Mr. Connelly
talks about his
latest novel, A
Darkness More
Than Night
(Little Brown).


Previous Novels:
Void Moon

Angels Flight

Blood Work

Trunk Music

The Poet

The Last

The Concrete

The Black

The Black Echo



  Thursday, April 19, 2001 at the Writer's Guild Theatre, Los Angeles

ANDREA GROSSMAN: Good evening, and thank you for coming to tonight’s 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.

I would like to thank a few people who have made tonight’s program possible. To Cheryl Rhodin and the Board of Directors of the Writer’s 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.

I’d 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. It’s really beautiful. And although he likes driving them, he likes selling them too, so think about that – later.

Now 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.

His 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. It’s about the pain that cops feel all the time over everything from internal friction to the mayhem on the street. It’s 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 what’s eating both them and the city around us. Michael’s books are thrilling. They are both viscerally and intellectually gripping. And they always shock you.

Connelly never cuts me any slack. Even if I think I’ve 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, it’s an "E Ticket" ride. Harry Bosch and the other characters will cause your blood pressure to go up and give you shortness of breath. It’s terrific.

The only writer I could think of who would be capable of tackling Michael Connelly is Detective Paul Bishop. He’s a cop and a writer. He knows the criminal layout of Connelly’s 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?

PAUL BISHOP: It’s called Rampart Division . . .

GROSSMAN: He’s the author of the popular Fay Croaker series. She currently appears in his new book Chalk Whispers as she did in Bishop’s acclaimed Tequila Mockingbird. Bishop’s leading lady, now Lieutenant Fay Croaker, is not the usual wisecracking tough-guy girl cop. She’s steady, smart, and senses her limitations. Unlike Connelly’s cops, Bishop’s cop’s work as a team, however cohesive and immature they may or may not be. What I love about Bishop’s work is that Fay’s co-colleagues are as finely drawn as Fay. They’re witty, they’re really interesting, and they’ve got great haircuts!

Here’s 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! Michael’s new book, A Darkness More Than Night and others, and Paul’s 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 Bishop’s book on the passenger seat, you know, the passenger seat of your new Jag, so when you’re 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.

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. We’re past that point now. We’ve been friends for a long time; I think almost since he came to L.A. So it’s nice for me to have him up here where I can interrogate, I mean, question him.

Let’s 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?

MICHAEL 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.

Then 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 that’s were I came from.

BISHOP: You come from a relatively large family.


BISHOP: 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?

CONNELLY: 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 dad’s 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 didn’t 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.

My 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.

BISHOP: Now you had made this momentous decision to be a writer. What were the first things that you had in mind to write about?

CONNELLY: 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.

BISHOP: This was in Fort Lauderdale?

CONNELLY: Yes. South Florida.

BISHOP: The Fort Lauderdale Police. Didn’t you spend some time with the homicide unit down there for a week or so? Was that part of the journalism?

CONNELLY: Yeah. It’s interesting, I’ve 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 detective’s desk and ask what was going on. I could walk into autopsies. I had unlimited access.

Then I come to L.A., which is very media savvy – the LAPD is a very media savvy department. It’s 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.

BISHOP: It’s much more "them vs. us" out here. Do you think that’s changed over the years? Do you think that Florida is still a lot more accessible to media?

CONNELLY: I think it’s probably changed. It’s more a closing of the ranks. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago. I was there in the early 80s, so I am sure it’s changed somewhat. What’s interesting is that I write primarily about the LAPD in what I do, but my knowledge, what I call my telling details of what it’s like to be involved in a homicide case, is from South Florida. I haven’t 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.

BISHOP: Procedural stuff.

CONNELLY: 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 don’t have precincts in L.A. They never have. The old-timers call them divisions, but they are actually areas now.

BISHOP: You where also writing for magazines during this time?

CONNELLY: 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 paper’s Sunday magazine, which would end up running a crime or cop-related feature.

BISHOP: 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?

CONNELLY: It was fun. I was working at a mid-level newspaper – this was before I had written any books. I didn’t 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.

BISHOP: This nomination led you to move to California?

CONNELLY: 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 don’t even know if "tried" is the right word. I wrote two novels that I never sent out, because I knew they weren’t good enough.

BISHOP: You completed them?

