Message From The Author
Kellerman Family Ties
FAYE KELLERMAN REUNITES READERS WITH
SOME FAMILIAR FACES FOR THE BURNT HOUSE
By Diane Snyder
Faye Kellerman is agog over her family's latest creation. It's not her new novel, August's The Burnt House (Morrow) -- her 20th book and the first title in four years featuring beloved series characters Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus. Nor is it one in the opus of her bestselling husband, Jonathan Kellerman, the author of more than 20 suspense books featuring psychologist Alex Delaware. And it doesn't even have anything to do with their son Jesse Kellerman, who's published two novels, most recently the thriller Trouble.
What has her beaming as she waits for a flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia is the birth of her first grandchild, a 6-pound, 4-ounce girl. She's en route to see her and help her daughter. "Whatever I'm needed
to do, I will do," Kellerman says.
Family has always been a priority for Kellerman before and in the 21 years since her first novel (The Ritual Bath) was published. She and her husband strove to maintain a steady home life as they raised four children while pursuing the often chaotic writing life. At times Kellerman's family has even had a direct impact on her work. Her father's experience as a soldier in Germany during World War II -- and his untimely death at the age of 53 -- propelled her, at age 53, to write the Munich-set historical suspense Straight Into Darkness (2005), and family matters, including stories she wrote with her children, inspired parts of last year's anthology The Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights. But the author considers some of her own characters family as well and always planned to return to police lieutenant Peter and his Orthodox Jewish wife, Rina.
"I didn't take a hiatus from them because they were stale; I took a break because other ideas competed and won out, especially the historical novel -- that had been brewing inside me for years and years," says Kellerman, who conducted a tremendous amount of research that included three trips to Munich to write Straight Into Darkness. "It was very cathartic, and after it relieved a certain area of my mind Peter and Rina just naturally came back
and said, we have a great story for you. Come write it."
As in many of Kellerman's previous books, the past returns with a vengeance in her latest, and one incident has a vast ripple effect on many lives. This time a plane hits a Los Angeles apartment complex and the parents of a dead flight attendant try to persuade Peter that their daughter's husband used the crash to cover up the fact that he killed her. Complicating matters, an unidentified female body is found among the rubble, and the search begins to find out who she is. In Kellerman's hands even inanimate objects like crime scenes have a lot to say. "And I relate it to biblical incidents where inanimate objects speak: the burning bush, Daniel in the lion's den and the
writing on the walls," she explains. "Everything tells a story. A crime scene is basically an inanimate, inert physical thing that talks to detectives. And I make the point that nothing is really ever destroyed. It may take a little longer to find it, but eventually it will catch up with you, and the whole spectrum of past, present and future may be impacted."
One thing that hasn't been impacted over the course of her series, however, is her characters' happy domestic life. Sure, Peter and Rina have had their share of problems, but they haven't faced too many life-altering crises, and Kellerman doesn't feel she needs to give them any to hold reader -- or her own -- interest. "Peter's work gives him enough anxiety and crises to work with," she says. "And Rina's there not only to calm him down but to also give her own unique insight. Like all successfully married couples, they have bumps, and to me it's the smaller bumps that are interesting. Anybody can throw in a major death or an alcohol or drug problem, but I think coping with day-to-day living gives them enough to make them interesting."
Like Rina, Kellerman is an Orthodox Jew, but she says her religion only plays a role in her fiction in that it defines who she is. However, she is pro-Bible education -- not when it comes to teaching religion but she favors educating students about the Bible as a work of literature. "We need to separate out the religious aspects of the Bible," she says. "What you choose to take religiously is your own business, but so much of American and English literature is based on biblical stories, and the Bible has something to say about everything. It's just a fascinating source when writing fiction to draw stories from."
Married for 35 years, the Kellermans certainly seem to have mastered the art of living and working together. In addition to their individual titles, they've collaborated on two books -- 2004's Double Homicide and 2006's Capital Crimes -- and although they're not working on anything together at the moment, they haven't ruled out another collaboration. In the meantime, she's at work on another Peter/Rina novel, The Mercedes Coffin, due out in 2008, and taking part in another season of the Court TV series Murder by the Book, in which noted novelists reveal the real-life crimes that inspired their fiction.
Far from entering into their union as writers, the Kellermans were married for 13 years before either Jonathan or Faye got published. Both had math and science backgrounds -- Jonathan has a Ph.D. in psychology and Faye has degrees in mathematics and dentistry -- and Faye credits her husband with getting her started. "I sort of followed his lead because he looked like he was having fun -- struggling but having fun," she says. "I used to read his unpublished novels and I thought, he's writing and he's not publishing, so maybe there's no shame in just having a good time while you're writing." Jonathan did get published in 1985, and Faye was a year later. "But really, his journey was a lot longer than mine," she says. "And once he got published, he was very successful right away, whereas it took me about 10 years to build up my readership."
Kellerman is equally effusive in praising her son Jesse, a playwright who made his fiction debut with the 2006 title Sunstroke. They joined forces for the story "Mummy and Jack" in Faye's Garden of Eden collection. "He always had a very good ear, very definite ideas of what he wanted and what he didn't want," she says. "We encouraged him specifically because we knew he was a monumental talent, and we wouldn't have if we didn't think he had the chops."
Being the matriarch of a literary family has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, "[Jonathan] understands what you're going through when you have to get up at 2 o'clock in the morning because you just thought of something, or when you're at the dinner table, you leave to just write something down and then two hours later you forgot that you were eating dinner."
On the downside, "I think that with any couple that works together it's hard to tell where the business day stops and the personal time begins. It's not only the writing, it's also the business of writing -- contracts and this call and that. Plus, we live where we work, so you could have a workday for the entire day. At some point you have to arbitrarily say, stop, this is enough."
But one problem Kellerman doesn't face these days is a competitive edge when it comes to her husband. "Maybe 15/20 years ago, but not now," she says. "There's room for all sorts of wonderfully talented people, and anybody's success is a good thing for all writers because it brings people into bookstores. When there's so much other entertainment, anything that'll bring somebody into a bookstore is a good thing."
FAYE KELLERMAN'S FIVE FAVORITE GROUND-BREAKING MYSTERY NOVELS
1. WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS by Jonathan Kellerman
2. DOUBLE INDEMNITY by James M. Cain
3. THE GALTON CASE / THE CHILL by Ross Macdonald
4. FAREWELL, MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler
5. BLACK CHERRY BLUES by James Lee Burke
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