Jun 192013
You knew it was only a matter of time before something like this happened, right? As Omnimystery News explains:
Amazon Studios has ordered a pilot based on a character created by crime novelist Michael Connelly. Titled Bosch, it will be centered on LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, first introduced in the 1992 novel The Black Echo, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel the following year.

Deadline reports that Connelly co-wrote the pilot screenplay, though it isn’t clear if it is an original story or based on one of the novels in the series.
A hearty congratulations is due Michael Connelly. I’m only surprised it has taken this long to fashion a TV series from his very popular Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch books.

* * *

Speaking of small-screen endeavors, the British TV series DCI Banks, starring Stephen Tompkinson as author Peter Robinson’s longtime Yorkshire cop, Alan Banks, has been renewed for a third series (aka season). Production on a trio of two-part episodes is scheduled, beginning in August of this year. Those episodes will be based on the novels Wednesday’s Child, Piece of My Heart, and Bad Boy.

In the UK, DCI Banks started showing in 2010, but here in the States, series I and II didn’t debut until this last January, running back to back. Series III is being prepared for broadcast in the UK next year, but there’s no news yet on when it might reach these shores.
Jan 092013

By David Corbett

Ed Kaufman, the elfin, indefatigable owner of M is for Mystery (and More …) Bookstore, passed away on December 20th from complications resulting from kidney disease.

He was known by many of us in the writing biz—and cherished. You arrived in his store and felt like royalty. He not only actually read your books, he generously and knowledgeably expressed his enjoyment of them. He knew what you were up to and respected it. His encouragement crackled in his voice and in his eyes. 

Ed Kaufman spoiled me. After my first acquaintance with him, I suspected—or more appropriately, I suppose, hoped—that his level of intelligence, energy, and personal fondness might propel me along like the current of a river throughout my career. If only. Men like Ed are rare. Which is why his passing hits so hard.

More than once he came at me like a buzzsaw: “Where’s the next book?!” For a slowboat writer like me, it was half pat on the back, half kick in the pants. But I knew he was saying it because he genuinely believed my books were worth reading, not just putting on the shelf.

He also offered me the chance to introduce and interview writers like Michael Connelly and Richard Price, two men I very much admire.

He was the quirky uncle with a steel-trap mind and the metabolism of a dervish. His smile engulfed you, and his handshake was always warm and strong. I’m sure he could be prickly and impossible and self-absorbed at times—like I’m one to talk—and his employees were no doubt more long-suffering than we might imagine. His manager, Pam Stirling, remains one of the people in the book business whose warmth and appreciation remain among my fondest memories as a writer, and the other members of his staff, Jen and Ann and Warn and Charlotte, were always so welcoming and kind.

He closed the bookstore in December, 2011, and it felt like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb in the business. You can imagine what his death feels like.

There were two lovely obits online, one in the San Francisco Chronicle, the other in the The Daily Journal, and they flesh out his prior years—his growing up in Ohio, his service in the military as a plainclothes Counter Intelligence Corps officer, the chance to serve as clerk to US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart that Ed turned down because he needed to make more money for his family, his longtime work as a lawyer in Los Angeles, his passion for art and opera—and his marriage to Jeannie, whom most of us got to know as well: She was the lovely, witty, wise-cracking counterpoint to Ed’s almost boyish enthusiasms.

In 2012 the Mystery Writers of America bestowed on Ed the Raven Award for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. But awards only say so much. Here are some words from other writers to give you an idea of what he meant to us all:

I am so very sad. I loved Ed, loved his drive, his manners, his charm and energy. He built a great business and you could see he just loved it when an author grew almost right in front of him. I was so nervous on my first visit there, with my first book, that I almost passed out. And a few years later, after a packed event during which I signed about 85 books, he put a few hundred more books in front of me to sign and date — and I almost passed out again, this time with shock! But it was always nothing but a pleasure to do anything for him, because he was a wonderful supporter of authors and of the mystery. That sparkle of passion was always there, even if he seemed weary the last time I saw him. —Jacqueline Winspear

Here's my favorite Ed story: I was once in M is for Mystery talking to Ed and I saw a copy of The Kite Runner on the front table. I looked at him and said, "Really Ed? The Kite Runner in a mystery store?" And he kind of grumbled and said, "There's a kidnapping in it. Besides, as far as I'm concerned, if someone in the story gets a parking ticket, it's a crime novel." —Mark Haskell Smith

What a champion he was of first-time authors, and how loyal. I remember how supportive he was so early on and how it never wavered. Then, as recently as August, he called me at home out of the blue to congratulate me on a review. Whenever I saw him we talked about his love of opera. When he spoke of it, his face just lit up from within. —Megan Abbott

I always looked forward to visiting Ed Kaufman.  He was a kind, enthusiastic, cultured man, with a love not only for the contents of books but for the artifact of the book itself.  A generation of great booksellers is passing, and we will not see their likes again. John Connolly

Ed Kaufman was a gentleman of the old school, unfailing in his support of authors at all stages of their careers. I treasure the memories of events I was honoured to participate in at M is For Mystery. He made me feel so welcome, and did so much to help bring my work to American readers. I shall always remember him with gratitude and great joy. Zoë Sharp

I met Ed when I was in law school in the bay area, well before I ever realized my books would be among those in his store. He was my friend, and I will miss his big hugs and sweet laughs. —Alafair Burke

I had the tremendous honor of presenting a Raven Award to Ed in 2012. I have always thought of him as "The Mensch of Mystery," and it was awfully nice to be able to honor him in return for his having hosted my very first signing at M is for Mystery. What a lovely, lovely man. —Cornelia Read

Ed was my hometown bookseller and a broke-the-mold guy. One of my highlights every year on tour was seeing him at the store. Because I'm from the Bay Area, he got to know my family and friends over the years and always remembered them and had a good word -- and a book recommendation or two -- for them. I miss him. —Gregg Hurwitz

