockingbird. Bishops
leading lady, now Lieutenant Fay Croaker, is not the usual wisecracking
tough-guy girl cop. Shes steady, smart, and senses her limitations.
Unlike Connellys cops, Bishops cops work as
a team, however cohesive and immature they may or may not be.
What I love about Bishops work is that Fays co-colleagues
are as finely drawn as Fay. Theyre witty, theyre really
interesting, and theyve got great haircuts!
what will happen tonight. Michael and Paul will talk about inventing
crimes, solving them and coming up with such great stories. After
they are through, you can ask questions. Remember that anything
that you say tonight may be used against you! Michaels new
book, A Darkness More Than Night and others, and Pauls
Chalk Whispers will be for sale in the lobby courtesy of
Skylight Books, and they will sign them. They are terrific books.
Buy them. I suggest you keep a copy of Bishops book on the
passenger seat, you know, the passenger seat of your new Jag,
so when youre stopped in West L.A., you just mutter something
about your friend, Detective Paul Bishop. Same goes for Connelly.
Think of the great investment you are making. So it is my great
pleasure to introduce Michael Connelly and Paul Bishop.
Thank you all for coming out and listening to us tonight.
Michael and I have done book signings in the past, and have done
little talks together, where he would represent the L.A. Times
and I would represent the LAPD, and we would make out like
we hated each other. Were past that point now. Weve
been friends for a long time; I think almost since he came to
L.A. So its nice for me to have him up here where I can
interrogate, I mean, question him.
go back and talk about the beginnings. Where did your urge to
write come from? Was it something specific or did you fall into
a writing career?
CONNELLY: It was specific. I had always, in high school and
the beginning of college, been a reader of crime novels. I come
from a middle to upper class family, so crime was not prevalent
in my neighborhood. But at one point in my life, I was a witness
to a crime. I was taken into the police station, where I was asked
to do a line up. It was a really alien world to me and I was drawn
into that. I became fascinated by it. At that point, I started
to read the crime novels and the crime newspapers and so forth,
and I was satisfied with that.
I went off to college, majoring in building construction sciences.
I happened to see a movie based on a Raymond Chandler book, so
I read that book. In a couple weeks, I had read all of the Chandler
works, and something about that clicked. So in another couple
of weeks, I changed my major to creative writing. Later I added
journalism, because I knew that I was going to have to earn a
living. And thats were I came from.
You come from a relatively large family.
When you went home and told them that you wanted to give up
"making a living" and you wanted to be a writer, what
was their response to that?
I was smart enough not to do that in person. I just called
them on the phone and told them. Actually, my dad was a frustrated
artist. He had gone to the Institute of Art in Philadelphia, before
he got married and had to earn a living. So he went into building
construction, which was his dads job. I think that
he felt that he had always wanted to be an artist, but that he
had to go into building construction. Here I was saying that I
didnt want to go into building construction, I want to pursue
this art form of writing. So from the moment I said that, I got
nothing but support.
mom was and is a major reader of crime fiction, and all the stuff
I read was passed down from her. P.D. James, who Bill is going
to interview here in a couple of weeks, was one of the people
I started reading, and then, on my own, I guess I moved onto the
hard-boiled stuff. I developed my own tastes, and that carried
thought to what I wanted to write.
Now you had made this momentous decision to be a writer. What
were the first things that you had in mind to write about?
Having gone through Journalism school with a double major
in creative writing, I went from college to a newspaper. What
often happens is that your first assignment on a paper is the
cops, the cop shop. You do that for a year and you burn out and
you go on to something else. Something supposedly better. I never
burned out on it, so I deflected all efforts to move me out of
the cop shop. I saw it as a possible or a hopeful means to an
end. It put me into the world that I wanted to write fiction about.
This was in Fort Lauderdale?
Yes. South Florida.
The Fort Lauderdale Police. Didnt you spend some time
with the homicide unit down there for a week or so? Was that part
of the journalism?
Yeah. Its interesting, Ive worked as a cop reporter
both in L.A. and in South Florida, and the difference in like
night and day. I used to go into the Fort Lauderdale Police station,
which was in a community of half a million at the time, as opposed
to the 9 million who live here in L.A. You could just walk through
the door and go and sit down at a detectives desk and ask
what was going on. I could walk into autopsies. I had unlimited
I come to L.A., which is very media savvy the LAPD is a
very media savvy department. Its a fortress basically, in
terms of getting information out of it. It was a complete change
of culture, of police culture, of media access culture.
Its much more "them vs. us" out here. Do you
think thats changed over the years? Do you think that Florida
is still a lot more accessible to media?
I think its probably changed. Its more a closing
of the ranks. I mean, it wasnt that long ago. I was there
in the early 80s, so I am sure its changed somewhat. Whats
interesting is that I write primarily about the LAPD in what I
do, but my knowledge, what I call my telling details of what its
like to be involved in a homicide case, is from South Florida.
I havent really spent a lot of time tracking an LAPD Detective
on a homicide case. And I did that many, many times in South Florida.
Much of the stuff is common to both places.
Jurisdictions run differently and I always get bothered when
I pick up a book, a police procedural set in Los Angeles, and
a character says, "I went down to the precinct house."
I will immediately put that book back on the shelf, because they
dont have precincts in L.A. They never have. The
old-timers call them divisions, but they are actually areas now.
You where also writing for magazines during this time?
Sort of. I said that I had guarded my position as a police
reporter. The one place where I got out of that was when I got
an opportunity to write for the papers Sunday magazine,
which would end up running a crime or cop-related feature.