CONNELLY: 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 . . .

BISHOP: But no middle?

CONNELLY: Yeah, I hadn’t learned that yet! But something happened. It didn’t 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.

BISHOP: That’s 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.

CONNELLY: "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.

BISHOP: 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?

CONNELLY: 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, it’s 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 what’s going on.

BISHOP: Or not tell you what’s going on.

CONNELLY: The LAPD has an Information Office.

BISHOP: Without question! When we don’t 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 we’re not doing. We just refer everybody to Press Relations. It can be very frustrating.


BISHOP: But it’s also, I think, because a lot of cops have been burned by journalists. It has turned into a very adversarial relationship.

CONNELLY: Yeah, and I think not without reason. We have nine TV channels here, there used to be three newspapers. There’s much more opportunity for cops to be burned. There are so many reporters coming after them – they can’t 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 couldn’t have here.

BISHOP: What amazes me though, is that I can get to work at six o’clock 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, they’ll be calling up and saying, "There’s going to be a murder at such-and-such, can we go over there and film it with you?

When you first started to interact with cops in L.A., what was your experience?

CONNELLY: 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.

BISHOP: So he was more friendly that the others!

CONNELLY: Oh, he became my best source, yeah. That was a microcosm. My first personal experience with an LAPD cop. That’s pretty much the way it was.

As I mentioned, I didn’t get off of the police beat. I had been doing that for seven years, so it’s 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 he’ll tell somebody else: "Yeah, he’s one of the good ones." So by the time it’s over, you end up with your sources.

BISHOP: What has been your impression of cops in L.A., as opposed to cops in South Florida?

CONNELLY: They’re isolated. It’s 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 – they’re 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 . . .

BISHOP: 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 there’s a cop on every corner. Here, it just isn’t that way. There’s not the neighborhood cop that they have back east.

CONNELLY: Yeah. That isolation breeds the "us vs. them." Atmosphere. So your cops in cars never get out of this thing called a car that they’re in, except to go and handle a call and meet another dirtbag. You don’t 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.

BISHOP: 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.

Then, all of the sudden, the decision by the Chief was made that we didn’t have enough cops on the street. So we’re 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.

It 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 else.

So you read Raymond Chandler before coming to L.A. McDonald? Joe Wambaugh?


BISHOP: What other influences were there?

CONNELLY: 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.

BISHOP: Where did the spark for Black Echo come from? What was it that said that this was the plot, this was the story?

CONNELLY: 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.

BISHOP: This is what I love about Michael. He calls it a "burglary of a bank." He gets it right. It wasn’t 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 that’s so nice.

CONNELLY: 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.


CONNELLY: 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 wouldn’t 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.

So 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 couldn’t 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.

I 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 wasn’t 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.

So one day, it was like what I call atoms smashing together. Two things come together, and you realize: that’s 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.

BISHOP: So the plot came before Harry did.

CONNELLY: 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 don’t think you can survive of you don’t have an interesting lead character in a book.

BISHOP: Were you thinking commercially at that time? Were you thinking "bestseller"? Or were you writing to please yourself?

CONNELLY: 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. Let’s 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. That’s the higher goal I’d say I have, and every writer has. I don’t want act like the guy who wants just money or to have commercial success.

BISHOP: Okay. Here you have great idea; you’re building the character. How did you handle the Catch-22 of an agent vs. a publisher? It’s 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?

CONNELLY: Like most people, I was sort of floundering around in the dark. I didn’t know anything. Coming to a forum like WritersBloc; I didn’t even know that they had them back then. So I went to a bookstore and got a book called The Writer’s 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.

BISHOP: 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.

CONNELLY: 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 editor’s office, in every agent’s office. You need something to attract some attention to it.

BISHOP: I didn’t use an agent until my third book, basically because I couldn’t 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.

When you sit down now to structure your plots and it’s beginning to come together, what’s the next thing you do? Do you outline ahead of time, or do you just go wherever it takes you?

CONNELLY: I outlined my first book. I have not used them since. But I still don’t 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 don’t start writing until I know how that plot will wrap up at the end. For me, it’s more fun to leave that 300 pages in the middle unknown. It allows you a lot of freedom as a writer. It’s 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, it’s too much like work. It’s an interruption.

