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Interview by Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos with Rich Fahle at BookExpo America on 17 August 2009.

Video is available at youtube.


RICH FAHLE: Well, we're here today at BookExpo America in New York with Michael Connelly and with George Pelecanos. We're here at the Borders booth. Thanks so much for joining us, the both of you.

CONNELLY: Glad to be here.

FAHLE: You have a couple new books out right now. Michael, for you, The Scarecrow, and for you, George, The Way Home. And I understand that you're both touring together now, too; you're– you're traveling across America together. What's the like, and how does it work?

CONNELLY: Um, I do the driving, and he does the complaining, mostly. But, uh...

FAHLE: Do you travel just the two of you?

CONNELLY: Yeah.

FAHLE: By car?

CONNELLY: No, we get into different cities and we have people who drive us around. Sometimes we have a rented car. It's, uh– it's, you know– we just– it's whatever feels convenient.

FAHLE: So–

PELECANOS: But, it's easy.

FAHLE: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

PELECANOS: Well, it's just easy. We're both, uh– we're both kind of quiet guys when we're not in the spotlight, and, sometimes, you know, when we get in a car, we drive hundreds of miles and not speak to each other much, and it's very comfortable, you know what I'm saying? It's two guys just being quiet.

CONNELLY: And then when we get to the store, it's like, "You go first." "No, you go first." "You go first." You know, it's like– it's pretty comfortable, and we did it once before, and, uh, it seems like we're picking up after, uh, I guess it's been eight years since we did a tour together.

FAHLE: Obviously you guys are friends as well. You toured before. How did it all come together originally?

CONNELLY: I think it was `cause we were at the same publisher...

PELECANOS: Yeah.

CONNELLY: ...and it was somebody's idea. Um, they knew we were friends before that, so it was kind of a natural thing to do. Um, you do a lot of touring in this business if you write a lot of books like George does, like I do. So, um, there's somewhat of a repetitive nature to what you do, so any time you can shake it up, do something different, travel with somebody, uh, it's good to do.

FAHLE: So with the, uh– with the characters you have in your book...I know, George, your characters are different in most of your book. D.C. is the sort of central element. First of all, do you live in Washington?

PELECANOS: Yeah, I live right over the D.C. line in Silver Spring.

FAHLE: Okay. Okay, I've spent a lot of years there myself, and it's one of those things where you get to know that city so well through reading these books, but your characters are different in every story. Whereas with you, Michael, a lot of the times– well, you have a couple. We're returning to Jack McEvoy with The Scarecrow which is a great return from The Poet back in `96. And then Harry Bosch, which your fans just have come to love. Do you ever want to just throw those guys away and start writing about different things and– and, uh, I'm going to ask a flip question over to George in just a minute.

CONNELLY: I feel like it's a great gift to be able to write a character and come back to it. Um, I– all my characters age in real-time, so, you mentioned Jack was last in a book in `96. Here we are all these years later, and he's all those years older, and so he has another perspective of the– the world, his job, all those things, and, uh, it's pretty marvelous as a writer to be able to do that. I've written about Harry Bosch for twenty years, and, uh, it's amazing that I'm able to do that. So having said all that, that's what I like to do, but every now and then, I kick out a new, uh, character, but then I s– somehow usually find a way of bringing that character into what I've already written.

FAHLE: So, you mentioned Jack McEvoy aging in real-time. In the back of your head, then, as you're writing these Harry Bosch books, or doing other things, is Jack constantly back there, just getting older, doing different things? You know, changing?

CONNELLY: Jack, I kind of put out of my creative mind, I guess you'd say, for a long time, because I initially thought, when I wrote that first book, The Poet, I said what I wanted to say with that character, `cause it was a newspaper story, it was a job I had. I thought, "That's it. I'm not a newspaper man anymore. Here's my story on it, and that will be enough." And what was happening in the newspaper business is so, uh, interesting as is– as it is sad that I just felt like I wanted to write about it, and, uh, so he was the obvious guy to kind of bring out of retirement.