While you were with the magazine, you and several other reporters
did a rather lengthy article on the plane crash there, which resulted
in the whole series being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Pretty
early in your career. How did that make you feel?
It was fun. I was working at a mid-level newspaper
this was before I had written any books. I didnt know if
my hoped-for, hopeful plan of writing books was ever going to
work out. So in the world of journalism, being a finalist for
a Pulitzer turned out to be my ticket to the big time, which was
the L.A. Times, which was one of the top-ranked papers
in the country.
This nomination led you to move to California?
Yes. Right away, I was getting calls from newspapers. When
the L.A. Times called, I mean, I had been to L.A.
You had Chandler and you had MacDonald and Wambaugh all
my favorite writers wrote about Los Angeles. So to come here was
a fantastic opportunity. When I was in Florida, I had tried to
write novels. Twice. I dont even know if "tried"
is the right word. I wrote two novels that I never sent out, because
I knew they werent good enough.
You completed them?
Yeah well, it depends on what you consider "completed."
I had more or less abandoned them. The stories were there, they
had a beginning and an end . . .
But no middle?
Yeah, I hadnt learned that yet! But something happened.
It didnt click for me there. Then I come out here to the
land of my literary heroes, and within two years, I was working
on a book that would be published. There was something about it
that just clicked.
Thats interesting, because you and I, we talk to a lot
of aspiring writers, and I think that the biggest problem many
of them have is the actual completion of a novel. And even though
you say you abandoned the early works they were still completed
works. Whether or not you felt that they were good enough to send
out was another question, but you recognized that this was a learning
process. I think that this speaks volumes about your determination
to be a writer, and to go about it the right way.
"Abandoned" has a negative connotation. I will never
call them failures or anything like that. I consider them part
of my first book. It was part of the process. My first book got
published, but it just so happened that I wrote three different
stories. It was all part of the same process. It was all worthwhile.
Even the works that I "abandoned" I had fun while I
was writing them.
You are brand new to L.A., and you are with the L.A. Times.
All the sudden, you are finding that your access to the police
beat is not the same as it was when you were back in Florida.
What other differences were there in L.A. that you found?
There are a lot of similarities cultural similarities.
What I found out through the work of journalism, is that Los Angeles
is so spread out, its so sprawling compared to a little
town like Fort Lauderdale (or it was little at the time). In Fort
Lauderdale, when I did a story, I went out and did the story.
I was talking with cops all the time. L.A. is too big. I only
covered the northern half of the county, but I did so much stuff
by phone. I think you loose something, by not being there and
having to relying on whoever answers the phone in the Detective
Squad, to tell you whats going on.
Or not tell you whats going on.
The LAPD has an Information Office.
Without question! When we dont want the media to find
out about something, we refer them to the Press Relations Office,
where they can get a two-paragraph statement on what were
not doing. We just refer everybody to Press Relations. It can
be very frustrating.
But its also, I think, because a lot of cops have been
burned by journalists. It has turned into a very adversarial relationship.
Yeah, and I think not without reason. We have nine TV channels
here, there used to be three newspapers. Theres much more
opportunity for cops to be burned. There are so many reporters
coming after them they cant really establish relationships
with everyone. There were only two newspapers (one of them an
out-of-town newspaper) in Fort Lauderdale, so I was able to build
relationships. Some of them I still have today. I had relationships
with cops that I couldnt have here.
What amazes me though, is that I can get to work at six oclock
in the morning, and the press is on the phone, telling me about
a crime in my area! The snitch population among journalists is
amazing, because they get the information before the crime even
occurs! Next thing you know, theyll be calling up and saying,
"Theres going to be a murder at such-and-such, can
we go over there and film it with you?
you first started to interact with cops in L.A., what was your
As I said, it was a rather shocking experience at how little
information I could get. I remember there was some crime
scene, and since I was new, I wanted to go there in person
to get my feet wet. So I went up to the detective. He had just
come up to the line, the yellow "crime scene" line.
I said to him that I was from the L.A. Times. I was about
to ask a question, and he said, "Good for you." And
he just walked away.
So he was more friendly that the others!
Oh, he became my best source, yeah. That was a microcosm.
My first personal experience with an LAPD cop. Thats pretty
much the way it was.
I mentioned, I didnt get off of the police beat. I had been
doing that for seven years, so its a war of attrition. When
you get a story and you get it right, that cop is going to talk
to you the next time. Or hell tell somebody else: "Yeah,
hes one of the good ones." So by the time its
over, you end up with your sources.
What has been your impression of cops in L.A., as opposed
to cops in South Florida?
Theyre isolated. Its a theme in my work, I think.
I hate to talk about "theme" when it comes to writing,
but the isolation that people feel in this community, is almost
palpable at times. And the cops are a good metaphor for that
theyre isolated. The seeds of Rampart and almost all the
other things that have happened were planted, in my opinion, a
long time ago, when they decided to keep the police force small.
Gates or whoever convinced the city people that he could do it.
So that made cops stay in their cars and go from bad guy to bad
guy to bad guy . . .
What Michael is talking about is that L.A. has around 9,000
cops right now. For a city which is slightly smaller that New
York, which has 23,000. So obviously, the Department is a lot
smaller here. Things are handled a lot differently. You go to
New York, and theres a cop on every corner. Here, it just
isnt that way. Theres not the neighborhood cop that
they have back east.
Yeah. That isolation breeds the "us vs. them." Atmosphere.