Ed was such a gentleman, but always with that little twinkle in his eyes. He made me feel welcome, and special, and I'm sure he did the same for readers as well as authors. Most of all, you could feel his passion for books. —Deborah Crombie

I thought Ed treated me as a friend because he was an ex-New Yorker and a reader of The Wall Street Journal. Then I learned he treated everyone with warmth and friendship. He was a sweet man who was a joy to visit and a tireless advocate for authors whose work he admired. I miss him and am so glad we met. —Jim Fusilli

Ed was a leprechaun of a bookseller; kind and mischievous, delighted by literary finds both bound and unbound (in the form of the visiting authors), he regarded books and writers as gold to be treasured, promoted and championed. Ed and the staff at M is for Mystery—Pam Stirling, the manager, Ann, Charlotte, Jen—were like a family to me. I'll miss him—and the wonderful Xanadu they built together--forever. —Kelli Stanley

Ed was a superb lawyer, an extraordinary bookseller, a wise counselor and a supportive friend. He will be greatly missed. —Sheldon Siegel

When I interviewed Ed K last year to write something up for the Edgar Awards program - he was awarded the prestigious and well-deserved Raven - I met him for coffee which turned into Ed taking me to lunch, yes that was Ed, but in all the years I knew him I realized I didn't know where his love of books came from. So I asked him. 'Years ago when I was a young lawyer I travelled all the time. Always on the road, my family at home. But I discovered bookstores. From then on I was never without a book under my arm - airports, waiting rooms, hotels, conference breaks in law offices.  A book was always my companion. Then as now you won't find me without a book under my arm.' That's how I always remember Ed, holding a book.  —Cara Black

When my first book came out I got a phone call from Ed, inviting me to sign at his store. I was new and completely unknown and felt so honored that he'd asked me. Never mind that only a couple of people showed up. Ed has been a dear friend ever since and even ordered me to bring my Celtic harp to play once. If you know how shy I am about playing instruments in public you'll know in what high regard I held him. His passing has left a hole in my heart. —Rhys Bowen

Ed made new writers feel incredibly valued, cherished. I'll always cherish him for that! —Pari Noskin Taichert

When my first book came out, Ed read my industry reviews and then took the initiative to contact my publisher and request to host my book launch (shown here).

I remember how he toured me, my husband, and our pug around his shop. My stage fright soon melted away in the warmth of Ed's welcome. He made this first book event so special for me. He even taught me how to sign my books. Such a mensch! Ed loved literature and was a true champion of authors. He had a keen intellect and a big heart. I'm sure that everyone who knew Ed was all the better for it — and Ed knew a lot of people! —Cynthia Robinson

What I remember most is Ed's infectious passion for mystery writers and anyone who shared his passion. Ed made me feel like I'd finally found my clan. I think that's why the local chapter of MWA always held their Christmas party there. Being in that store and standing among those bookshelves, seeing your name on the spines of some of the books and listening to Ed's stories, that was as big a thrill as getting published for the first time. He made a small bookstore in a small town a destination, because Ed was the destination.

Ed was also a great connector. He called me several times, sometimes at the last minute, to guest-host a number of author events, either at the store or occasionally at the local library. Usually they were authors I knew, but sometimes he just had an instinct an event would work if he threw certain authors together, and he was always right. I made some great friends at those events because Ed had a matchmaker's eye for people with shared passions. He was a great soul, and whatever bookshelf he gets in heaven, I hope it stretches as far as his reach did on Earth. He's the kind of guy we should all write stories about. Tim Maleeny

As a final note: I posted the following on my website in 2007 when the publication of my third novel coincided with Ed’s birthday:

I and a number of other northern California mystery writers—including Rhys Bowen, Ann Parker, Camille Minichino, Nadia Gordon, Tony Broadbent, Tim Maleeny, Kirk Russell, and Dylan Schaffer—threw a surprise birthday party on Friday evening, March 23rd, for Ed Kaufman, the owner of M is for Mystery in San Mateo, one of the premier crime and mystery bookstores in the country.

The evening was billed as a reading for my new novel, Blood of Paradise, but when Ed and I booked the date, he let it slip that it was his birthday, and the scheming began.

Ed's wife Jeannie, store manager Pam Stirling, and the rest of the M is for Mystery staff were in on the caper, and even though Ann and Camille, with all the best intentions in the world, almost blew the surprise by walking in a bit early with balloons, Ed didn't catch on until the cake appeared. (Though he did, in introducing me, express a little surprise that so many folks had turned out for my event—hmm.) Cara Black and Steve Hockensmith, unable to attend because of other obligations, nonetheless sent congratulations from afar, and a grand time was had by all (even Tilly and Morgan, the canine celebrants). The inscription on the cake read, "M is for Mensch," and truer words were never written—certainly not with icing. Many happy returns, Ed!

As it turned out, there were only five more happy returns. Far too few.

You’re missed, Mr. K. More than even a bunch of writers can say.

* * * * *

If you have any words or a recollection of Ed you’d like to share, please feel free.

* * * * *

Jukebox Hero of the Week: In honor of Ed’s abiding love of opera, here’s Angela Gheorghiu in a live performance of Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte,” from Tosca. (Yes, it’s a crime story—she sings this aria right before murdering the villain, Scarpia):

Bonus Track: Ed's wife, Jeannie, when we emailed back and forth about possible arias, said, "just about any aria from Puccini's 'La Boheme' -- such as 'Che gelida la manina' ("...how cold is your little hand..." he flirts) and Pavarotti never disappoints. And neither does Puccini."

When I told her I was thinking of Puccini's "Vissi d'arte," she responded, "Oh, Vissi d'arte even better! Of course -- I lived for art, etc. etc. How silly of me not to think of that! (though Ed loved the schmaltz of the Boheme youthful flirtation)."