FAHLE: Why is it sad? I mean, I know the industry in a– is into trouble right now, but when you left–

CONNELLY: Well it's sad for me because I spent so many years– I wouldn't be talking to you if I had not been a newspaper reporter, `cause it taught me how to write, it got me into police stations and into the world that I wanted to write about as a novelist. And, uh, so it's very significant to me, personally. But also, I know what a newspaper can– what it means to a community. In– in terms of a center of debate and, uh, discussion; as a place that's a watchdog of, uh, corruption in– in all kinds of things. And, um, you know, newspapers are in a downward spiral, probably a death spiral. And, uh, it's– there's going to be a big loss when there's no newspapers around, I think.

FAHLE: Well I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan where they just decided that in July first, there's not going to be a printed newspaper anymore. They didn't have people to bring it to your homes; they didn't have people– ways to get it to you. It was not a profitable venture for them anymore. And they're moving the entire thing online, and I think we're one of the first daily newspaper towns in America to ditch the daily newspaper entirely.

CONNELLY: Right. Well–

FAHLE: Not to have them combine or do anything.

CONNELLY: It'll be interesting to see what happens. I mean, yeah, there's still going to be that news content, and the– you can get it if you want, but it's not the same as having a newspaper hang around all day, if you know– if there's a– if someone in Ann– in your town, Ann Arbor, is corrupt and the newspaper finds out about it, it's on the front page, big letters, and it's hanging around there all day, people pay attention. If it's on a– on a website, will they pay attention? I don't know. That's the thing that we're going to see whether that– what happens in the future.

FAHLE: Well we'll be testing that. And for you, George, um, you write about D.C., and there's a depth to your understanding of that city obviously, and it comes across on the pages. Do you ever have the urge to revisit characters and to bring them back and to have them play a recurring role in every novel? Or do you like sort of the stand-alone idea of something different every time?

PELECANOS: I've just been– I've been write– writing stand-alones recently, but I have done a couple of series, and– and in my mind, those people are still out there. In fact, uh, in the stand-alones, you'll, uh, you know– you will see these characters on the street. You'll see Derek Strange standing in front of his, uh, agency with his dog, and...to me, they're still walking out there–

FAHLE: They're in there. Yeah.

PELECANOS: And I can bring them back any time. And in fact, you know, I might.

FAHLE: Well I think the fans would obviously like that as well. So you– your relationship to the District– to the– you know, tell me more about that. Obviously, um, you know, there's a love affair there; it's not always the best side of the city that you're portraying, but it's an honest side of the city. Tell me about your relationship to Washington, D.C.

PELECANOS: Well first of all, I love the city. My parents grew up in it. Uh, I grew up in and– and around it, and, uh, we have a history there that I'm trying to bring out in my– in my body of work. You know, I– I've gone back and I've written books all the way back to the `30s, and what I'm trying to do is show how the city's changed, and to give a– people an understanding of where we've been, you try to give them sort of a clue as to where we're going and where we want to go. And– and when all is said and done, I will hopefully have written a– uh, my body of work will be a history of Washington in the 20th Century into the 21st.

FAHLE: So, you guys knowing each other, and know each others' work really well, um, there does seem to be a bit of a mutual admiration society. It probably doesn't get spoken about a lot; to your point, you can go long periods of time without chatting. But, um, can you tell me a little bit about George's work, and the stuff that you've always liked about it as you've read it over the years?

CONNELLY: Well, he kind of touches on it, where he's– he's looking at the big picture. I mean, each book is a facet of an on-going story, and he kind of approaches it, you know, from my viewpoint, as almost like an anthropologist. And he– he's digging down through the layers, and there's layers in the books and there's layers in his whole body of work. And it's really admirable. He's just really somebody who, uh– uh, you know, is not licking his finger and holding it up into the wind, seeing which way the markets going or commerciality is going. He writes– he has this goal, um, to say what he wants to say, and, um, put on view about what– the District, and, uh, he's sticking to it. And, uh, I– I know from my own experience, from– I'm a writer too, I know it's hard to do. And he's– he's– he's the best at doing it.

FAHLE: And Michael's work, obviously for you, George, is– I mean, again, I see a lot of similarities, but there's something so totally unique about it. What have you liked about his work over the years?

PELECANOS: Well, I– I'll probably put it more succinctly. I think he's the best mystery writer in the world. And–

CONNELLY: That's why we travel together.

FAHLE: That's high praise. That's some serious praise.