So your cops in cars never get out of this thing called a car
that theyre in, except to go and handle a call and meet
another dirtbag. You dont have the time to meet the good
people, to infiltrate or become part of the community. That steels
them in the "us vs. them" attitude, and this is where
a lot of this stuff can happen.
A perfect, current example of that is where our Senior Patrol
Officers were taken out of the field, specifically to be accessible
to community members. They could be reached by telephone, you
could go down to the station and talk to the Senior Patrol Officer
about a problem you had in your community. They would come out
to the desk and work with you there.
all of the sudden, the decision by the Chief was made that we
didnt have enough cops on the street. So were going
to send all these guys back to their patrol cars. And the community
was up in arms, because their accessibility to the police and
to people who cared about their problems was gone. We went back
to the isolation of the patrol car again. It went on for so long
that just recently, because of community response, we finally
put these Officers back in the station where they could be accessible.
can go even deeper because, as a Detective, we are isolated by
the type of investigations that we do. As a Sex Crimes Detective,
I very rarely had interaction with Robbery Detectives or Homicide
Detectives because we were so into our own suspects and our own
crimes that we were investigating. It does tend to blank out everything
you read Raymond Chandler before coming to L.A. McDonald? Joe
What other influences were there?
Just about anything hard-boiled from the 50s. Jim Thompson
I like. Cornell Woolrich. James M. Cain. Anything from that era,
I like. That was what I was trying to emulate if I ever got a
chance to write.
Where did the spark for Black Echo come from? What
was it that said that this was the plot, this was the story?
I think that all my books come from a place I call "the
blender." Stuff goes into your head, it gets mixed around
and it comes out new or as your own story. In the summer of 1987,
when I first came out here, there was a burglary of a bank downtown.
The culprits used a storm drain tunnel. There are 600 miles of
tunnels under the city, and they used them to get far in, and
then they drilled up into the bank, looted it, and got away.
This is what I love about Michael. He calls it a "burglary
of a bank." He gets it right. It wasnt a robbery; nobody
came in with guns and stuck the place up. They broke in when nobody
was there, and that makes it a burglary. He gets the details right,
and thats so nice.
I just like using the word "burgle." In my capacity
as a Times reporter, I was hanging around the West Valley
Police Station I think you were working there at the time.
I guess Robbery or Homicide was investigating the burglary.
They came out to West Valley to put on a slide show about the
case so that everyone would be aware of it, because it was unsolved.
It remains unsolved to this day. The Lieutenant there, who was
slowly beginning to trust me, allowed me to sit in on it if I
wouldnt write about it. I could tell it was a test with
him. It would have screwed them up if I wrote about it, so it
was a good one to use as a test with me.
I got all the details of how these guys did this thing, and it
was pretty fascinating how they did it. So here was a story that
I couldnt write about as a newspaper story. An interesting
crime and all the details. But it was unsolved, so it was a story
without an end.
started to think in terms of fictionalizing it, and bringing in
some of the other interests I had. I had always been fascinated
by the Tunnel Rats in the Vietnam War. I was too young to go to
Vietnam, but I was in the last draft. It was something I paid
attention to in high school, because I wasnt sure I was
going to go. When I was in school, I thought that Vietnam could
be my destiny. So I paid attention to it and was knowledgeable
about it. I knew about Tunnel Rats, because a Tunnel Rat worked
for my father. So it was just an ongoing fascination that I had.
one day, it was like what I call atoms smashing together. Two
things come together, and you realize: thats a story. I
would fictionalize the burglary of this bank, and I would create
this detective who was a Tunnel Rat, and the burglary would be
connected to the Vietnam Tunnel Rats.
So the plot came before Harry did.
Yeah for that particular book. Because I had written two abandoned
projects, and because I was a big reader of crime fiction, I knew
that character is everything. Although the plot came first, I
knew that I was going to have to build that plot around that character,
and have him win the day. You know how the realtors say, "Location,
location, location." I say, "Character, character, character."
You can survive a weak plot, but I dont think you can survive
of you dont have an interesting lead character in a book.
Were you thinking commercially at that time? Were you thinking
"bestseller"? Or were you writing to please yourself?
Somewhere in the middle. I would never think bestseller, but
I did want to create something that would have legs, so that I
could write about this character again, get a series going. I
was thinking in those terms. Lets face it. The "blender"
of crime fiction is commercial. The best people in it can
add something else besides entertainment and commerciality; actually
bring a degree of art or literariness to a book. Thats the
higher goal Id say I have, and every writer has. I dont
want act like the guy who wants just money or to have commercial
Okay. Here you have great idea; youre building the character.
How did you handle the Catch-22 of an agent vs. a publisher? Its
one of those things where in order to get an agent, you have to
have a publisher, and to get a publisher, you have to have an
agent. How did you approach that?
Like most people, I was sort of floundering around in the
dark. I didnt know anything. Coming to a forum like WritersBloc;
I didnt even know that they had them back then. So I went
to a bookstore and got a book called The Writers Market.
In that book there is conflicting advice on whether you needed
an agent or not. From looking at both sides of it, I thought that
you needed an agent. So I sent the book out to a bunch of agents.
Just in case there was something wrong with that, I did send to
one publisher, saying this was a book that I had just written,
would you take a look at it. They have not answered yet.
You were probably right, and even more so today. You need
an agent to get something across the transom with publishers,
because the volume of stuff out there is so great. You
need to have an agent, and an agent who is respected enough that
they are going to read it.