So, in honor of Ed's love of schmaltzy youthful flirtation -- as well as crime: 


Jan 022013
I've been having a vacation and reading all sorts of books and graphic novels (I really liked Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which I'd never read), but it seems I'm running out of time to read all the books I meant to. I'm blaming Dean Koontz, whose Watchers I've been reading. It's a pretty good horror thriller, but it's too long! (I'll get back to the book shortly, once I've finished it.)

But Michael Connelly's Echo Park (2006; Sokkelokuja in Finnish) I finished with ease. Connelly is real comfort reading to me, and I don't mind saying that, since he's also always got some edge in his books. Connelly handles his dark materials (sic) easily but with verve, and his writing is smooth and simple without being simplistic. He's not a great stylist like Chandler or a great innovator like Ellroy, but he does very well what he does. His plots are also intricate and they involve some deep stuff without being heavy-handed or didactic.

Echo Park isn't one of the best Connellys (the plot is a bit too straightforward), but I still liked the heck out of it. I'm not so fond of Connelly's Terry McCaleb or Mickey Haller books, but Harry Bosch is a favourite. I remember when I interviewed Connelly and he said he's always imagined Donald Sutherland as the film version of Bosch. This may seem weird, but not long ago I watched Claude Chabrol's rarely-seen Ed McBain film Blood Relatives with Donald Sutherland. He's very good and convincing as McBain's Steve Carella, who's a blueprint for all the film cops. I can see him as Bosch, no problem.

By the way, it was nice to see both Duane Swierczynski and Sarah Weinman being Tuckerized in Echo Park.
 Posted by at 7:11 pm
Sep 072012
Michael Connelly’s 17th Harry Bosch novel, The Black Box, won’t even be released in the States until November. However, it has already won Spanish publishing company RBA’s 2012 Novela Negra Prize.

As British blogger Rhian Davies explains, “The prize money of €125,000 is for the best unpublished work in the genre, recognizing the confidence RBA has in its authors--both well-known and those waiting to be discovered. The competition is open to works written in any language with a translation into Spanish or English.” Previous recipients of this commendation are: Patricia Cornwell (2011), Harlan Coben (2010), Philip Kerr (2009), Andrea Camilleri (2008), and Francisco González Ledesma (2007).
Aug 202012
“Most people think that because I write books that I must be reading books all the time. Not true. On one hand, you have to always be reading. It refills the tank, stimulates ideas and inspires. It’s important. The only problem is it can be intrusive to your own work. So when I am writing I am usually reading sparingly. I am lucky in that I get sent a lot of books to read. I look them over and put the one I want to read to the side for later. That is, if I can wait. Sometimes I can’t wait to jump on a book as soon as I pick it up at the store or it comes in the mail.”

- Michael Connelly on reading writing. Learn what he read after he finished writing The Black Box today on MulhollandBooks.com
Aug 202012

Sunny readingI seem to be on a cycle in which I finish books in early summer for a late fall release. It happened again this year – much, I’m sure, to my editor’s frustration. I’ve just finished up my next novel The Black Box, blowing all kinds of deadlines in the process. The frustrating part for my editor and copyeditor is that the longer I take, the less time they have to work their magic and make the book better.

But I have no worry this year or any year. The team that works on these books is the best and the book is in very good hands.

What’s been nice for me is that it turns summer into a real vacation for me. I don’t want to start my next book, even though I am thinking about it all the time, until all the editing and polishing of The Black Box is finished. That gives me time to catch up on books and movies and other projects. So then, here is an update on how I spent my summer vacation.

First, reading list. Most people think that because I write books that I must be reading books all the time. Not true. On one hand, you have to always be reading. It refills the tank, stimulates ideas and inspires. It’s important. The only problem is it can be intrusive to your own work. So when I am writing I am usually reading sparingly. I am lucky in that I get sent a lot of books to read. I look them over and put the one I want to read to the side for later. That is, if I can wait. Sometimes I can’t wait to jump on a book as soon as I pick it up at the store or it comes in the mail.

This has been a good summer for me. Reading both old and new books and even new old books (I’ll explain later), I have not been disappointed.

One book that really popped for me was Michael Koryta’s new novel The Prophet. Koryta seems to be one of the young writers everybody’s watching. He wrote some early private eye stuff that I really liked. He then flexed his muscles and took a few swings at some horror-tinged stuff. I liked his ghost stories but between you and me I was waiting for him to come back to crime. He has done that with The Prophet but in a big way with a big story about brothers that sprawls across a couple decades. This is a pitch over the plate to me. I call them time travel stories. Not because there is any sci-fi here, but because they are stories about how the past informs the present, how it reaches right across time and grabs someone by the collar. Koryta has done it here and I count this as his best book yet.

I also had a good time reading Alafair Burke’s latest, Never Tell, toting it with me across Italy on a half work/half vacation trip. Burke also returns to roots with one of her series characters, Ellie Hatcher. You can’t go wrong there.

One of the highlights of the summer was returning to Catcher in the Rye through the eyes of my daughter who was assigned the J.D. Salinger novel on her school’s summer read list. Also on there was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which was fun because about six years ago John signed a copy of his book An Abundance of Katherines to my daughter and gave it to me, saying she should wait a few years before reading it. She’s doing that now.

The new old book I just finished reading was the latest from James M. Cain. That’s right, James M. Cain. The Cocktail Waitress was the last novel he wrote but it was never published and parts sat hidden in an agent’s file and the Library of Congress. The lost novel was tracked down by Publisher/Editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime and will be published later this summer. I wrote a review of the book for the New York Times.

There’s a couple other books out there on the horizon and will be published fairly soon. I am reading ahead of the curve because I get galleys of soon to be published novels sent to me. One of the perks of the job. Dick Wolf, the creator of all those Law and Order shows and spinoffs, has finally written a novel and its pretty damn good. The Intercept is a cool introduction to Jeremy Fisk, a detective with NYPD’s Intelligence Division.

