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BOOK TALK

‘Writing is a solo pursuit'

PARVATHI NAYAR

With the release of his 21st novel, author Michael Connelly discusses his creation Harry Bosch and how his career as a journalist has impacted his writing.


I had to focus on one book and hold nothing back.


Photo: Bloomberg

Craft of crime: Michael Connelly.

J ournalist-turned-best-selling author Michael Connelly has found a lawful career in crime fiction. Since publishing The Black Echo in 1992, his first story about LAPD Detective Hieronymus aka Harry Bosch, Connelly has won most major crime fiction awards and written bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages. Recently he released his 21 {+s} {+t} novel Nine Dragons, the 15th in the much-loved Harry Bosch series; a good occasion to discuss fiction, fact, the writing of both, and golf. Excerpts from an interview:

Your books are plotted as page turners that almost force you to read them quickly. Does this reading experience have any resonance in the way the books were actually written?

I really believe what happens in the writing experience happens in the reading experience. If there is velocity in the writing, then there will be the same sort of momentum in the reading process. So once I start writing, I try to keep moving. It usually takes me about 10 months to write a book, but I have written them in as quickly as five months. Two of my fastest writing experiences produced The Poet and The Lincoln Lawyer my “calling card” books that readers most often tell me are their favourites.

However, it took you 12 years to come out with the first Harry Bosch novel from the time you decided to become a novelist, while at University. Why did you take so long?

I think I had to live a little, learn a little and practice the craft of writing. I worked full time as a journalist during those years, primarily on crime beats. So I look at it as a prolonged period of research for the novels I would hopefully write.

You seem to like creating protagonists whom you can sustain over many books. Did you plan Harry as a “serial” character from the outset?

I knew that I had to focus on one book and hold nothing back. I couldn't save anything for future books because I had no idea if there would be any. So I put it all into that first book and I got lucky. I have been writing about Harry Bosch for about 20 years now. He ages in real time and it is a magnificent gift to a writer to be able to sketch a character over time, to show his evolution against a society's evolution. At the same time, a series can be difficult to sustain because you have to dig deeper into the character each time.

Is that why Nine Dragons is such a personal Harry Bosch novel?

Yes. I wanted a story that would bring Harry's relationship with his daughter into focus. He has always built himself so that no one could get to him. But having a daughter made him vulnerable, even if she was on the other side of the world.

“The other side of the world”, i.e. Hong Kong, is where you have set a third of the story. Why did you take Harry out of LA and into Asia?

When you have an ongoing series, you occasionally have the opportunity to do a fish-out-of-water story. I visited Hong Kong for the first time about six years ago and immediately knew I wanted to write about it. There was a certain edge there that I liked, a feeling that anything could happen. I didn't really think in terms of “Asian” elements. I just was putting Harry down in a place he had been before but didn't know well.

Since a sense of place is important to your stories, was the choice of LA a crucial factor in the original creation of Harry?

Well, in retrospect it was vitally important; I think the character/series have sustained themselves over time, because Harry lives in an interesting place during interesting times. At the time of creation, Los Angeles was chosen because I lived there; through my job as a journalist I had entree into the Los Angeles Police Department.

Your past career in journalism obviously still informs your current one as an author. What. if anything. do you miss from the good old days?

I don't miss daily deadlines; that's for sure. I think the thing I miss the most is the sense you get of being in the know, of knowing a city's secrets and what's going on in the back rooms. It is probably a totally false sense but nonetheless I felt it when I was driving home at night, and saw all the cars on the freeway. I felt like I was an insider. I don't feel that way anymore.

Of your two other passions — jazz and golf — one feeds into the writing and one seems to be kept separate. Would you agree?

I think there is a correlation between music and writing. I can be inspired to write, by a great riff on the saxophone by Frank Morgan or a blues lick from Eric Clapton's guitar. I listen to music with an ear toward incorporating it into the writing process.

Whereas music is part of my work, golf is a discipline that takes total focus and therefore takes me away from writing. Since 90 percent of writing takes place in your head, it can take over your life. I am a terrible golfer but I don't care, because I derive the benefit of a mental break from my work - no matter how poorly I play.

Would you say Harry's “motto” in Nine Dragons — Happy is the man who finds refuge in himself — is applicable to your own life?

I see connections between it and writing. Writing is a solo pursuit and there is not much anybody else can do to help you. It doesn't really matter what your readers or critics say; you are your harshest critic. You know if you hit the mark or not. You find refuge in yourself.

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