There are always exceptions. You and I have a friend, Jan
Burke, who never used an agent until her fourth book. There is
such a pile of manuscripts in every editors office, in every
agents office. You need something to attract some attention
I didnt use an agent until my third book, basically
because I couldnt find anybody who could get ten percent
more than I could for myself. I worked for me, but is not
advice that I would give at this stage of the game.
you sit down now to structure your plots and its beginning
to come together, whats the next thing you do? Do you outline
ahead of time, or do you just go wherever it takes you?
I outlined my first book. I have not used them since. But
I still dont start until I now how it ends. What I find
most enjoyable is, obviously, you have exciting action at the
beginning of a book, and I dont start writing until I know
how that plot will wrap up at the end. For me, its more
fun to leave that 300 pages in the middle unknown. It allows you
a lot of freedom as a writer. Its the most fulfilling and
the most fun. I have this idea that when you are turning from
your computer to look at your outline and back, its too
much like work. Its an interruption.
Ed McBain says, "If I know everything about it, then
its just typing."
Maybe then, the fun is when youre doing the outline,
I dont know. But I havent since my first book. You
mentioned McBain. You could have a quotation from a writer to
back up whatever view you have.
The one that I have about that comes from Hemingway. He said,
"If you outline your books, youll know where youre
going and so will your reader." It disturbed me that he might
be right, so I got rid of outlines.
I outlined more books than you did, but Im at the point
know where if I now the outcome of the ending, I feel comfortable
with charging into the great unknown of the middle. What that
does is that my endings change as I am going along and as the
story is unfolding. I am seeing different endings now. Most of
your books have a lot of twists and turns at the end. Is that
the result of a type of non-pre-planning? Do these come to you,
or do you plan it?
Its actually gone both ways. I have this book called
The Poet, where the end was completely different that what
is was when I started. Other books I stay on course. One book
called Angels Flight, I actually wrote the last chapter
first. I came up with how I wanted to end and what I wanted to
do with it, so it was clear to me. I was afraid that in eleven
months, when I got to the end, it might not be where I want it
to be. So I actually wrote it first. Eleven months later, when
I got to that point, it connected pretty well. I didnt have
to do too much rewriting in the last chapter.
When youre in the middle of one of your books, is there
that ache to get onto the next project?
Not in the middle, but ten out of eleven times (except unfortunately
it didnt happen on the book I just finished), Ive
come to maybe a month or two out from finishing a book, and the
next idea hits me. It comes out of "the blender" or
the "atom smasher" or whatever. It becomes very vital
to me, and I cant wait to get on that book. Thats
been great, because I finish one, and then go on to the next one.
I dont usually take vacations between books. I take vacations
sometime during the writing of a book. So ten times Ive
gone from "The End" to the start of the next one within
a couple of days, and it didnt happen this time. Im
not panicked yet, but next week, I will be.
Where you surprised by the success of Black Echo?
No, not really. Basically I am an arrogant, egotistical person.
All writers are!
I mean, I dont show it; Im up here, Im real
humble. So it was hard for me to say that I was surprised. I had
worked on it for a long time, it was a long process. I was a reader,
I knew what was out there, and I knew what was good. I just thought
that the book compared favorably with what was out there.
That you had a good project.
On the basis of getting into the first level of publishing,
its pretty egalitarian. Even though every agent and every
editor has a pile of manuscripts in their office, if your book
is good, its going to win. It will carry the day, it going
to get out there. Were it stops being egalitarian, is whether
it sells well, or whether it gets promoted. So I didnt think
that this book was going to sell a lot, I just thought it was
a pretty good book, and that was critical. I am my own toughest
critic. My overriding concern when I wrote that book, I was to
write something that I would enjoy reading. For me, I have set
the bar very high for what I enjoy to read.
As you went through The Black Echo and The Black
Ice, Concrete Blonde and The Poet, youre on the
bestseller list. Being on the bestseller lists, has that affected
your writing in any way?
Not really. Most of those lists are manipulated. They can
be manipulated. People in New York are figuring out ways to send
you out on book tours and all that so that they can manipulate
them. So a lot of that has a degree of phoniness to it. I always
try to follow a philosophy of "keep your head down"
and write. If you get a good review, great, if you get a bad one
Yeah, keep moving, and keep your head down, and not worry
about those things.
I dont want to call your books "procedural,"
because they are deeper than what most procedurals are . . .
I had never heard the term "police procedural" until
I read a review in The Library Journal, where they said,
"In this police procedural." And the next thing I knew,
thats what I was classified as.
But isnt that a different type of writing as opposed
to most mysteries? Because of the details that you have to get
I guess its different. I think that I am evolving as
a writer. That the details are becoming less and less important
to me. What I live for, lets say my pursuit as a writer,
is the telling detail. Im looking for that one
detail that opens the window onto that persons world.
I create scenes where I can put in a couple of details so the
reader will say, "This must be what its really like."
and then move on. Ive been called a police procedural writer,
but if youve read some of my books, you know, and I know
you know, that I have some of this stuff all wrong.
If youve read some of mine, you know that I have
things wrong! Never sacrifice a good story for the truth.
Its true. And it has its roots in my illusion of being
a journalist. Ive had to forget almost everything I ever
knew as a journalist to write good fiction. Because you can lard
it up with too much detail. You cant be a slave to details.
You have to be a slave to the movement of the piece.
But I also find it interesting that that one detail that rings
with the clarity of truth will outweigh all this other stuff youve
made up to go along with your story. I remember walking though
Parker Center one day and seeing a couple of cops walking toward
me. One of them had the brass ends of shotgun shells sewn onto
his belt. I said to my partner, "Whats that all about?