And a perennial favorite of mine, Stephen Hunter, has a book coming soon that is sure to make a splash. The Third Bullet is a contemporary story that draws us back to the Kennedy assassination fifty years ago. The book is imaginative and riveting. I loved what Stephen King did with the Kennedy Assassination in 11/23/63 and Hunter’s book is equally up to the task of telling a dramatic fictional story from such a monumental moment in history.

Next up for me will be Megan Abbott’s new one, Dare Me. I can’t wait to get into that.

This summer has scene some pretty good progress on a pair of non-book projects that are near and dear to me. First up, the documentary I am helping to produce – Sound of Redemption; the Frank Morgan Project – is coming along nicely. Director NC Heiken began filming interviews of those who knew the gifted but troubled jazzman and gathering archival material. There is already enough there to make me very excited about this film that will examine and honor Frank’s life. We are now gearing up for the second half of filming this fall and the film should be finished in early 2013. This started out as a labor of love. I liked Frank a lot and loved his music. He was very giving to me as he was to many others. I felt his story should be told and now it is. But it is being told at a level I think is much better and beyond what I could have imagined. NC and her crew have really taken the project close to heart and I think something special will come of it.

Talk about things close to the heart, I am very excited these days about the prospects of seeing Harry Bosch realized as a character on television. It’s been a long journey but finally this year I wrested control of the rights to the character back. After much due diligence and cautious effort, the basis of a very credible production of the Bosch stories is taking form. I’ve partnered up with Eric Overmyer, a wonderful writer, and a production company called Fuse. Our group goal is to keep the integrity of Bosch and the stories as they go from the written page to the small screen. I think it can be done and I think this is the team to do it.

Henrik Bastin, the producer at Fuse, impressed me as the man to trust Harry Bosch with from the day I met him. We had breakfast in a Hollywood coffee shop. Henrik came in and put the cartridge of a rifle bullet down on the table. He said, “This is the kind of detail we must put into any Harry Bosch show.” Of course, I knew he was referencing the jar of bullet casings Harry collects at the funerals of officers killed in the line of duty. It told me a lot about what drew Henrik to the books and it made me excited. Now that Eric has joined the project I guess I am off the page with hope for something special. Stay tuned for ongoing developments.


Witness This!

 Michael Connelly  Comments Off
Jul 312012
Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness has won the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, according to an item in The Gumshoe Site. As I understand it, this commendation is sponsored by the University of Alabama School of Law and ABA Journal, and it has only had one previous winner--John Grisham’s The Confession in 2011.

Also nominated for this year’s Harper Lee Prize were Robert Dugoni’s Murder One and David Ellis’ Breach of Trust.
Jul 202012

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I am writing my first series ever right now, with the exception of my part in The Keepers  series, which is not a traditional mystery series but rather a series collaboration between three authors, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak and me: related books set in the same paranormal/urban fantasy world with the same core characters.  That is totally AMAZING fun, btw – sort of like repertory theater, only with authors as director/writers.  Love it!

But I wrote my new crime thriller Huntress Moon  with the absolute intention of making it a mystery/thriller series, and while I do have plans to do sequels to two of my other books (Book of Shadows  and The Space Betweenwhich MUST be a trilogy!), I didn’t write those two thinking of them as series, they just turned out that way in the writing process.

Writing a series deliberately from the get-go – that’s a whole different thing.

The thing is, I don’t read many series.  The ones I do, I’m obsessed with, but have never been one of those who have to read in order. I really expect a book to work completely as a standalone, whether it’s in a series or not, so I’ll pick them up randomly and work my way through them in whatever order I get to them.

I’m not much of a TV series watcher, either.  I watch many more movies than TV series.  Well, not so much lately, since feature films seem to have hit a total low creatively, thanks to the corporate culture in Hollywood, which has driven all the good screenwriters to cable TV and jacked the quality of cable series up to mindblowing proportions.  I think it’s a second Golden Age of Television, honestly, and I often spend days watching an entire cable show on Netflix (Mad Men, The Wire, Deadwood, Wire in the Blood, Luther, The Walking Dead) without moving from my chair for much of anything.)

Hmm, I may be digressing, but it’s true.

But since I am obsessing about the series thing, I wanted to ask you all today to talk about your favorite series. What are they, what draws you to them, what hooks you, what keeps you reading, what’s your burnout point (if any!)?

Here’s my list.  (Yes, the Top Ten List I’m always preaching about!)

- Lee Child’s Reacher series

- Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery/Flea Marlowe series

- Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series

- Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan series

- Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles

- Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carole Jordan series

- Karin Slaughter’s Georgia series

- Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series

- F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series

- John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series

And, well, I have to add Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, but the rest of the Hannibal series I try very hard to pretend never happened at all.

Now, the first thing I have to say about all of the above authors is that – it’s not the series, it’s the authors.  I would read anything any of the above put to paper, and pretty much have already, repeatedly. And I’m actually often more interested in books OUTSIDE the series than the next one in the series.

Writing a book, any book is an obsessive, encompassing, borderline psychotic thing.  (I threw in that “borderline” just for a laugh, cause, you know...)

Writing a series is all that, exponentially.  You have an ongoing, multidimensional, multi-generational parallel world inside you ALL THE TIME.

Does anyone else feel like that’s just – crazy?

Some worlds crazier than others.

I worry about Michael Connelly a little, or maybe I mean a lot, walking around with Harry Bosch in his head all the time. Because Harry is so fragile, you know.  To be constantly accessing that mindset, to be living in Harry’s skin... wow.  What would that do to you? You just want them both to have a BREAK from that, sometimes, but  - yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I guess I should be worried about Lee Child, too, because Reacher isn’t exactly the pinnacle of mental health. But Reacher has better social skills than Harry.  Even if Reacher never sticks around, he does make strong human connections consistently.  It just seems more balanced, somehow.  There was a point around the book Nothing to Lose, and then again in 61 Hours that I thought Reacher might finally be losing it entirely, but he seems to have pulled it together since then, at least for the moment.  I feel like Reacher can take care of himself because he’s actually aware of the need for help and really expert at recruiting it, while I always feel like someone should be taking care of Harry.

