Please welcome Michael Connelly as he discusses plans for a possible TV series, his latest title, Echo Park, a possible movie deal, and much more!
In 1997, Don Crouch interviewed Michael Connelly about Trunk Music for the late, lamented Mostly Murder. On the occasion of the release of Echo Park, Don used his powers of persuasion (and possibly extortion) to actually convince Mr. Connelly to repeat the experience for us. We hope you enjoy it!
NMR: Michael, thanks for being with us today! It's been 10 years since our last interview together, have you missed us?
MC: Us? Our? Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that only Siamese twins and people with multiple personalities or tapeworm should use the plural to refer to themselves? I missed you, buddy. I don’t know about us.
NMR: Echo Park was released in Europe prior to release here. We're guessing your USA readers are a bit jealous of that, can you enlighten us on the publisher's logic about it?
MC: Basically, October presents the murderers row of publishing, with every heavyweight you can imagine coming out with new books. I am likely to get my lunch eaten by the bullies. The UK folks said we rather not deal with that sort of marketplace and asked for permission to come out earlier and we said yes. And when I say ‘we’ I am not saying I have tapeworm or multiple personalities. I mean that my publisher and I discussed it and said let’s try it.
NMR: So, next is the US tour, then what--the next novel, or something else?
MC: At the moment I am writing a script for a TV pilot for CBS that might or might not see the light of day next year. I will come out of that project ready to start writing the next book in January.
NMR: Can you talk about the CBS pilot, or are your lips sealed.....
MC: It’s a lawyer story, about a young criminal defense attorney who takes over the entire practice of another defense attorney who was mysteriously murdered. It doesn't have a title yet.
NMR: Is the next novel up there bouncing around already?
MC: Bouncing is a good way to put it. I have a few ideas and I'm sort of waiting for one of them to bloom and take control.
NMR: Here come the "process questions", such as, do you start out with theme, and fit plot around it; or does the story idea hit you first?
MC: It happens all different ways. Sometimes I get a story or plot idea I just can’t ignore. The Lincoln Lawyer came about that way. I simply met a Lincoln lawyer and knew I had a story. Other times, particularly with Harry Bosch, I might get into the story with thoughts about theme or character. I think about what I want to do with this guy, what change do I want to put him through, what emotion do I want to explore, and then I head off. Echo Park sort of came that way. I had written eleven Bosch novels and was looking for some sort of new thing. I started to think about how Harry would react if he learned he had made a very bad mistake on a case, one that cost lives. Could he live with it? Could he trade it for all the cases where he didn’t make mistakes, etc.? I took these thoughts and sort of wed them to a plot idea I had been carrying around in my back pocket for quite a while. Both things sort of matched up and a book was born.
NMR: Specifically to your situation, you're a Florida resident now, and your books are very specifically about LA, so do you set up shop in LA for while during the process, or do you depend on your photographic memory?
MC: I have no photographic memory but I have a camera. I actually spend a decent amount of time in L.A., maintaining an apartment and several relationships with police detectives and others. So I go out there, do the research, take photos, ask questions and generally just hang out. I then take it all back to Florida and write.
**SPOILER ALERT!! The next few paragraphs discuss the events in Echo Park. Consider yourself warned!**
NMR: Echo Park seems to address the self-doubt that Harry deals with as a cop, a father, and a man, particularly in regards to his instincts. Is that accurate, and if so, was that something you wanted to address specifically?
MC: Yes. Bosch is a guy who follows instincts and while he makes his share of mistakes through the series, I have never really put him into a deep hole of self-doubt. So that was the character motivation with this one. There is a lot of thinking about the nature of the work and how you can live with and get past a bad mistake. Can you trade it? Can you look at something like homicide work as a zero sum game?
NMR: You're getting good at creating monsters, from The Poet to Raynard Waits. Talk a little about populating that kind of character, as opposed to the "average criminal type".
MC: Well, I guess it’s a common device in crime novels. It’s called raising the stakes. The more evil, more complicated and more destructive the bad guy is, the greater the stakes for the detective and the better for the writer who is trying to delineate this character for the reader. I think I have written all kinds of bad guys, from the over the top serial killers to the average types. Obviously, the above average ones stand out. Echo Park is sort of a backward construction. In most Bosch novels he starts at a crime scene and follows the clues to a hidden evil. In this book, the evil shows up early—he is in jail and wants to confess—and Bosch traces it back from him to the crime scene. The mystery in the book comes from other things.
NMR: Do you feel different after inhabiting those kind of characters after writing a book, as opposed to the average criminal?
MC: Not really. For me, it’s all about Bosch. And the killer, no matter who he is, is somebody I can use to reflect Bosch off of. I don’t get tied into my killers psychologically. Its kind of like that nature of evil question—where does it come from?—and all of that. Its not what interests me as much as the man or woman who has to find it and confront it. Somebody like Harry Bosch doesn’t need to know the nature of evil to do what he has to do. He just needs to be able to recognize it. And he does have that skill. Likewise, I don’t need to know everything about these bad guys to write them. I need to know everything about Bosch. That’s all.