BISHOP: Ed McBain says, "If I know everything about it, then it’s just typing."

CONNELLY: Maybe then, the fun is when you’re doing the outline, I don’t know. But I haven’t since my first book. You mentioned McBain. You could have a quotation from a writer to back up whatever view you have.


CONNELLY: The one that I have about that comes from Hemingway. He said, "If you outline your books, you’ll know where you’re going and so will your reader." It disturbed me that he might be right, so I got rid of outlines.

BISHOP: I outlined more books than you did, but I’m 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?

CONNELLY: It’s 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 didn’t have to do too much rewriting in the last chapter.

BISHOP: When you’re in the middle of one of your books, is there that ache to get onto the next project?

CONNELLY: Not in the middle, but ten out of eleven times (except unfortunately it didn’t happen on the book I just finished), I’ve 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 can’t wait to get on that book. That’s been great, because I finish one, and then go on to the next one. I don’t usually take vacations between books. I take vacations sometime during the writing of a book. So ten times I’ve gone from "The End" to the start of the next one within a couple of days, and it didn’t happen this time. I’m not panicked yet, but next week, I will be.

BISHOP: Where you surprised by the success of Black Echo?

CONNELLY: No, not really. Basically I am an arrogant, egotistical person.

BISHOP: All writers are!

CONNELLY: I mean, I don’t show it; I’m up here, I’m 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.

BISHOP: That you had a good project.

CONNELLY: On the basis of getting into the first level of publishing, it’s pretty egalitarian. Even though every agent and every editor has a pile of manuscripts in their office, if your book is good, it’s 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 didn’t 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.

BISHOP: As you went through The Black Echo and The Black Ice, Concrete Blonde and The Poet, you’re on the bestseller list. Being on the bestseller lists, has that affected your writing in any way?

CONNELLY: 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 – who cares?

BISHOP: Move on.

CONNELLY: Yeah, keep moving, and keep your head down, and not worry about those things.

BISHOP: I don’t want to call your books "procedural," because they are deeper than what most procedurals are . . .

CONNELLY: 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, that’s what I was classified as.

BISHOP: But isn’t that a different type of writing as opposed to most mysteries? Because of the details that you have to get right?

CONNELLY: I guess it’s 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, let’s say my pursuit as a writer, is the telling detail. I’m looking for that one detail that opens the window onto that person’s world.

So I create scenes where I can put in a couple of details so the reader will say, "This must be what it’s really like." and then move on. I’ve been called a police procedural writer, but if you’ve read some of my books, you know, and I know you know, that I have some of this stuff all wrong.

BISHOP: If you’ve read some of mine, you know that I have things wrong! Never sacrifice a good story for the truth.

CONNELLY: It’s true. And it has its roots in my illusion of being a journalist. I’ve 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 can’t be a slave to details. You have to be a slave to the movement of the piece.

BISHOP: But I also find it interesting that that one detail that rings with the clarity of truth will outweigh all this other stuff you’ve 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, "What’s that all about? Is that a fashion statement?" She said, "No – don’t you know what that’s about? That’s 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!

So 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!

CONNELLY: 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, you’re going to have to take it to the cleaners to get it out, and the Department won’t 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.

BISHOP: Be careful what you wish for when it comes to fingerprint powder, because a lot of times we won’t print an area, because we know there won’t 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 doesn’t come off. It’s awful stuff. Be careful what you wish for when you insist that we fingerprint something.

Let’s 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?

CONNELLY: Well, it comes from that Nietzschean philosophy of – I’m going to get this wrong; "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you." Another way of putting it is: You can’t 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 cop’s 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. It’s what fascinates me. I would never be a cop, but I’m fascinated by them: how they walk that line. That’s what I’m writing about, over and over again.

Obviously, Harry Bosch – anybody who has read all the books – I’ve put him on the forager’s path. There’s been a personal price that he’s had to pay, and that’s what I’m exploring in these books.

BISHOP: 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 we’re handling a child molestation case with a pedophile, and they’re going to go into an interrogation with this person, and they are so angry – that they can’t get beyond that – they’re not going to get the confession that we need to make the case.

What I try to teach them is that it’s not our job to fix the victim. Our job is to put the villain in jail for as long a time as possible. We’re all basically blue-collar workers. We’re 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 that’s what we have to concentrate on. Otherwise, you’re right, you fall into the abyss and it just eats you up.