Notice how I’m talking about those characters as if I know them?  Well, don’t we?  That’s kind of the point of a series, right?  There is a lead character, sometimes two or three, that you want to get to know, that you commit to for a long-term relationship.

And for me, those characters are complicated and haunted and flawed.  Which might be putting it mildly – most if not all of the above characters seem to be genetically set on “self-destruct” and half of the suspense of the series is whether or not they’re going to survive the next book at all, or with sanity intact.

Actually, all the series above have some pretty strong things in common, besides the fact that they’re mindblowingly well-written.  They’re very, very dark. No happy endings (HEA) guaranteed here; in fact, you know going into any of those books that you’d better brace yourself for what’s coming.  They deal intensively with real human evil, and often with sexual abuse and child abuse, and they deal with it in a way that only a psychopath could be titillated. The characters fight that evil constantly and the battles are always bittersweet; there is no resolution, the battle may be won but the war rages on.  I think that’s just reality, and I appreciate that those authors don’t sugarcoat it.

There is a sensuality and lyricism to the writing that is hypnotic and addictive. The male/female relationships are twisted but incredibly erotic. The stories often let secondary characters take major roles (a trick I first noticed with Tess Gerritsen, one of the first series writers I got hooked on – I read her series more consistently than I did those of other authors because she would let a secondary character take the lead role in many of the books, which kept the series fresh for me).

All of those things are what I aspire to with Huntress Moon.  There are all kinds of ways that I’m trying to live my series, so I can do it justice. I’m taking kickboxing for the first time to see how my Huntress feels, physically and mentally and emotionally, when she has to fight.  (And I have to say that’s a real trip.  It’s not so different from dancing, really, a handful of basic moves that create a language of fighting, and then infinite variations on those.) I’m doing Lee Lofland’s Writers Police Academy in September to go through the law enforcement training that my FBI agent lead, and many secondary characters, would have had, and of course am addicted to Lee's blog, and Doug Lyle's, for fantastic forensics information.  I am living with my nose buried in atlases and Google maps and taking any number of road trips to be in the places that my characters are traversing, so I get that physical experience right.

But most of all I’m grateful to have such stellar examples as the authors I listed above, and many more that I have missed, to look to for guidance about what I am trying create. It is an amazing thing for us as authors that our favorite authors are also our teachers – for life.  All we need to know about how to do this is right there for us - on the pages of our most beloved books.

So please – readers, talk to me about your favorite series, and writers – give me some tips from your experience writing them!

- Alex

Jul 062012

Today, the film Savages, based on the Don Winslow novel of the same name, opens in theaters. Check out the trailer, if you haven’t already. Directed by Oscar winner Oliver Stone, the film’s screenplay is the product of a collaboration between novelist Don Winslow and screenwriter Shane Salerno. Winslow and Salerno have known each other for a long time – thirteen years to be exact. They have worked together, including creating the NBC TV series UC: Undercover, trust each other implicitly and often exchange early drafts of their work and talk on the phone every day, usually about film adaptations of Winslow’s work which Salerno produces. At our request, Salerno rang up his buddy Winslow who was in the middle of a cross-country book tour and interviewed the acclaimed crime writer about his life and work.

Salerno: What does it mean for you to be a writer?

Winslow: It means everything to me to be a writer. You know I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I grew up with great story tellers. My old man was a sailor, and I used to sit under the dining room table when he had his old Navy buddies over, and he’d pretend to think that I’d gone to bed and he’d let me sit there and listen to some of the best story tellers in the world so I always worshiped those guys. And we always had books around the house. My old man came out of World War II, you know 17 years old on Guadalcanal and what he wanted to do was ride around on boats, go to every zoo in the world and sit around and read books. So there were always books around our house and we were allowed to read anything we wanted at any age. There was no censorship, no nothing and so I imagined from when I was 5 or 6 years or so that if I could be a writer that would be the best thing in the world to be.

Salerno: Tell me 5 books that knocked you out?

Winslow: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential–where am I? that’s three?–a book called A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, it’ll come to me, a really beautiful Indian novel about Mumbai, and, without question, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

Salerno: Name some authors’ you consistently admire in the genre?

Winslow: Well, James Ellroy, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Connelly, Ken Bruen and John Harvey, Dennis Lehane and Lee Child.

Salerno: You’ve been married for twenty-five years, and yet all of your characters are a mess. How do you access that?

Winslow: [laughs] All of my characters are a mess?

Salerno: They’re a mess!–Every single one of them.–A beautiful mess in some cases but…

Winslow: Y’know, I think methods are interesting. You know what I mean? Vulnerability’s interesting. I don’t think like ‘steady’ is real interesting in fiction, you know? I think that a character’s flaws are what give a character depth and interest. So, I’ve been married for 25 years but I had a life before I was married. It’s a little hard to remember sometimes but I did and I think I was the same kind of flawed, kind of vulnerable kind of character so it is pretty easy for me to access that .

At the same time, I think, you know any writer looks around him. You know, you look at people you look at relationships, you look at other people you know, you look at people in restaurants and cafés, you sit there and you make up stories about them you hear snatches of conversation you see little bits of behavior and that finds its way into your work. But if I was to just sit and write about myself I think we’d have some damn dull books. It would be about some guy sitting alone in a room typing. Not very interesting

Salerno: Give us a short history of your childhood, your parents and growing up.

