PAUL DOHERTY on writing historical mysteries plus Book Excerpt from DOMINA
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Ali Karim catches up with the author on the City of Bones UK Book Tour 2002

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City of Bones is published by Orion Books priced £17.99 hardback

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The title is somewhat of a nonsense. As I think many crime writers would find it difficult to follow Michael Connelly as he casts such a large shadow over the genre.

It is exactly ten years since he published his debut novel 'The Black Echo' which introduced us to Harry Bosch, and earned the Crime Reporter an Edgar Award in the process. 'City of Bones' is his eleventh novel, and eighth featuring the troubled 'everyman' – Bosch published this April in the UK by Orion.

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Connelly shares literary agent Phillip Spitzer with another acclaimed crime novelist, James Lee Burke who also writes about a flawed detective fighting at the very edge of the divide. Harry Bosch and Dave Robicheaux are completely different men, but both share a drive and a calling that protects them like a cloak as they regularly traverse the abyss in seeking out the truth.

The other reason why my title is a nonsense, is that trying to follow Michael Connelly as he tours,can prove rather exhausting, as I discovered last week. This is his first visit to the UK and Ireland since he was Guest of Honour at Dead-on-Deansgate three years ago. The promotional tour for 'City of Bones' started in Milton Keynes on Monday 8th April and concludes May 9th in Florida with a book store schedule that would test the most active publishing rep's stamina. His itinerary is detailed on his website [http://www.MichaelConnelly.com]. The website also features the background information to Michael Connelly that you will not find here. If you are passionate about gritty US crime fiction you will already know Michael Connelly as well as knowing Harry Bosch. If you don't know Connelly or Bosch then you have a surprise ahead of you. I must warn you that the surprise is however wrapped in shadow.

I enjoyed meeting Michael Connelly during the week, but I'm not sure how much I would enjoy sitting at a bar with Harry Bosch, as it would naturally be cloaked in that shadow.

Michael Connelly arrived at Ottakar's, Milton Keynes greeted by eighty or so die-hard fans. He apologised in advance if his talk was a little jumpy as it was the first event on his tour, but that after a month on the road, he'll have it smooth - like a Broadway Show. He read the autopsy scene (from 'City of Bones') and again started it with an apology due to it being what he called 'A Rather Tough Section'. His reading was clear and I felt the novel's plot pull back, like the tension cord of a slingshot preparing for release.

I heard a voice in the crowd whisper that 'City of Bones' was 'Full-On Harry Bosch' and I scribbled that line into my notebook. I later stood in line and got my collection monographed while speaking to Michael Connelly about Crime Writing. His eyes stared and I saw much movement behind them.

The following day I was a face in a throng of over 150 die-hard fans at Waterstones, Manchester. Connelly read, talked and answered questions for about an hour and then signed books for nearly two. He is left-handed like his creation Bosch, and takes his time talking to his fans as he signs their books. The inscriptions he leaves in each book are amusing, and shows how seriously he takes his craft. He also is patient and diplomatic with his fans, from the 'frankly obsessive', to the 'merely interested' - which is one trait that he doesn't share with Bosch.

After more bookshops and a brief trip to Dublin, he concluded the European-leg of his tour in the ancient city of Oxford on a day that blanketed the famous grey stone walls in wince-inducing sunshine. Despite a complex and tight schedule in which he faced many of the same questions several times on the same day, he remained gracious and answered his fans as if their questions were unique. He is often asked about Clint Eastwood and 'Blood Work' - the upcoming film currently shooting in Los Angeles, and he has the ability to distance himself from 'Film Adaptations' but not to a level that he appears 'Disinterested'.

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He informed us that he has now decided to return back to writing books exclusively, after a brief dabbling in US Television which he found filled him with frustration. In the acknowledgements of 'A Darkness More than Night' he even thanks writers Gerald Petievich ('To Live & Die in L.A.) and Robert Crais for their excellent career advice (which he ignored) on avoiding working for US TV.

As I switched on the tape and started the interview in a windowless basement office at Borders - I caught a flash from his eye, and a look that transported me to a dark choking tunnel. Just for a second or so, I felt like I was in the company of Harry Bosch, and then he smiled and the spell was broken. He graciously answered my questions, and added insight into his work that I found illuminating. There is a great deal of movement behind his eyes, and he casts a long shadow for anyone who tries to follow him, and I saw just for a second or so, the appearance of his creation Bosch. The problem is that Bosch is not easy to see for he lives in the shadow, but even bathed in the sunlight of Oxfordshire, the shadow is always there following Michael Connelly.

Thank you for talking to SHOTS Magazine, which we very much appreciate. Can I start by saying that you have a brilliant ability to breathe life into your characters? With that in mind, perhaps you can you tell us a little about the genesis of probably your three most interesting characters namely: Harry Bosch, Cassie Black and Terry McCaleb?