Is that a fashion statement?" She said, "No dont
you know what thats about? Thats when they get in
a shooting, and they kill somebody, then they get the casings
and they sew them on their belt." And I just said, "WHOA!"
Just like a gunfighter notching his gun!
putting that in the book gave it the ring of authenticity regarding
the types of characters that I was drawing, and then I went ahead
and lied about a bunch of other stuff!
I think that what impresses readers is mundane stuff that
they know in their heart is true. An example that comes to mind
is in Angels Flight, there is a crime scene, and they are
pointing out where black fingerprint powder has been put on a
turnstile. They warn everybody that if you get it on your suit,
youre going to have to take it to the cleaners to get it
out, and the Department wont pay for it, and all that sort
of stuff. That gives you an insight into what the working world
is like. That, to me, is the kind of detail that I really look
for. The bullet thing. That is a true detail. They make your day
when you find one. And sometimes, you can almost make them up
and they work just as well.
Be careful what you wish for when it comes to fingerprint
powder, because a lot of times we wont print an area, because
we know there wont be any print there. Sometimes though,
the victim or the homeowner will insist that we take fingerprints.
So we say, "Okay, gladly" and we throw fingerprint powder
around all over everything. And it doesnt come off. Its
awful stuff. Be careful what you wish for when you insist that
we fingerprint something.
talk about looking into the abyss. Because this, in my estimation,
is what Harry Boost has evolved to and has gone through. What
does that term mean to you?
Well, it comes from that Nietzschean philosophy of
Im going to get this wrong; "When you look into the
abyss, the abyss looks into you." Another way of putting
it is: You cant walk through the sewer without getting poop
on yourself. He warned society to take care that those who were
fighting the monster did not become monsters themselves. That
to me is the cops dilemma. Borne out by Rampart in recent
years. I think that this is the basis or the feeling behind almost
every one of my books. Its what fascinates me. I would never
be a cop, but Im fascinated by them: how they walk that
line. Thats what Im writing about, over and over again.
Harry Bosch anybody who has read all the books Ive
put him on the foragers path. Theres been a personal
price that hes had to pay, and thats what Im
exploring in these books.
I know having worked Sex Crimes for the last eight years,
when new detectives come into the unit, I really have to keep
an eye out for the way they respond to the types of cases that
we handle. If were handling a child molestation case with
a pedophile, and theyre going to go into an interrogation
with this person, and they are so angry that they cant
get beyond that theyre not going to get the confession
that we need to make the case.
I try to teach them is that its not our job to fix the victim.
Our job is to put the villain in jail for as long a time as possible.
Were all basically blue-collar workers. Were not equipped
to fix the victim. Maybe we can get the victim to someone who
can help. Or help fix them. But our job is to put the villain
in jail. And if that means manipulating the victim to do that,
then thats what we have to concentrate on. Otherwise, youre
right, you fall into the abyss and it just eats you up.
Compartmentalizing like that, trying to say, "I cant
help the victim, but I can help him or her by putting this guy
away" that compartmentalizing has to have a price. And so,
whichever way a cop goes, they have this dilemma. I mean, its
not a job that I would ever have, but as someone writing fiction,
its pretty fascinating to explore and use that in a way
that allows you to say something about your city or your community.
You say youre fascinated with the abyss yourself. What
is it in human nature that makes readers so fascinated with this?
Is it because when they read about it, they can stand back and
be safe from it?
Thats always a hard question for me to answer. I cant
really say why. Im fascinated by it, but I cant say
either. I dont think its unhealthy to be fascinated
by this. Its normal, actually.
Tell us more about A Darkness More Than Night.
That comes from Raymond Chandler. As I said, one of my literary
heroes. In the introduction he wrote to a collection of his short
stories, he was trying to write about your question. Why are crime
stories powerful, why there is a fascination for them among the
reading public and among writers and so on. He wrote an essay
about it and one of the things he said was, "In these stories,
the streets are dark with something more than night." And
what that something is, writers want to explore, and by
extension, readers want to explore.
But it also played into your series, because of the painter.
Right. Harry Boschs full, formal name is Hieronymus
Bosch. He was named after this painter from the 15th
Century, who also explored darkness. His paintings are
full of a "world gone wrong" type of theme to them.
So this book is a kind of joining together of all these things
that I have been writing about for all this time. Harry is exploring
his relationship to his namesake.
There is something different in this book. By holding a mirror
up to Harry, through your other character and taking a different
perspective on Harry. Rather than being an interior view though
most of the book, you now have an outsider looking at him and
judging him. Has that affected how you respond to the character
No. I really like Harry Bosch. I am really drawn to him. With
all his foibles and mistakes and everything, I still like him
a lot. And in this book, youre right, I use another character.
In the previous Bosch books, you see the world through his eyes.
In this book, you see Harry and his world through another set
of this was a sort of a writing device that made it a more interesting
book to write. You should talk about this too. But when you write
a series, what is always screaming in the back of our heads is,
how do we make this fresh. . .
How do we make it different. . .
I really feel that what goes on in the writing process, translates
into the books. If you have a good time writing, and youre
really interested in it, then I think that thats going to
come out in the book. If its a chore and drudgery, if you
dont want to go to the computer every day, then its
not going to go well.
am always looking for ways to keep it interesting and fun. I take
a "I cant wait to get to the computer" type of
attitude, and that is what I did with this book, and it worked
really well for me.
Before we open this up for questions, I just wanted to ask;
you have fans and readers in America and England, Japan, France,
everywhere. Are they different in other countries, or are they
the same everywhere?