PELECANOS: Well, I– I do. I mean, uh, nobody has that kind of quality-control, and, uh, the books always deliver on the– on the thriller side, so they're page-turners, but also you know that what he's writing about has been– has been researched and vetted, and it's earned. You know? Um, it's not– you know, I've never read one of his books, and say, "Well that's– that's not how– that's not how it works out there."

FAHLE: Yeah.

PELECANOS: Um...it is how it works, and you want to keep reading too, and that's the– that's– that's, uh, you know– that's what people are looking for in a book.

FAHLE: Well the honesty that comes from being a journalist obviously has to contribute to that too. You're there; you're watching it; it's real. It's painful at times. Um, and that– that does come out across in all of your books.

CONNELLY: Yeah, I hope so. I mean, I– it's– again, it's, uh– I take a, uh, journalist's approach to it. Um, very much like a reporter, not only in terms of researching and– hopefully have de– having developed a good ear for, uh, dialogue that– that– that reveals character and things like that. But also in the way I write, you know, I– I– I write as if I don't have enough space to write, uh, what I want to say, which is what happens in the newspaper business.

FAHLE: Right.

CONNELLY: But, um, so I've kind of carried that over. So I– I really– tell you the truth, I haven't been at– in a newsroom– or I haven't been a journalist– working journalist in fourteen years, but I feel, uh, at heart, I'm a journalist.

FAHLE: You know, that– that's sort of what you said earlier about, um, just the commerciality of– of the genre. There is certainly a lot of commercial mystery-thriller stuff out there, um, and it would be easy, one would think, to sort of figure out the way that– you know, what works, and to sort of write to that. But both of you, I think, sort of do your thing and do it with an honesty that's really targeted on just, you know, what you want to say. There's not necessarily that sort of thing, like, "Who– how many people are going to buy it?" I mean, it happens that your both successful writers and it's working, but how do you keep that at bay from the editors, from the fans, from all that stuff, just to keep doing what's right– what's right for your characters?

PELECANOS: Um, you know, just write honestly, and I– I always– there– there's two levels to that. I want to– I want to write– a book's not worth writing if it's– if it's not about something, you know? So I– that's the first thing I have to figure out, is what am I trying to say here. Or how am I– you know, what am I trying to present new to the reader that they– that they don't know already, and that might change the way they look at the world when they're driving down the street with the windows up and their doors locked?

FAHLE: Right.

PELECANOS: You know, they might look at people differently. So there's that, but the other side of it is that I am very aware that I– and I never want to rip anybody off, so I also want to write a good– a good thriller, a good crime novel, that is– that keeps people coming back. And if you can do both things, then you're– then you're satisfied, you know?

FAHLE: Right. Michael, you're books are coming out fast and furiously. You have another one coming out, The Scarecrow just hit. You have another one coming out: 9 Dragons. Harry Bosch returns.

CONNELLY: Mm-hm.

FAHLE: Um, when you re– when Harry Bosch comes back– a "true" Harry Bosch novel, um, is it, like, exciting for you too? I mean, do you– is it like– do you have to like take a break from Harry every once in a while and go back to get energized?

CONNELLY: Yeah, I– I need to take breaks to keep him going, I mean, but as a writer, I'm really kind of wrapped up around that character, and if I leave any kind of mark, I think it will be through him. And, uh, so I really, um, love the opportunity I've had to keep coming back to him, and I never get tired of writing about him. Um, I try to hopefully keep myself challenged so that no book is static; it's not the same as another one. And, uh, you know, that builds a momentum into the, uh, series that transfers to the writing process. You know, to me, writing is about momentum, and anything I can do to keep that going, um, I got– I have to do it.

FAHLE: Well, I– it's a pleasure to have you both.

PELECANOS: Thank you.

FAHLE: I'm excited the books. Keep them coming, and, uh, we'd love to have you back again, but it's really great to have you both together here.

CONNELLY: Thank you.

PELECANOS: Thanks a lot.

FAHLE: Good luck on the tour.

CONNELLY: Thank you. Yeah, very much.

FAHLE: Yeah, it's great to meet you.

PELECANOS: Thank you very much. You too now.

FAHLE: Take care.

PELECANOS: Thanks.

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