Sure. I look at Bosch being the main one, because I've written about him so often, I think eight times now, or he's shown up in eight different books. I guess the long answer to your question is that I unsuccessfully attempted to write two novels before I wrote the book that became my first published book - 'The Black Echo' with Harry Bosch in it. The two efforts I made that never went anywhere, they remain in a drawer in my office.

The thing I learned from that process is that it's all about character. Yes, the plot is important and the place is important, and all these things are important, but of most importance is character. So I did not start a third time until I had formulated a pretty interesting character, and that was Harry Bosch.

{short description of image}To come up with Harry Bosch I drew from everything. At the time I was a police reporter. I had contact with real LAPD Detectives and a lot came from that, but I also drew from the movies, books, TV Detectives that I loved over my lifetime. So there's things that stretch back to Joseph Wambaugh, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and people like that, and TV shows like Harry 'O' and Kojak and even stuff like that, and then movies. I've always loved movies for example the 1971 'The Long Goodbye' directed by Robert Altman, which most fans of Chandler think of as an abomination, but I enjoyed it as a movie. I have a real easy way of definitely separating movies and books.

At the time I was doing this - James Ellroy was just getting to be well known, and so there these stories about him and his mother and how the obvious (I think) psychology of him working out whatever happened with him and his mother (the damage) by writing murder stories. So I jumped to the idea of a guy with a similar background who works it out by solving murders. So there's this aspect.

The one thing you haven't heard me say here is that there's me in him. At the very beginning there was none of me in him, other than we're both left handed - that was the little secret connection that we had. I consciously tried to create someone that was completely different from me, because I thought it would be more interesting to write about. And over the course of eight books, you can't but help but have a little bit of me go into him, and back and fro.

What about Cassie and Terry ?

We'll let's see. Terry McCaleb was inspired by a friend of mine who had a heart transplant. He was not a FBI agent or any kind of investigator at all. He was just a friend who loved crime novels. I knew him before he got the heart transplant and I knew him after, so obviously I saw the physical journey he made. That was what I was interested in the most, and so it basically sprang from there. I concocted this idea of 'what about an investigator who loses his heart largely because of the stress of the job', and then has to get over the fact that someone had to die in order for him to live.

Cassie Black, I guess, was born in a parking lot outside a bookstore. I was doing a book-signing like today. When I came out, a policeman who likes my books was waiting outside. We leaned against his car, he was on duty and he was in patrol uniform. This was in Los Angeles and we just sat there and talked. He happened to mention that there was an alert out for a female burglar that was hitting many of the upper class hotels in Los Angeles and she used a lot of technical know-how and so forth, and he kind of planted the seed. I later made her a burglar who operated in Las Vegas, but her beginnings actually came from Los Angeles.

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You just mentioned about two unpublished novels that you have in your drawer. Could you tell us what sort of genre were they?

Yes, they were crime novels. They were private detective novels, and they were set in Florida, because I grew up in Florida and tried to do this kind of writing before I moved to Los Angeles. No one has ever read them but me, and I knew that they were not worthy of being sent or shown, or anything. I don't call them failures. I feel that they're part of the first book process of leaning how to write a book and go the distance.

Were they in first person or in third person ?

They're actually first person.

Oh right, interesting. You said earlier that you currently read very few crime novels, but sample British crime writers such as Val McDermid, John Harvey and Peter Robinson. Could you tell us which of their books you've read and which were particularly memorable?

Well, Harvey - I've read his whole Resnick series. I'm trying to think of one I could point out specifically. I guess one of the darkest ones is 'Easy Meat' and I seem to be drawn to the dark stuff. With Val, I said this in fact at a book signing, I've read 'The Mermaids Singing', 'Wire in the Blood' and 'A Place of Execution' that's all I've read of hers. There are two new ones since 'A Place of Execution' but I've not got to them yet. But 'A Place of Execution' I think is one of the best crime novels I've read in 3 to 4 years. Maybe it's because it's set in a place I've never been, sort of alien territory to me that I got totally pulled in on that book, and I really enjoyed it.

When I spoke to Val McDermid recently, I asked her that now she's a parent, could she go back and write a novel like 'A Place of Execution'? Interestingly enough she said that she doesn't think that she could write a novel like that now, which shows the power of her words. Now what about Peter Robinson and his Inspector Banks Novels ?

I've read a lot of his books, the one I really liked was 'In a Dry Season'

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That shares one thing with 'City of Bones' even though it's entirely different - the discovery of bones as part of the genesis of the plot, which I find interesting. There were a spate of 'bones in reservoir' novels, as we had a drought in the summer a few years ago. Peter was saying he was concerned about that.