I can go overseas and crime fiction gets a lot more respect
than it does in this country. Its generally held here that
its entertainment, its a puzzle, that we get to guess
when were halfway through. And in other countries, particularly
France, the U.K. and Italy, people are looking for deeper meaning,
finding deeper meanings. Meanings I didnt even know where
in my books, so I say, "Oh yeah, I meant that!"
They are looking for a larger picture in a way. Its kind
of nice. So theres that difference to it.
painter Hieronymus Bosch was Dutch, so when I was in Amsterdam,
I was hesitant because I had taken a national figure and turned
him into a detective in L.A. So I didnt know how this would
be responded to. But they were welcoming. What was interesting
was that the people who interviewed me, they asked why I had called
the diminutive "Harry"? Because over there it would
be "Gerome" they would ask, why isnt it "Jerry"?
So you went back and changed all the books . . .
How do you make your novels so interesting and compelling?
Thats the mystery of writing, but I would say that you
go for a small picture, rather than a grand picture. You make
touchstones or "empathic strike zones" with your reader
through the small details of life. I think character is mostly
delineated through conflict. I have a goal: to have my characters
have a conflict on every page. Take Harry Boost for example, or
any character. I want them to have conflicts on every page and
in every sense, from the small to the big.
in one book, it could be that he wants a cigarette when hes
trying to quit, to something larger, like why he cant understand
why hes been unsuccessful in romantic relationships. And
thats an unanswerable conflict or dilemma that he has. And
then all along, you have the conflict of trying to find out who
killed this guy.
mostly through conflict. Thats in capital letters with quotes.
The best teachers are the ones who have done it, the ones who
have written the books, so three bromides that I carry with me,
are all from writers I was reading at different stages in my life.
One was a teacher that I had named Harry Cruz. His was simple.
It was "Write everyday."
might say, "Well, thats pretty simple you went
to college for that?" But the explanation behind it is, to
write every day, even if its only for 15 minutes. Even of
if you only get one sentence. You really have to immerse yourself
in your characters and you story, and youve accomplished
that. Thats what the goal of that is. You should always
have your story churning around in your head. Even if youre
only a weekend warrior as far as that goes, you should still go
in there before you go to bed and write a sentence or something.
This has really served me well.
other one goes to what I was talking about, the "empathic
strike zone." Kurt Vonnegut, when talking to a writing class,
once said that you should make sure that every character on every
page wants something, even if its only a glass of water.
That in a nutshell, is how to make your characters active.
last is really specific to writing crime novels. The author Richard
Price said that when you circle around a homicide long enough,
you begin to get a sense of a city. I turned that around to be
"Every murder is a tale of a city." I had that taped
over my computer. Or it was taped over my computer, because
I used that line in the book I just finished. Now I have to come
up with something else.
In Blood Work, which is the first Terry McCaleb novel,
what gave you the idea for his heart transplant?
I have a close friend who went through that. I knew him beforehand,
I knew him afterwards. The emotional changes that he went through
obviously, he went through physical changes too
but he went through some emotional trauma after he got a new heart
that he didnt see coming. I was fascinated by his journey,
while at the same time, sympathetic, because he was a friend.
Later, I approached him thinking, somehow, I want to use this,
I dont know how yet. "Will you help me and allow me
to do this?" And he said, "Yeah." So I sat on it
for a couple of years.
dilemma I had was that at the time, I was only writing Harry Bosch
novels. You deal so much in metaphors, but they are significant.
I think Harry has a good heart. So I didnt like the idea
of having his heart go bad. So I knew that if I was going to use
my friends journey, I was going to have to come up with
a new character. It took me a while to come up with the character
If they use tests, such as psychometric tests in finding people
to work in corporations, and they use profiling on the part of
the FBI and the CIA, to determine a criminals profile, are
there psychological profiles for police? For people who go into
the business of becoming police officers? And if so, when you
are delineating a character, are you aware of that profile, and
are you putting that character on the edges of that profile?
There is definitely a profile for a police officer character.
For the most part, thats the "A" type warrior
personality. I write a lot about those kinds of characters. They
will go do all sorts of crazy and wild stuff, but the bottom line
is that when push comes to shove, they dont cross the line
and do something criminal. When push comes to shove, they say,
"Okay, now I have to put my life on the line because this
is what I believe in."
"A" type personality comes out, but it also has a regulator
on it. And that regulator keeps them on the side of doing the
right thing, at whatever the personal cost might be. In writing
a book called Citadel Runabout: What Makes Good Cops Good,
thats what I wanted to show, and in the sequel, Stand
Against the Tide, I tried to take the regulator off, to show
what makes cops go bad. What excuses they make for themselves.
remember in Devonshire Division, two police officers had set up
a murder for hire scheme. They were picking up a prostitute by
the name of Joan LaGurcio; they were going to have her murdered
and claim the life insurance. We were following them to the pick-up
point, they had a third person in the car with them, a woman with
a wire, and we were listening to them talk to each other about
the murder they were about to commit.
fascinated me was: you have one cop go bad. Maybe two cops go
bad. But how do these two cops find each other? Why is it that
one cop turns to another cop and says, "Lets kill somebody"
and the other cop says, "Okay." How does that dynamic
come about? I found that fascinating. Its when the regulator
of morality comes off. Looking into the abyss is the correlation.
How necessary is it for you to keep up with police technology?
As I said before, Im moving into this way of writing
where Im thinking that this is less and less important.
Im not a police procedural writer. I dont keep too
much on it. It depends on what sort of book Im working on.
