This interview with Michael Connelly was a personal thrill as he is both one of my favorite writers and someone who successfully made the transition from news reporter to crime writer. I have written previously about how much I enjoyed hearing him speak at a journalism seminar, in a workshop room jam-packed with other reporters hoping to make that jump from writing nonfiction to fiction. Most of his books are amazing reads, especially my favorite, The Poet.
While Connelly is finishing up his next novel, Echo Park, he agreed to an email interview. The subject of the interview was his book, Crime Beat, an appropriate selection since both he and I have written about crime in Southern California. But my musings pale in comparison to his stories of serial killers, drug addicts, robbers, and others.
This is a non-fiction book and Connelly said he was frustrated that some places, especially Internet sites, promoted it as fiction. But the collection of non-fiction does offer a unique way of looking at his fiction work, as he explains.
You mention in the book that you used crime stories you covered for characters and plots in your novels. Do you still read crime stories in the newspapers and get ideas from them that you use?
I scan through two or three papers a day, in hand and online. I usually don't do this for story ideas. But I pick up law enforcement trends, techniques and the little things that go into the novels. For the most part, the actual plots come out of my own reporting. I am not a journalist anymore but I act like one and spend a lot of time with cops asking a lot of questions. Usually, a story comes from that.
In your book's introduction you seem to suggest you are a stronger writer about cops and crime because you worked as a crime reporter. Does that mean you think crime writers who have not covered crime – as a reporter, police officer, lawyer, etc – have a harder job being accurate? Can you tell from reading them who has that back ground and who does not?
I think they have a harder time being accurate but more importantly I think they have more difficulty in making the world of their books feel real. I think the trick is to make your reader believe the story is real, that it is happening. And all I know is that my background as a journalist talking to real cops, watching real cops, being in police stations and jails, has all added up to me having an advantage when it comes to verisimilitude in my fiction. I don't claim that it is the only way to go, but I think it has certainly helped.