Yes….I remember him saying that. But that's the classic kind of story which is like 'City of Bones' where you dig up the past basically and the consequences reverberate to the present. I've always loved these kind of books, like 'The Underground Man' by Ross MacDonald. It has kinship to 'City of Bones' as well.

I interviewed Lee Child last week, and he's a big fan of your work. Are you familiar with the 'Jack Reacher' series ?

Yes indeed, I like his stuff too. I've not read 'Without Fail' yet, but I've read the other five of them. The thing is that you can't read every book by every body you know, but I've read most of his, and I liked 'Tripwire' a lot.

I've been told in a review that 'City of Bones' is 'Full-On Harry Bosch'. So why is it referred to as 'Full-On Harry Bosch' ?

Yeah, actually I don't know what 'Full-On Harry Bosch' is.

I think it means that the volume is set at eleven, on a scale of 1 to 10….if that helps……?

I guess….(Chuckling/Laughter)…..Well, I mean two things are going on in that book. One is the mysterious bones found in a very shallow grave that are of a young boy of 10 or 12 years old and that's the inciting thing of the case. What's also going on in the book is Harry trying to figure out where he is in his life; in the world and what's the next thing he should be doing?

There's a few things about faith and how difficult it is to hold onto it when you do this kind of job; when you see the bottom of the abyss; the worst that human kind can do is part of your job. So it's hard to believe in any kind of faith. This book, when I first started out was called 'Blue Religion' and I later changed it to 'City of Bones' and I think the title at the time was dovetailing some of these questions brought up by an anthropologist and so forth in the book. So there's hopefully two levels going on there.

So what does the future hold for Harry ?

I think Harry is going to be around for a few more books. I think 'City of Bones' kind of gives him a chance for a renaissance, or re-start in a new direction. I plan to take him in a direction that kind of correlates or mirrors my own life where I've changed things around. I recently moved from Los Angeles and I'm writing a Harry Bosch book now that is in the first person.

We talked earlier about you having some additional time when doing the final proof's of 'City of Bones' due to 9/11. Would you care to talk about how that occurred, and how important it was to keep the novel topical ?

Hopefully a hallmark of my work is how topical they are, in particularly with regard to Los Angeles. As a matter of routine, I always take what's going on in the city, and put it into my novels. Things happen in Los Angeles so quick, that it's often difficult, you know, a big event can often date a novel overnight. So it's hard to stay abreast of the times basically, but I do my best at it. What happened with 9/11 is that 'City of Bones' was actually done and more or less put to bed ready to be published and then 911 happened. So they delayed publication for business reasons mostly. Because of that delay, I asked to get it back, and I did seed a couple of references to 9/11 in it. However you walk a thin line between being exploitative or telling of what life is like now. I hope I'm on the latter side there. I think the references are subtle and not exploitative, and they're dealing with Harry Bosch's character, and how that event 3,000 miles away from him certainly affected him.

Blood Work - The Film

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Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Production and Warner Bros are currently filming this adapatation.Academy Award-winning Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) is the screenwriter, with Clint Eastwood both director and producer.

Cast includes: Clint Eastwood (Terry McCaleb) Jeff Daniels (Buddy Noone)Anjelica Huston (Dr. Fox)and Wanda De Jesus.

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A writer who is finally getting some long deserved attention in the UK is George Pelecanos. He was guest of honour at Dead-on-Deansgate last year as you were three years ago. I believe that you're quite a big fan. How would you explain the novels of Pelecanos to someone who has, as of yet, not been seduced by the mean streets of Washington ?

I would just say that he is a fearless writer and I think what that means in terms of story shouldn't really matter. That should be enough to make people want to check this guy out, because he really writes about the Washington DC that no one really knows about. When you think of Washington DC, you see this great seat of power in my country, and he writes about stuff that is far from the shadow of the US Capital. It's really down to the really nitty-gritty - the streets and where surviving for one day is in George's words 'In Glorious Redemption'.

That's what his books are about 'In Glorious Redemption'. It’s about finding the little victories that make you want to see the next day.

Many reviewers call Los Angeles - the city a major character in your work. How do you find writing about it from another coast ?

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It's been an interesting change and one that I was very concerned about, and entered with great trepidation. But now 10 months later, I'm very happy with because it forced me to kind of use a different writing muscle - that's writing from memory, even though I'm still writing about contemporary Los Angeles. I have the opportunity to go there a lot, but it's still different when you sit in front of the computer. What my process used to be is that I would hang out at the places I write about, and then almost immediately write about them.

