Message From The Author
Journey to the Top
THE CLOCK TICKS CLOSER TO RETIREMENT FOR L.A. POLICE DETECTIVE
HARRY BOSCH BUT NOT FOR HIS CREATOR, MICHAEL CONNELLY
By Karen E. Olson
A number of journalists have left their day jobs to pursue careers in fiction writing, perhaps none more successfully than author Michael Connelly. To mark the release of his latest novel, Echo Park, RT asked fellow former journalist (and Connelly fan) Karen E. Olson to give us some insight into her fiction-writing colleague.
In retrospect, using his press pass as his entree into the world of crime fiction was a smart move for bestselling author Michael Connelly, but at the time it was a long shot.
"I didn't know if I could do it, but it worked out," says the author, whose 12th Harry Bosch novel, Echo Park,
is available Oct. 9 from Little, Brown. "Now I look like a genius. I wanted an interesting job to accomplish a long-term goal."
Connelly originally planned to follow his
father's footsteps into construction. But while at
the University of Florida, "something shifted," he
says, after discovering Raymond Chandler, Ross
McDonald and Joseph Wambaugh.
He was concerned his father would try to talk him out
of his goal to become a writer, but what he didn't realize
at the time was that his father had had his own dream
of becoming a painter and had been accepted into the Philadelphia Institute of Art. That dream was cut short when he married.
"He gave up his artistic ambition and became a builder, like his father," says Connelly, who is the second of six children. "He never said don't do it, but he did counsel me. He said it was a long shot, and that I should try to make a living. So rather than be an English lit major, I keyed in on journalism.
"My father suggested becoming a police reporter," Connelly adds. "That would teach me how to write
and get me close to the cops."
Journalism wasn't his only teacher.
"I was a real student of the genre before I wrote it,"
Connelly says, adding that he'd been a voracious reader.
So it's not surprising that a lot of thought went into the creation of his protagonist, Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch.
"Character's the most important thing," Connelly says. "With that knowledge, I didn't write about Harry until I thought I had enough. Harry came from a lot of real detectives I knew and influences from books, TV and movies."
Harry wasn't the first character Connelly created, but when he moved from Florida to Los Angeles, "that worked in my favor," he says. "My favorite writers and movies were in L.A."
It took two and a half years to write The Black Echo, his first Bosch book, "but I kept it too long," he says. "I had to learn how to do it better. I hoped it would be my foot in the door."
At the time, Connelly was working full time at The Los Angeles Times. He stayed on through the first three books, although he took a six-month leave while writing the third.
That hiatus made him realize he wanted to write full time and say goodbye to his 14-year journalism career. (A compilation of some of his newspaper articles was released earlier this year in the book Crime Beat.)
"When I came back, I only lasted four months more," he says.
While The Black Echo took more than two years to write, he conquered Echo Park in just 10 months. Connelly says it typically takes him 10 to 11 months to work on a Bosch book.
In this latest book, Bosch is brought back into a case he investigated in 1993. A woman had disappeared with no trace, and her car and a pile of neatly folded clothes were found in an empty garage at a high-rise apartment building. Fast forward to 2006. An accused serial killer has made a deal to confess to the woman's murder.
He got the idea for Echo Park about three years ago. "I knew detectives in L.A. were preparing to go up to a prison to hear a murder confession," he says. "It was interesting to hear how they were preparing for it. I added several of my own ideas to that."
Because there have been so many Bosch books, they've
taken Connelly longer to write than his five stand-alone
novels, he says. "I don't want to repeat myself," he says. "It's harder. I'm a prisoner of everything I've done before."
Bosch is living in real time, Connelly notes.
"I've made each book take place in the year
Connelly says his copy editor found a discrepancy in Echo Park that had to be changed. In his original manuscript, the cold case occurred in 1994, not 1993. But the copy editor reminded him that Bosch had been serving a nine-month suspension at the time and couldn't possibly have been investigating the case that year. So it was changed.
Bosch, who was born in 1950, is now 56, and detectives usually retire at age 60. "I have about four to five years with Harry as an L.A.P.D. cop," Connelly says.
Another twist to Connelly's writing is that his characters from his stand-alones appear in Bosch books. "It's all one story, one canvas," he says.
Mickey Haller, the defense attorney in last year's The Lincoln Lawyer, is mentioned in Echo Park and had also been mentioned in an earlier Bosch book. But Haller "was a blank page" when he wrote The Lincoln Lawyer, says Connelly, who hopes to bring him back in another book.
Readers won't see him next year, however. Bosch will be back in an expanded version of "The Overlook," a serialized novella that began Sept. 17 in The New York Times Magazine, which has published similar serializations by Elmore Leonard, Scott Turow and Patricia Cornwell.
"This is a throwback to how novels came about," Connelly says, adding that it was
a more challenging book to write because
of the format. Each of the 16 segments,
he explains, had to be between 2,500 and 3,000 words and end with a "hook" to keep readers coming back each Sunday. Because his chapters usually run long and short,
the word restriction was more difficult
Readers of "The Overlook"see FBI agent Rachel Walling, again from Echo Park, as well as a new partner for Harry,
a younger detective "with a younger person's approach
to policing," Connelly says.
Connelly stops short of saying that the new partner could be Bosch's heir apparent but does add that "you never know when a character's going to speak to you with so much intensity that he'll stick around." As an example, he says he didn't initially think Haller would ever warrant his own book.
While he's been called prolific, Connelly says his copious output has more to do with being a journalist than anything else. "I write at a pace I want to write at," he says. "And one issue is that Harry is aging in real time. If I go a year without a Harry Bosch book, I miss that year."
Connelly says he's never sat back and said, "I've made it," despite his success. "I don't think any writer at any level says that," he muses. "There are different measures of insecurity.
I've reached a point where I say I may not
have to go back to journalism.
"I have to keep the quality up, the characters evolving. If I stop doing that, then the clock is ticking."
MICHAEL CONNELLY'S FIVE FAVORITE THINGS:
1. Candy bar: Caramello
2. Car: 1956 Porsche Speedster (but he drives a BMW M5)
3. Olympic sport: Basketball (but football is his favorite sport)
4. Beatle: John (but he's more a Rolling Stones' fan)
5. 1970s TV detective: Kojak ("This was appointment TV for me.")
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