Every once in a while, Ill write a scene that is highly
technical, and Ill have to seek that out. But to me, research
is the worst part of writing a book. When I have an idea, I want
to start writing about it. I dont want to worry about all
that stuff. Often, thats what I will do. Ill write
and then Ill give my pages to someone who is knowledgeable
in that arena, to find out if I got it wrong. Sometimes, I dont
fix it. Theyll say . . .
"You cant do that!" and Ill say, "Sorry,
I wont do it anymore."
Its not that hard to keep up on technology just by watching
the Discovery Channel. Im serious about that. I just dont
think that writers or anyone should think that this is the key
part of what youre doing.
Michael, one of the reasons I read your books is to find a
deeper meaning about Vietnam. I am a veteran myself, and I think
that Harry Bosch does that particularly well. Could you talk about
that for a minute?
Its something that I have a hard time talking about
because Vietnam was significant or potentially significant in
my life. I dont spend a lot of time writing about Harry
experiences there. I dont feel that I am qualified to. I
have some friends who are combat veterans, who are my advisors
in this regard, so if I need to do it, I can. What that was borne
out of was that when I first came out to L.A., and was working
for the LA Times, and was putting this Harry Bosch character
together, I would say that at least 70 percent of the homicide
detectives that I talked to everyday probably more than
70 percent had military service. 70 percent actually had
served in Vietnam. It began by my wanting to be close to the truth,
and thats were that came from.
with the first story, I wanted the plot to have something to do
with Vietnam. It was important, but . . . In fact, I think that
the most writing that I have done on Vietnam was in that first
book. Since then, there have just been small references to it.
Im not really answering your question very well, but its
the one are that really makes me freeze. I think that writers
ought to be able to write about anything, but here, I feel a little
intimidated. I would love to write a book or a story about Harry
in Vietnam. I have some friends who have some wonderful stories
that they said that I could use, but I just havent gotten
to the point where I feel comfortable doing it.
Those old time department guys are no longer there. Over 50
percent of the Department has less than five years on the job.
Not only do you create good characters, but the adversaries
in your books are fantastic. Where you get your inspiration for
them? In Void Moon, the guy from Vegas hes
just going around killing everybody. I remember him saying that
it was easier for him to kill two people than it was for him to
produce his ID to take a test dive.
Its kind of a writing conceit or a given that you have
to have a bad villain. The badder your villain, the better you
hero. In Void Moon, I probably wrote the nastiest guy I
have even done. That was simply because my protagonist was a criminal
herself. Its a trick of the trade: how do you get sympathy
for a criminal? By making a really bad criminal go after
her. So thats why that guy was so particularly nasty. Writers
are always looking for a good time something that will
pull them in, and unfortunately, those are the easier and more
fun characters to write about. The nasty people.
I have two questions. I was wondering about your process.
In your writing, do you set goals for yourself? Do you write at
a certain time of the day? And secondly, you mentioned Chandler.
Do you have any contemporary writers that you like?
First, the process changes and evolves depending on the book.
For me, the hardest thing is to start a book. The second hardest
is to start a chapter, and it goes down from there. For me, the
beginning of a book is always very slow. I never set a page count
or anything like that. At the beginning of a book, I usually start
early in the morning, usually 5:30 or 6:00, and if I work through
to noon, Im happy with that. Then slowly as I get into the
story, the hours expand. Usually, it takes me about 11 months
to write a book. Theres a three-month period when I am in
my writing mode, usually when I am just past the midpoint of a
kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I could write
all day long if I could stay awake. I call it "being in the
tunnel" with the story. If the story is the water, and youre
the surfer, and youre in the barrel, the water is all around
you. Your story is all around you and you just cant write
it down fast enough. It doesnt last that long, just a few
months out of the life of the book, but once it starts, Ill
write about 7 percent of it.
Do you rewrite too?
I start my day by rewriting what I did the day before, so
I build in a rewrite into my first draft. Then Ill go through
it once more when Im done. One trick I do. I will often
finish off a day in the middle of a sentence, so the next day,
I can finish that sentence pretty easily. Sort of kick starts
my day. If its not in the middle of a sentence, then at
least its in the middle of a thought, and then its
easier to start the next day.
contemporary writers and who I like, I guess the irony is that
I write crime fiction because I love reading it love reading
it. But now that I write it, I dont read it as much. Its
kind of like Ive lost the ability to be entertained by it.
So I read less and less of it. There are a lot of good writers
out there. I try to read whats written about Los Angeles.
Mostly so I dont do the same stuff at the same time if I
can help it. The one guy out there, pretty obscure, named George
Halconnis, whos probably my favorite writer at the moment.
I sort of know him, Ive done some book events with him.
He seems to write with a reckless disregard for commerciality.
His stuff is so gritty and it seems to be so commercially unappealing
that you just have admire the hell out of it.
Paul, incredible stuff must come across your desk every day.
Does what you write stem from what comes across you desk, or is
it your imagination? Michael, where do you come up with these
incredible plot twists which are so visceral to your books. Its
incredible. How much do you get from reading the L.A. Times,
and whats in your weird imagination?
I think the L.A. Times is weird imagination! Most of
what comes out of my daily work that translates directly into
the books is the dark humor and the edge of the characters. That
more than anything, translates. When I try to create a villain,
its what this person was talking about earlier. I dont
like it when I am reading a book, and theres a psychopath,
but theres no reason why hes a psychopath.