NMR: The New York Times is currently running a serial called "The Overlook", which focuses on a case that happens after the events of Echo Park. This creates all sort of "continuity" situations, of course. Talk a little about how that, and why you decided to take this route.
MC: The Overlook runs through December. So the majority of it will run after Echo Park is published. So I thought I would write it so that it was in continuity to that. It’s only been these first few weeks where the space-time continuum has been bent a little bit. But in those few weeks there are repeated references to the Echo Park case. So that is a tip right there that this takes place after. I trust that readers are smart and that they can handle it.
NMR: Is "The Overlook" a one-time publication, or will you be using the story in another form?
MC: It will be published as a book sometime next year. I will expand it but not by a whole lot. It will still be a small book in terms of page count. But there were a couple of things and offshoots of plot that I want to explore. Also, I had to write to a specific word count in each installment—3,000 words. This meant that I had to hold back on a lot of those 16 chapters and I can see where they could be expanded with more detail and story.
NMR: Let's take a little trip down memory lane, shall we? Give us some quick hits on your thoughts of these novels as you look back on them, how you feel about the writing now, things you wish you'd put in....
NMR: Black Echo
MC:I’m proud of it but it was certainly the work of a new writer. I learned more writing that one than any other. The learning curve was pretty steep back then.
NMR: Concrete Blonde
MC: I was really mining my newspaper days. Most of that plot and the courtroom scenes came out of a trial I was covering by day as a reporter.
NMR: The Poet
MC: I wrote it very fast because I was writing about a reporter. I didn’t have to sit back and think about what a guy like Harry Bosch would do in whatever circumstance. I was writing about what I would do so it came very easily. It was when I learned not to equate speed with quality. I wrote The Poet in five months and The Lincoln Lawyer in three. There was a time when I wouldn’t admit that because so many people would think that a book written that fast can’t be good or worth a look. I know that velocity of writing doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with quality. I now know that when you have a story that is burning to get out like The Poet was for me back then, then you are in for a good ride.
NMR: Blood Work
MC: The toughest decision I ever made as a writer was throwing out about 300 pages and starting over with a new character—Terry McCaleb. In hindsight it was the right choice but it took me three months of hand-wringing before I bit the bullet and hit the delete button.
NMR: Void Moon
MC: A fun book to write because it was essentially a caper story and I was writing about a female lead for the first time. I also was writing about a hit man on her trail that was probably the most interesting villain that I’ve come up with.
NMR: You were involved in a TV (Level 9, UPN--2000) series a few years back, talk a little about that experience.
MC: I was in it but not of it and that is why it failed. I didn’t want to come out of the novelist’s cave and fully embrace the project. Subsequently, I was not there when the most important choices were made or to fight for the creative things I wanted. The show that aired—for only 7 episodes—was not the show I had in mind when I started down the road. I am writing (above-mentioned) that pilot (now) and if it goes to the next step and then maybe the step after that, then I have to be fully committed to it and wiling to fight for my vision. I think I am. We shall see what happens. Again, the ‘we’ refers to more than me.
NMR: What's up with Connelly-verse movies these days, anything on the horizon?
MC: Nothing I would bet on. But I think that The Lincoln Lawyer has a good shot. It’s with a good company that makes a lot of movies, there is a script already written and a director hired whose work I admire. He’s working with the screenwriter on a script tweak and then they plan to cast it. If it goes according to plan then they’ll start filming in the first half of 07. I bank on nothing in Hollywood but I’ve got a good feeling about this one.
NMR: The Lincoln Lawyer movie sounds great, can you tell us who the writer and director are?
MC: The screenwriter is John Romano and the director is Gregory Hoblit.
(Ed. Note: Both Romano and Hoblit are CrimeFic icons, having made their bones on the legendary HILL STREET BLUES, and have continued on to be part of many great projects.)
NMR: Crais kinda shocked us last year by saying that while he'd never sell Elvis Cole to the movies, he'd consider the right project for a graphic novel. Is that something you'd contemplate for Harry?
MC: I would contemplate anything that would get my stories to new readers/viewers. I am not an aficionado of the graphic novel but I’ve seen some good ones and I know there is a strong readership out there. So why not?
NMR: OK, so what else are you reading and watching these days that gets your attention?
MC: Unfortunately or fortunately, I am a judge this year for the Edgars in the best first novel category. So I have stacks of first novels to wade through. That’s taking all of my spare time.
NMR: Well, we are out of time! Thanks Michael, and let's do this again in another 10 years!!
MC: See you in ten, when you will open up with Isn’t Harry Bosch getting a little old for this?
For more information, please visit Michael Connelly's website at www.michaelconnely.com