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"The book reviews were a huge part of putting me on the road I am on now."

Interview with Michael Connelly, Author of The Overlook

Michael Connelly was kind enough to agree to let me interview him again, this time for his new book, The Overlook, which comes out May 22. He previously let me interview him about his book, Crime Beat.

In book reviews I've raved  and raved about Connelly as a journalist, as a crime writer — my favorite remains The Poet — and as an inspiration for many journalists, myself included, who aspire to write best-selling crime novels. Rather than repeat myself I'll just include those links to past reviews.

Simply put, Connelly is one of the best crime writers around, with intricately-plotted storylines and characters of enormous depth. It is no wonder that The New York Times asked him to serialize his new novel. Furthermore, in an unusual move, four excerpts from his new novel have been acted out on videos at YouTube.

The Overlook is Connelly's 18th book. You can read more about him at his Web page.

Scott Butki: How did you come to write a book that was serialized in The New York Times Magazine?

Michael Connelly: The Times approached me and asked if I wanted to do it. They had started running serials the year before and I was happy to give it a try.

What did you have to do different to write a serialized book versus a regular novel?

The biggest challenge I didn't see until I started writing. And that was the constraints the series puts on the writer. I had to write each installment to fit a 3,000 word hole. That is not how I normally write. When I am writing a novel I don't care about the length of a chapter. I concentrate on its content only. So I end up with a chapter that could be three pages or twenty. It doesn't matter to me.

Were you sending out chapters before you finished the book? Did you ever wish you could change something in a chapter that had already been published?

I wrote the whole story before handing it over to The New York Times. So the whole thing was done and then it was published in the magazine. Then my book publisher and I decided not to publish it as it existed in The Times. So I had the opportunity to rewrite something that sort of already had a public existence. So that was kind of fun. I was able to add a lot that I held back on, add another level of plot intrigue and a little more characterization. The one thing I wanted to preserve, however, was the momentum of the story. It takes place in about 12 hours and it’s about a fast moving investigation. I wanted to keep that so I ultimately added about 20,000 words to the story but it still is not as long as any of my previous novels.

Your book jacket says you originally created this as a 16-part serial for The New York Times Magazine but “this edition has been expanded and revised substantially beyond that initial serialization.” Can you elaborate on that? What changed? Major plot points? If someone read it when it was serialized what would they gain by reading the book?

Without giving too much away, I think there are two main additions. One is a new character who is an LAPD captain in charge of their own department of Homeland Security. I wanted this character to sort of embody the fear and even borderline paranoia you see in society these days. I think the guy is a bit over the top at times but that is intentional. I was also able to add in some Harry Bosch history. This is a 12-hour story but it also moves backward in time, even going back to a scene with Harry in Vietnam.

What is the best part about being a best-selling author? What is the worst part?

It gives me a lot of freedom. I don't need to tell anyone what I am planning or writing. I have a lot of latitude and trust from my editors in this regard. I am not sure there is a worst part. I guess the part that is most difficult to deal with is the demands on my time. There is a sense of duty to kind of keep the fire burning, so that often entails more travel on book tours, more interviews, more things that take me away from what brought the success in the first place.

A friend wrote the other day that if you want to read good writing you should avoid reading the books on the bestseller list? Do you agree with that? I said that there were exceptions to that including books you, Laura Lippman, Robert Crais and Ian Rankin write.

That is a generality that has been around for years and I did not believe it before I hit any lists and I don't believe it now. The problem is in believing or following generalities. Sure there are books on the lists that lack in editorial quality and they are there because they had struck some formula that appears to the common denominator in reading tastes. But the opposite is true as well. I think if you looked over time you would see that there are many books on the lists that are there because of great writing and social meaning. I remember I first came upon Ross MacDonald's work after seeing it on a bestseller list.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

First of all, I hope I am still writing. Maybe at a slightly slower pace than now, but still pretty productive. But I hope that in ten years I have added significantly to the character of Harry Bosch and through him an ongoing take on the evolution of Los Angeles.

When we did a prior interview you said that Harry’s daughter adds a vulnerability to him. Does his relationship with FBI Agent Rachel Walling, who is also in the new book, add to that vulnerability?

I think so. There is a fledgling relationship starting that and if Harry makes that tie then it brings on vulnerability. The bullet-proof vest sort of comes off. It also makes things more complicated. A father's desire to protect and nurture his daughter is basic and primal. With a relationship with Rachel will be fraught with all kinds of dangers as well as potential fulfillment for him.

What are you working on next?

I am in the very early stages of a book with no name as of yet. It is about the return of Mickey Haller of The Lincoln Lawyer in a story that will have him cross paths with Harry Bosch. Mickey takes over the law practice of an attorney who was murdered. Harry is the investigator on the murder case. So far, it's going well.

I saw you wrote a powerful column for The Los Angeles Times, your former employer, about the cutting of book reviews? In fact, I linked to it from a couple of sites I write for. What sparked the piece, and do you think it's a fight that's winnable given today's newspaper business climate?

I wrote it mostly out of the overwhelming sense of how lucky I was to sort of get in when the getting was good. The book reviews were a huge part of putting me on the road I am on now. Back then there weren't book bloggers and an internet presence as related to book publishing and selling. There were two ways for an unknown writer to get known: the book review sections and the independent bookstores. Both have fallen on hard times. Their numbers are dwindling.

I wrote The Times piece just to voice that opinion and as a reminder of what I always viewed as a no-brainer, that newspapers supporting books are ultimately supporting themselves by promoting reading. I think that has been lost in the efforts of newspapers to stave off losses. No one disputes that newspapers are in difficult circumstances but it seems that the short term gain from cutting back on book coverage will lead to long term losses.

Since I wrote that piece there has been a lot of reaction in the blogosphere that holds that the role of the disappearing newspaper book review can be filled by the blogs. I don't agree. I view these things as ancillary and separate means of preserving the culture of books. I would not want to lose either one from public discourse on what is available on the book shelves.

Thanks again to Michael Connelly for the interview and all of his great books.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin.He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one.He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle.He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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