I think that having kicked around with these types of people for
so long, that I bring a sense of what has made them what they
are. Are they totally dead, or are there some redeeming values
to these types of characters? This just comes from being around
and having spoken to literally thousands of criminals over the
years, and finding out what motivates them and how their mind
really, the dark humor. Things will happen today, and will go
into the book tonight. I think that humor is what drives a lot
of the cop characters. Its what keeps them going and binds
them all together. As far as the plots themselves, those are really
made up out of thin air. Just made up out of "what if?"
You sit down and say, what if this happens, what if that happens.
What about that book you wrote, I cant remember the
name of it, about this athlete . . .
Oh, that one! In November of 93, I had started a book
called Twice Dead, and it was about a black ex-football
player actor who was accused of a series of murders . . . This
was just great until July of 94. I write books set in West
L.A., which nobody had ever heard of before. It was the
secret jewel in LAPDs crown, and suddenly, everyone in that
Division is plastered across the international news! I had to
scramble to totally restructure the book. In part of it, my character
goes to a psychiatrist which is the kiss of death if anybody
in the Department finds out about it the tapes of her psychiatric
sessions are stolen by the psychiatrists secretary and released
to the press! I turned the book in, and the very next day, the
Mark Furhman tapes come out! I cannot stay ahead of whats
going on in real life! I thought I was way out there, and obviously,
Im not going far enough.
I find that if theres a story in the L.A. Times,
then Im not really interested in it. Im more interested
in things that are not media stories. So I dont religiously
read the L.A. Times for ideas and so forth. I do watch
the Discovery Channel.
its usually either wholly made up or the idea for
Void Moon came from a cop who came to a book signing I
did. He was actually standing there in uniform. We talked afterwards,
and he told me this story about some people who were robbing some
of the upper-class hotels. Thats where Void Moon came
from. So often, its come from conversations with detectives.
I cant think of ever reading a story in the L.A. Times
that then spawned a book. Something that a reporter dug up
maybe, but not just my reading it.
about something that crosses your desk, whats interesting,
is that cop work is so weird that sometimes, its too weird
and strange to put in fiction. Ive used anecdotes and true
stories and often my editor will say that this is too unbelievable,
you have to take it out.
One of the biggest triggers of that is coincidence. Coincidence
plays a huge part in reality. You cant put coincidence into
a book, because nobodys going to by off on it. In real life,
very often, there is not a sense of closure. You cant have
that in a book. Youve got to tie up the loose ends. There
have been murder cases where the person is tried and convicted
and there are loose ends all over the place. But you cant
have that happen in fiction.
One example of that was this heart transplant story. My friend,
he actually got the call "We have a heart for you" on
Valentines Day. In my original Blood Work, Terry
McCaleb got a new heart on Valentines Day. My editor said,
"Forget it. Nobodys going to believe this."
That would never happen!
Yeah. In this book I just turned in now, I had this scene
based on a story that happened about 15 years ago, when I was
a reporter in South Florida. I did a story on a bank robbery
a street fight between the FBI and the bank robbers. One of the
agents ran around a corner, thinking he was chasing the robber,
and the robber was waiting there to ambush him. The robber shot
him at almost point blank range, and somehow missed. The agent
found that the bullet had gone up the barrel of his own gun.
He had held the gun out in front of him. It had saved his
life. I put that in the book that I have just finished. My editor
was trying to tell me to get rid of it! I took McCalebs
heart transplant off of Valentines Day in Blood Work,
but in the book I just turned in, I kept this gun thing in.
Early in my career, we were chasing somebody, and my partner
got shot dead square in the center of his forehead. The bullet
went up and all the way around his skull and around the back.
Just like nothing had happened. I used that in Stand Against
the Tide, when one of the characters buddies gets shot.
The bullet literally bounced off the skull. When bullets bounce,
they dont ricochet up the way you see in the cartoons. When
they hit something, they follow the contour of whatever they hit.
So this bullet followed the contour of the skull around. It went
under the skin, all the way around the skull and out.
We were talking about Black Echo, and how the bank
burglary kind of spawned the whole idea. I was privy to all the
details of it, so I put all this exacting detail in the book.
When it came out, The Washington Post reviewed it and said,
"This is a pretty good freshman effort from this writer,
except that the central plot of the crime is too far-fetched to
be believed." Its true.
Was it difficult to make the transition from journalism to
Most of the cops I knew said that at least Im labeling
it correctly now . . . It really wasnt, because, to get
back to what we were talking about the telling detail
in journalism, you dont have much space to say what you
want to say, so youre always tying to balance whats
essential. Thats something I carry over from journalism.
The difficult part I said this earlier is that I
have to unlearn all my stuff. I cant be too concerned with
getting every detail. I used to read a lot of books where I thought
that the writer was showing too much of the details. Its
not whats really important. I think that in my books I have
a tendency to do that. I think that I am slowly letting go of
that. Its pretty much out of me now. I havent done
much of that for the last six years, but those were some of the
obstacles in the transition from one to the other. It wasnt
difficult at all. I use a lot of negative motivation in my life.
Its a sick way to accomplish things, but it worked for me.
I wanted to be a journalist; I wanted to get over the wall. So
that made the transition easier too.
Whats your new book about?
Its a Harry Bosch book. Its called City of
Bones. In Laurel Canyon, the bones of a 12-year-old are found.
Theyve probably been buried there for 25 years. When cops
get that kind of case they figure it will never get solved. Most
of my books dont have to be read in any kind of order, but
this one, I think of as a companion to A Darkness More Than
Night. The redemptive journey Harry takes, what happens in
Darkness he seizes this seemingly unsolvable case
as a way to get up again.
Back from the edge of the abyss?
and edited by Kurt Wahlner