CONNELLY: Compartmentalizing like that, trying to say, "I can’t 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, it’s not a job that I would ever have, but as someone writing fiction, it’s pretty fascinating to explore and use that in a way that allows you to say something about your city or your community.

BISHOP: You say you’re 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?

CONNELLY: That’s always a hard question for me to answer. I can’t really say why. I’m fascinated by it, but I can’t say either. I don’t think it’s unhealthy to be fascinated by this. It’s normal, actually.

BISHOP: Tell us more about A Darkness More Than Night.

CONNELLY: 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.

BISHOP: But it also played into your series, because of the painter.

CONNELLY: Right. Harry Bosch’s 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.

BISHOP: 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 now?

CONNELLY: 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, you’re 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 eyes.

Part 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. . .

BISHOP: How do we make it different. . .

CONNELLY: I really feel that what goes on in the writing process, translates into the books. If you have a good time writing, and you’re really interested in it, then I think that that’s going to come out in the book. If it’s a chore and drudgery, if you don’t want to go to the computer every day, then it’s not going to go well.

I am always looking for ways to keep it interesting and fun. I take a "I can’t 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.

BISHOP: 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?

CONNELLY: I can go overseas and crime fiction gets a lot more respect than it does in this country. It’s generally held here that it’s entertainment, it’s a puzzle, that we get to guess when we’re halfway through. And in other countries, particularly France, the U.K. and Italy, people are looking for deeper meaning, finding deeper meanings. Meanings I didn’t even know where in my books, so I say, "Oh yeah, I meant that!" They are looking for a larger picture in a way. It’s kind of nice. So there’s that difference to it.

The 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 didn’t 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 isn’t it "Jerry"?

BISHOP: So you went back and changed all the books . . .


QUESTION: How do you make your novels so interesting and compelling?

CONNELLY: That’s 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.

Harry, in one book, it could be that he wants a cigarette when he’s trying to quit, to something larger, like why he can’t understand why he’s been unsuccessful in romantic relationships. And that’s 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.

It’s mostly through conflict. That’s 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."

You might say, "Well, that’s pretty simple – you went to college for that?" But the explanation behind it is, to write every day, even if it’s 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 you’ve accomplished that. That’s what the goal of that is. You should always have your story churning around in your head. Even if you’re 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.

The 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 it’s only a glass of water. That in a nutshell, is how to make your characters active.

The 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.

QUESTION: In Blood Work, which is the first Terry McCaleb novel, what gave you the idea for his heart transplant?

CONNELLY: 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 didn’t 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 don’t 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.

The 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 didn’t like the idea of having his heart go bad. So I knew that if I was going to use my friend’s journey, I was going to have to come up with a new character. It took me a while to come up with the character of McCaleb.

QUESTION: 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 criminal’s 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?

BISHOP: There is definitely a profile for a police officer character. For the most part, that’s 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 don’t 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."

That "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, that’s 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.

I 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.

What 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, "Let’s kill somebody" and the other cop says, "Okay." How does that dynamic come about? I found that fascinating. It’s when the regulator of morality comes off. Looking into the abyss is the correlation.

QUESTION: How necessary is it for you to keep up with police technology?

CONNELLY: As I said before, I’m moving into this way of writing where I’m thinking that this is less and less important. I’m not a police procedural writer. I don’t keep too much on it. It depends on what sort of book I’m working on. Every once in a while, I’ll write a scene that is highly technical, and I’ll 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 don’t want to worry about all that stuff. Often, that’s what I will do. I’ll write and then I’ll give my pages to someone who is knowledgeable in that arena, to find out if I got it wrong. Sometimes, I don’t fix it. They’ll say . . .

BISHOP: "You can’t do that!" and I’ll say, "Sorry, I won’t do it anymore."

CONNELLY: It’s not that hard to keep up on technology just by watching the Discovery Channel. I’m serious about that. I just don’t think that writers or anyone should think that this is the key part of what you’re doing.

QUESTION: 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?

CONNELLY: It’s something that I have a hard time talking about because Vietnam was significant or potentially significant in my life. I don’t spend a lot of time writing about Harry experiences there. I don’t 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 that’s were that came from.