When I wrote 'Angels Flight' I used to go down there a lot in the morning and ride Angels Flight, hang around the neighbourhood, drink coffee, and then come home and start writing it straight away. I'm doing something completely different now. Any kind of location in my books set in Los Angeles, I am writing from memory. I might take a trip to Los Angeles and check it out, and make sure I have the detail right, but the initial writing, the initial description are all coming from memory. It’s different for me but it’s quite subtle to the outsider or the reader, but for me it’s a big change, and I kind of really enjoyed it.

I read that sometimes your write in hotel rooms. How true is thus and if so why ?

Well sometimes you have to write in hotel rooms because you do a lot of travelling, but no, I have this weird thing that I try to get some sense of comfort in writing. I have been able to write very well on planes as an example (if there's not someone sitting immediately next to me). If I feel that I am completely isolated, I can write. One time my wife and I rented a house for six months because our own house was being renovated. This house we moved into - I could not get the writing vibe there, so I spent a lot of that six months renting and writing in hotel rooms just so that I could get something done.

One early short story you wrote in high school was called 'A Perfect Murder'. Do you remember it ?

I don't remember a whole lot about it. It was ironically titled, as it wasn't a prefect murder. It was a first person story about this guy talking about his big plan to kill his boss and accomplishing that. But the kicker at the end is that he's writing this story from prison. So it wasn't a perfect murder and he did not get away with it. The characters name was McEvoy - a name I later used in the Poet.

As you said earlier, you are working on the next Harry Bosch tale (a first person narrative). Have you a working title or are you in that 'middle stage'?

No, I have a working title. I have a feeling that it won’t fly, as I think it's going to have commerciality or marketing problems, but it's 'Bright Blessed Day'. Which is a line from a song 'What a wonderful life' that Louis Armstrong used to sing. My idea was to write the next two Bosch books as a pair, not necessarily connected by plot, but maybe by character and I would write them both in first person and then go back to third person. My idea then would be to take two lines from that song 'Bright Blessed Day' and 'Dark Sacred Night' and use them as the titles.

'Chasing the Dime' - A stand-alone Techno-Thriller is due out this autumn/fall. Could you tell us about the genesis of this tale? And I am particularly intrigued by the series of mysterious phone calls you received?

Well the story was inspired by when I made this move from Los Angeles to Florida, and I put in a new phone in my office. Then I didn’t use my office for about a month while the house was being painted, When I got back there, I had like all these messages on the phone, even though I had not given the number to anybody. I knew that the messages were not for me. I had this fancy new phone, which you can hit a button and get a directory of all the last fifty calls that have come to you. The calls were all from people, who had left messages for someone called Tammy.

I did a little bit of investigating by calling some of these back, and what I found out was that the person that used to have my number was named Tammy, and she kindda dropped out and disappeared without telling her friends and family. It was something about that that immediately struck the writer in me. I thought that this would be interesting to write a novel about. In real life there was nothing I could really do about it, other than tell these people that she doesn't have this number anymore. But in the fictional world, where I was writing, the story is about a guy named Henry Pearce who pursues these calls to find out what happened to the woman who disappeared, and why he ended up with her number.

Could I just ask….you mentioned that the characters name was Pearce. You mentioned in an earlier talk that this was a prototype for Bosch. Is this correct ?

Yeah, when I first wrote Bosch, in the first draft of 'The Black Echo' - his name was Pearce.

….And that being a Chandler reference from one of his essays.

I can't remember which one it was, but there was some kind of discussion about the private detective (not one of his famous essays) where he said that it was incumbent upon the investigator to be able to pierce all veils and go anywhere he wanted in society in order to get the answers he needed. So I took the pierce (Pearce) from that, and that was Bosch's original name, but then I thought Hieronymus Bosch would be a better name.

Thank you so much for your time. We at SHOTS really appreciate having the opportunity to talk to you. You've spoken about some of the British Crime Writers you enjoy. As a token of our thanks, we have a selection of books for reading on your tour.

Hey, thanks !

First up is a debut novel by Mark Billingham called 'Sleepyhead'. Mark actually interviewed you on your last visit to the UK when you were Guest of Honour at Dead-on-Deansgate. It is a remarkable first novel and I hope you enjoy it.Second up is the debut novel 'Black Dog' by the award-winning British writer, Stephen Booth, who paints a picture of a very menacing Derbyshire.And to make sure that we're ethnically balanced, I have the Scottish writer, Paul Johnstone's book 'The House of Dust' which takes a futuristic spin on Scotland.I hope you enjoy them and thank you for your time.

Thank you, I have some great reading now for my travels!

SHOTS would like to thank Michael Connelly, Gaby Young from Orion Publishers and the Management and Staff of Ottakars Milton Keynes, Waterstones Deansgate and Borders of Oxford for their co-operation, especially Borders for providing the interview room.

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