Winslow: Oh, man. There’s no short history. My dad was a Navy man, Marine in World War II, and then into the Navy, Childhood was spent on most of the destroyer ports on the East Coast. My mom was from New Orleans, my dad met her while he was on leave during World War II. They got married six weeks later, and she came from a family of gamblers. My grandmother was a ward healer for Huey Long after the depression, and then she worked for Carlos Marcello the Mafia chief who probably had Kennedy killed — who by the way I met as a child we used to go to parties at his house in Algiers.

Salerno: Wow!

Winslow: So um, then I grew up in Rhode Island. I was born in New York City but grew up in the tiny state of Rhode Island in a Mafia bedroom community at first then we moved down to Perryville, on the coast. It was a blue-collar place, my old man would take me down to a fish factory which you could smell, and he’d say, “If you don’t study, you are going to wind up shoveling fish guts in that place.” And I go back there in August and September, but it’s the place that you’re from. And I always knew that my ticket out of the fish factory was writing stories.

Salerno: Let’s talk about, in just a couple of sentences, the genesis, the spark, the idea behind some of your books. Let’s start with Neal Carey. What was the spark, the genesis, the inspiration for the Neal Carey series?

Winslow: The inspiration behind the Neal Carey series was real easy. I was a graduate student trying to get an advanced degree in history and I couldn’t attend classes because I was working as a P.I. and I was always being sent out on cases, and that’s just like Neal Carey. A lot of the cases I was being sent out on were called in those days were called Golden Retriever work–go fetch, go get em–runaway teenagers, business men who were off on a drunken tear somewhere and it was my job to find them and bring them back. And so when I first started to get serious about writing I was doing a lot of things to make a living: I was a PI, I was a safari guide, I was directing Shakespeare in the summer’s at Oxford, believe it or not, and so I took that old thing “write what you know.” I loved the crime genre, you know I was reading John McDonald and Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler and those guys and so I said okay, I’ll write about a graduate student who can’t finish his degree because he was being sent out on cases.

Salerno: Death and Life of Bobby Z?

Winslow: Who knows where that came from? I was at a point in my career where it had just totally flatlined. I was tired of writing the Neal Carey stories–they weren’t really going anywhere–and I was working as sort of an investigator-consultant for law firms in Los Angeles but living down in Dana Point. I would take the train to work every day. The trip was an hour and twenty minutes long and I’d write a chapter going up and a chapter coming back. And, the conductor, when I heard the conductor go “Ten minutes to Union Station” then no matter what I was doing, I would wrap up the chapter. No matter what was happening in the story I would think of an end for the chapter. And I did the same thing coming home, and a few months later I had a book that was a sort of a breakout for me. But where that story came from and where those characters came from, I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that the relationship between Tim Kearney and the kid in the story was very, very similar to my relationship with my kid and it’s funny you know. I have had people say, well unfortunately say, “Well, a six-year old kid wouldn’t say that” but, yeah, well, mine did.

Salerno: California Fire and Life

Winslow: California Fire and Life was right from my own life. I’d done a series of 6 or 7 arson cases at the time in California and–well–I don’t think that I have ever talked about this before, was accused of roughing up a witness and fabricating evidence and was put on the beach, you know, I mean, my employers just suspended me and so thank God I had just written Bobby Z and it sold for some money or we would have starved. And I sat down and wrote this book about arson cases so the genesis of that was very much from my own life and it’s kind of a fictionalized version of two cases that I had been working on at the time. One was an arson murder in San Diego, and the other this arson-theft case up in Orange County.

Salerno: Frankie Machine?

Winslow: Ah, you know, Shane, Frankie Machine is an old story for me. I grew up in Rhode Island, as I said earlier, in a mob neighborhood and so I knew those guys, you know? You know I had just finished this long, long book Power of the Dog and I was tired, I was depressed, I wanted to do something different and I wanted to write a story about an old mob guy, and I wanted to write a “sunset” book instead of a “sunrise” book, I wanted to write a book about the end of things; that’s why its centered on the West Coast, and, but, look: the East Coast novel had been done and done great and I wanted to do something very different. I wanted to say the mob exists out in California and I wanted to do something in a distinctly California way, and so I started to research the history of organized crime in San Diego, and I found it fascinating and very connected to politics and all kinds of things, so I used that guy that I knew growing up that was, you know, like an uncle to me and placed him in San Diego and through his eyes tried to tell the story of organized crime in San Diego. But you know over that 30-year period.

Salerno: And Power of the Dog?

Winslow: Whew. You know Power of the Dog is a book that I never set out to write. I got up one morning and saw in the newspapers that 19 innocent people got killed in a little Mexican town that we used to go to for cheap weekends. And I just kept asking myself, “how could that happen?” And at first I didn’t start to write, I just started reading, I started reading–books about evil and the nature of evil and that kind of thing and I could never kind of read myself to an answer. So I guess when you can’t read yourself to an answer, you write yourself to an answer and then I started doing research on the war on drugs and I learned that the more I learned the more I needed to learn and that just kept going back and back in time and before I knew it I had 35 years of story to tell. I realized though that you couldn’t tell it through one character’s eyes. Yu know, just nobody saw the whole thing. Then it stretched out to five characters and seeing the whole thing through their eyes.

Salerno: Boone Daniels, the Boone Daniels series?

Winslow: Yeah, you know the Boone Daniels series I grew up surfing, albeit on the East Coast. People don’t believe that there are waves on the East Coast but there are and surfed when I moved out to California–Laguna, Dana Point and those places–and I just wanted to write about that sort of cultural bio. The language fascinated me, the jargon, the humor. Some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard have been out on the water talking to these guys and talking story and stuff like that. And, well, I thought I could find a little break from the heavier kind of stuff and it didn’t turn out that way because when I’d drive from my home down to the beach I’d pass through these strawberry fields, that were, as I found out later, the place of child prostitution. You know, the girls were brought up from Mexico to service the farm workers. And so what I was seeing was this very, very huge contrast between this beauty and all the fun of surfing and all the humor and then this horrible stuff that was happening right next to it. And I just felt that I couldn’t ignore it. You know and made it a part of the story. And then I wrote another Boone Daniels book The Gentlemen’s Hour which will probably come out in the States next year but is out in England now, ’cause I just enjoyed spending time with those characters and in that world, the language of it, so it was fun to write.