Then 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. I’m not really answering your question very well, but it’s 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 haven’t gotten to the point where I feel comfortable doing it.

BISHOP: Those old time department guys are no longer there. Over 50 percent of the Department has less than five years on the job.

QUESTION: 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 – he’s 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.

CONNELLY: It’s 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. It’s a trick of the trade: how do you get sympathy for a criminal? By making a really bad criminal go after her. So that’s 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.

QUESTION: 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?

CONNELLY: 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, I’m 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. There’s a three-month period when I am in my writing mode, usually when I am just past the midpoint of a book.

I 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 you’re the surfer, and you’re in the barrel, the water is all around you. Your story is all around you and you just can’t write it down fast enough. It doesn’t last that long, just a few months out of the life of the book, but once it starts, I’ll write about 7 percent of it.

QUESTION: Do you rewrite too?

CONNELLY: I start my day by rewriting what I did the day before, so I build in a rewrite into my first draft. Then I’ll go through it once more when I’m 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 it’s not in the middle of a sentence, then at least it’s in the middle of a thought, and then it’s easier to start the next day.

About 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 don’t read it as much. It’s kind of like I’ve 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 what’s written about Los Angeles. Mostly so I don’t do the same stuff at the same time if I can help it. The one guy out there, pretty obscure, named George Halconnis, who’s probably my favorite writer at the moment. I sort of know him, I’ve 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.

QUESTION: 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. It’s incredible. How much do you get from reading the L.A. Times, and what’s in your weird imagination?

BISHOP: 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, it’s what this person was talking about earlier. I don’t like it when I am reading a book, and there’s a psychopath, but there’s no reason why he’s 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 works.

But 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. It’s 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.

CONNELLY: What about that book you wrote, I can’t remember the name of it, about this athlete . . .

BISHOP: 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 LAPD’s 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 psychiatrist’s 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 what’s going on in real life! I thought I was way out there, and obviously, I’m not going far enough.

CONNELLY: I find that if there’s a story in the L.A. Times, then I’m not really interested in it. I’m more interested in things that are not media stories. So I don’t religiously read the L.A. Times for ideas and so forth. I do watch the Discovery Channel.

But it’s 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. That’s where Void Moon came from. So often, it’s come from conversations with detectives. I can’t 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.

Talk about something that crosses your desk, what’s interesting, is that cop work is so weird that sometimes, it’s too weird and strange to put in fiction. I’ve used anecdotes and true stories and often my editor will say that this is too unbelievable, you have to take it out.

BISHOP: One of the biggest triggers of that is coincidence. Coincidence plays a huge part in reality. You can’t put coincidence into a book, because nobody’s going to by off on it. In real life, very often, there is not a sense of closure. You can’t have that in a book. You’ve 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 can’t have that happen in fiction.

CONNELLY: One example of that was this heart transplant story. My friend, he actually got the call "We have a heart for you" on Valentine’s Day. In my original Blood Work, Terry McCaleb got a new heart on Valentine’s Day. My editor said, "Forget it. Nobody’s going to believe this."

BISHOP: That would never happen!

CONNELLY: 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 McCaleb’s heart transplant off of Valentine’s Day in Blood Work, but in the book I just turned in, I kept this gun thing in.

BISHOP: 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 don’t 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.

CONNELLY: 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." It’s true.

QUESTION: Was it difficult to make the transition from journalism to fiction?

CONNELLY: Most of the cops I knew said that at least I’m labeling it correctly now . . . It really wasn’t, because, to get back to what we were talking about – the telling detail – in journalism, you don’t have much space to say what you want to say, so you’re always tying to balance what’s essential. That’s something I carry over from journalism. The difficult part – I said this earlier – is that I have to unlearn all my stuff. I can’t 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. It’s not what’s 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. It’s pretty much out of me now. I haven’t 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 wasn’t difficult at all. I use a lot of negative motivation in my life. It’s 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.

QUESTION: What’s your new book about?

CONNELLY: It’s a Harry Bosch book. It’s called City of Bones. In Laurel Canyon, the bones of a 12-year-old are found. They’ve 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 don’t 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.

BISHOP: Back from the edge of the abyss?


——transcribed and edited by Kurt Wahlner

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