Salerno: Talk to me about the difference between writing the book, the novel, Savages, versus the screenplay?

Winslow: You know, two different experiences in a lot of ways. You know, they are, in fact, and I do understand this despite what some people say. They are two different media: one is flat and static and it doesn’t exist in real time, They pick a book up, they put it down. I do understand that a film is vertical and kinetic. You know, it’s in front of your eyes literally, and it’s moving and those demand two entirely different things. So it’s been a learning process for me, you know, in working with some great people who are teaching me about this. But what I really think about it is that you make changes for film–there are things that would work on film and wouldn’t work in the book; and there are things that will work in the book that wouldn’t work on film. The really important thing to me is that–and I think we are doing it–is that we keep the truth of the book on film. We might change some of the facts, we might change the orders of things, we might change some of the events, but as long as we hold to the truth of the book, the truth of the characters, then it’s been nothing but a delight.

Salerno: What was your reaction to Janet Maslin’s review of Savages because it shot all over the world, it’s been picked up by a number of websites all over the world, and it’s really gotten out there as a review.

Winslow: Oh, man. That review I’ve been waiting for my whole career, my whole career and I’d heard that it was coming but of course I didn’t know if it was going to be good or bad and then at Heathrow Airport at 10 in the morning my best friend in the world had left me 15 messages on my email to call him about it and then my son called me and he said, “There’s a review in the Times,” and I think he heard the terrified silence in my voice and then he said, “No, no, no it’s all good, she didn’t say a bad thing. It’s a rave.” You know that’s the kind of review that turns a career around. It could just as easily by the way, have gone the other way. She could have taken my career out and shot it in the back of the head execution style, you know, but fortunately it went my way, and it was an absolute rave, and I think she got it, I mean I think she got the sort of radical nature of the book and so that was–well the fact that I’d taken a big risk–and so that meant a lot to me.

Salerno: Let’s talk about that real quick, the big risk. The idea that this was not just a risky book in terms of subject matter, in terms of scenes, in terms of characters, but in terms of form. Can you speak to that?

Winslow: Oh, sure. You know I heard this book in my head. I saw it in front of my eyes in a certain way, and that was a very radical way. You know, so if I thought that a reader might experience a scene better as a film than as a novel, then I wrote it in screenplay form; if I thought that a scene would read better as poetry than as narrative prose, then I wrote it as poetry. Oddly enough, I mean, some of the most poetic scenes are the most violent scenes because my experience of having been in a couple of wars as an observer, was that you don’t remember it as flowing narrative prose. For good or for ill, you have vivid memories that are jagged and sudden and I tried to capture that in this book.

So it is a very, very radical style especially for the crime genre, which has a whole set of rules, but I really felt like throwing elbows to create a little bit more space for myself to create a book the way I heard it, the way I saw it. You know every once in a while, Shane–I gotta tell you the truth–I got scared writing this book, thinking, am I going too far? And then there was a temptation to pull back and then I thought no, if you start running away from it, you’ll write something really bad. And to mix metaphors the only way to do this was to jump into the deep end, you know? It’s a little like surfing. Sometimes you come out of the wave and you are faced with a huge wave, and the tendency is to try to get away from it, and you can’t, you can’t do it. The only way to survive it is to dive into the wave, into its deepest part, and come out the other side. And maybe as overly romantic as that sounds, that is what I tried to do writing this book.

Salerno: Let’s talk about Trevanian and Shibumi and your prequel Satori. This is your first time as like a “gun for hire,” for lack of better expression. Why this book, why Trevanian?

Winslow: Yeah, well, in the first place part of it was circumstance. My agent, Richard Pine also represents Trevanian’s estate, and so the opportunity was there. The reason I took the opportunity though was quite different. I had read the book as a kid and loved the book, loved that character, Nicholai Hel and I remember the character played this Japanese game called “Go.” It launched this sort of “Go” craze amongst a bunch of us, and I was terrible at it but we played it for a few months. But I remembered the book vividly and so the temptation to write that character and to pick that up was fascinating, a unique character was fascinating. Also I spent part of my career in Asia. I have high regard for Asian cultures, and so the chance to mentally spend a year researching and working with the Asia of 1951 or 1952 was very tempting to me. At the same time I didn’t want to do an imitation. Do you know what I mean? I didn’t want to do like some bad nightclub comic and say, “I am going to try to mimic this guy’s unique style and voice,” and so as a matter of negotiating that, saying can I use some of my own style, my own voice and try to blend it? And, you know, again, it was a terrific experience.

Salerno: Is that something that you are open to continuing? Is that something that if the opportunity presents itself and if the book is successful, you might consider continuing the way John Gardner did with James Bond?

Winslow: Yeah, I am open to it. I want to see how the book is received. I think creatively the book is a success. People seem to like it. I’m proud of it, by the way. And sure, I’m open to it, but I’m not promising anything and I don’t want them to feel locked down to me, you know. The publishers might want to say, “OK, let’s throw this out to 5 or 6 guys, let them take turns at that.” And that could be a fun thing too, but I am definitely open to it. I know what the next story should be, and where to pick it up, and have the story and the plot and everything.

Salerno: On Savages, you’ve been meeting with Oliver Stone. Tell me about that experience. What surprised you about working with him, what have you learned, what’s that been — the Oliver Stone experience?

Winslow: There have been a number of surprising things. First of all he asked me to co-write the screenplay. That’s surprising. I’m surprised at his sense of humor, I’m surprised at that, although I don’t know why. I’m surprised that he has let us write it, without meetings. Basically he said “Go forth and write,” and that’s been surprising as well. So, so far it’s been a really good experience.

Salerno: And, you know, in your mind, when you have looked at your Hollywood experience over the past decade, sum that up. You know have there been ups, downs? What has been your Hollywood experience?

Winslow: You know, my Hollywood experience has been, let me put it charitably, uneven. And for the most part, down, and, for a couple of reasons, I lay it on myself. I think that I hadn’t paid enough attention. Well, that is not quite accurate, I think I didn’t think that I could influence the process at all, and so I kind of watched it go by, so the experience has been frustrating, and to be really honest about it, painful. I think what’s changed is starting to work with different people, particularly you, and that turned everything around, and so now I am more involved, I got educated, and I think I am on the cusp of working with people who get my stuff and who are going to attack it in a quality kind of a way.

Salerno: And that–just two last questions–and that’s really critical isn’t it? The getting your stuff, in other words, you had a book that was a very, very, very celebrated book with The Death and Life [of Bobby Z], and that wasn’t ultimately a fulfilling experience for you on the film side for a number of reasons, but, it is critical isn’t it? Can you just talk about that, to capture a writer’s tone, spirit, feel, DNA?

Winslow: Yeah, well listen I think there’s a couple of things. When we were talking about Bobby Z with the producers and directors there were a couple of things I didn’t agree with and they said, “Well, we’re film people, you’re a novelist; we know better.” And at that time, I bought that argument, because it made sense to me, and to a certain extent it still makes sense to me. What I’ve learned, though, since then is that I have to take the time, and the writer has to take the time that we get to talk about not only that book but about other books, about life, about sensibilities, about how we see things, so that there is a depth of understanding and it might not be that we agree on every detail because I think that would be boring and ultimately defeating, but that we share a common spirit, a common kind of mentality, and a common understanding of the book, of the very essence of whatever book it is that we are discussing. So that started to turn around my career, mostly because of you Shane Salerno [Ed note: Salerno produces all of the film adaptations of his books], and so now, again I feel that I will always take the time, always have the conversation first, before I sign the contract, before I make the agreement. Sit down eyeball to eyeball and talk.

Salerno: And that would be your advice for young novelists or even seasoned novelists before going down that road? Make sure you are going to walk down the road together. Because so many novelists seem to say, once my book is optioned, once they purchase my book, you know, sayonara.

Winslow: Yeah, I think there are two broad streams in that regard. One that you just mentioned, “As long as the check clears, then I’m going to stay uninvolved.” And a lot of novelists feel that way. I felt that way to a certain extent, until I saw a film of mine made, and I was surprised at how much it hurt. I gotta tell ya, I thought I was a pretty cynical, tough guy. It hurt, it hurt, and it changed me. Well, for a while it made me just not want to be involved with film at all. Now though, I see other possibilities, and so that would absolutely be my advice: take your time, get to know people, don’t just jump at the first offer just because it’s there, you know, and play the kind of longer game. You might not make as much money right away, but I think you’ll make more money over the long or medium haul. But also, there is a quality-of-life issue here, and you know, money is not the only issue. There’s satisfaction, there’s friendship, there’s the fun of doing really good work together, and there’s the satisfaction of seeing something that you can be really proud of. And I am greedy right now. I want all of those things and I would advise any writer to be similarly greedy about that.

Salerno: Great answer. Let me ask you one last question. Don Winslow today has written 13 books. When you look back on the guy who was a young aspiring writer who had no sense of whether this “writing thing” was going to work out or not, sitting in a car on surveillance or whatever in New York writing on a pad, talk to me about how far you feel you’ve come as a writer and what you would say to that guy back then.

Winslow: It’s still sometimes hard for me to believe or even accept that I make my living at this and that I’m successful at it. In many ways, Shane, I feel still very close to that guy who was sitting on stakeouts with the yellow manuscript pad and a roller pen, you know, trying to write a chapter before something else happened on the street. But, looking back on everything all those experiences have contributed to my writing, they make me who I am now. Now I have a little distance from it, you know, and it’s interesting to look back on those times and think that man, you’ve come a long, long way, but a step at a time, obviously. I haven’t been an overnight success, unless it’s one of those arctic kind of nights that lasts forever [laughs]. So I think that I bring a little maturity and a little wisdom to that and see that I’ve been really fortunate, really lucky and I hope that I’ve worked really honestly, in each book I’ve done, or in anything I’ve done. I just really tried to bring everything I have to it, you know, to give it quality, to give it heart and not just try to pen the next bestseller, but to give something of substance, something of heart at the same time. And maybe this sounds contradictory, but I don’t want to get too far from that guy you know what I mean, because I sense that this is something that we earn fresh every day. You know, every day we get up and we write and we have that in common with that young guy who hasn’t been published yet or who hasn’t had a film made yet, and I hope that I always keep that sort of “freshness” and that enthusiasm and some of that insecurity and humility, because I think that that really contributes to the work.

Don Winslow was born in New York City and raised in the little village of Perryville, Rhode Island. The author of thirteen books and several short stories, he has also written for film and television. On his way to becoming a writer, Don did a number of things to make a living – movie theater manager, private investigator, safari guide, actor, theater director and consultant. He now lives on an old ranch in southern California.

His first novel, A Cool Breeze On The Underground, was nominated for an Edgar, and a later book, California Fire and Life, received the Shamus Award.

Shane Salerno is the writer of James Cameron’s forthcoming Fantastic Voyage, executive producer of Oliver Stone’s Savages, producer and director of the highly anticipated documentary Salinger and the co-author of The Private War of J.D. Salinger with acclaimed author David Shields which will be released shortly. Salerno is also the co-writer of a number of box office blockbusters including Armageddon and Shaft.