Bosch is back! And so is celebrated crime writer Michael Connelly. "The finest crime writer working today" – Neil Cross, Spooks; Luther
Michael Connelly and Jeff Popple discuss the latest Hieronymus Bosch thriller — set in the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit. The case starts with a fresh body, a bullet that’s been lodged in the victim’s spine for a decade, and new leads revealing that the shooting may have been anything but random.
Event: Author Talk: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
Date: Sunday 24 May 2015
Location: National Library of Australia
Speakers: Kathryn Favelle, Director Community Outreach, national Library of Australia, Jeff Popple, Canberra Times and Michael Connelly, author
Kathryn Favelle: Good afternoon, I love that little sense of anticipation. The theatre goes all sparkly and twinkly as you wait for people to start. My name’s Kathryn Favelle and I’m the Director of Community Outreach here at the National Library of Australia and on behalf of my colleagues and our friends at the ANU and the Canberra Times I’d like to thank you all for joining us this afternoon on what’s a glorious but slightly chilly Canberra autumn day. As we being I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I think their elders past and present for caring for this land we’re now privileged to call our home.
I imagine that Michael Connelly needs little introduction and I imagine too that many of you were here with us this time almost to the day four years ago for Michael’s first visit to the National Library and can you believe it was actually four years ago? Feels like only maybe two years at the most. Described as the finest crime writer working today Michael has been in Australia this week to attend the Sydney Writers’ Festival and we’re delighted he’s included Canberra on his itinerary again. After three years as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times Michael wrote his first thriller, Black Echo, which was published in 1992. Black Echo of course introduced us to the wonderfully named detective Hieronymus Harry Bosch. 1:41 Fast forward to today and there’s a new Harry Bosch book ready to go onto our bookshelves and Michael’s the author of over 30 books which have been translated into 31 languages. Michael of course has interviewed Harry Bosch a couple of times. Today though Jeff Popple will be asking the questions and, Jeff, I’m sure you know he’s very well known to us as a reviewer of crime and thrillers for the Fairfax press. So let’s get into it, please welcome Michael Connelly and Jeff Popple to talk about the latest Harry Bosch novel, The Burning Room.
Jeff Popple: Thank you. Michael, welcome to Canberra again. I might like to start with Harry Bosch and I was going to ask after some 23 years and 17 plus novels how do you ... do you still enjoy writing about him?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I do, I think you got to trust me when I say that if I ever get to a point that I don’t enjoy writing about him or I don’t feel there’s more to say then I’ll stop writing, I just won’t keep writing about Harry Bosch just for you know the pay cheque or ‘cause I know there’s people who want Har ... to read about Harry Bosch, it really has to mean something to me because it’s you know I have mixed emotions, I have a great job. It’s like ... it’s unbelievable, I get to do this and then I’m ... I come all the way over to a country across a vast ocean and people care about Harry Bosch, I mean it’s amazingly ... it’s amazingly fulfilling but it is hard to do and once a year I ... standing at the bottom of a mountain with zero pages and I have to come up with 400 pages and it’s daunting so you really have to be plugged in, you really have to be excited, you really have to want to say something about this character and explore something further or it’s going to be a very tough year and you’d be better off writing about somebody else so that’s why if I’m writing a Harry Bosch book I’m really into it and if you do ... if some years go by and there’s no Harry Bosch then you probably ... the message is that I’ve lost that integral excitement for doing it.
Jeff Popple: Okay. I ... there’s a lot of serious characters in crime fiction but I think there’s probably only two which I look forward to reading about every time and one’s Ian Rankin’s Rebus and the other one is Harry Bosch. How do you keep him still fresh for the reader do you think?
Michael Connelly: Well you ... I was kidding you before, that makes it sound like I ... you assume I do make it fresh so that’s a compliment. So I appreciate the compliment. You know I don’t know, that’s part of the mysterious thing about fiction, some characters have had a grip on me and some haven’t, some I’ve written only one time and I didn’t come back to them or two or three times and for some reason Harry Bosch is always very active in my mind. I also think that the detective is a perfect vehicle to explore anything so whatever intrigues me at the moment, anything going on in the world, there’s Harry Bosch and I can figure out a story that gets him into that story ... into that idea or exploration of that idea. And maybe that’s one reason why you know and I think you know I made some choices as a rookie, as a neophyte, that ended up serving me well. I guess my instincts were right but the idea of ageing him in real time I think is one of the reasons why he remains fresh at least to me because I’m .. he’s evolving and he’s changing against the city that’s ... and society that is changing and those things are ... I think keep it fresh.
Jeff Popple: Yeah, I guess that’s one ... for me one of the appeals is the fact that he is very much a man of his times and often you address social issues or contemporary issues in your book. Do you think that’s part of the appeal to people as well?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I mean you can’t do this as many times as I’ve been allowed to do it. You just go to have anoth ... a higher or another dimension to what you’re doing. It can’t just be about a clever plot and fooling the reader about who did it. Those things are extremely important but they can’t be the only things going on so you definitely have to go in looking for another dimension of meaning to your storytelling.
Jeff Popple: The books for me when I look ... when I go back and look over them is they very much provide a sort of ... look a history of LA almost over that time. Do you think that your experience as a journalist has helped you be able to weave that sort of political and social history into the books?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I think multiple levels the history of ... my history as a journalist has helped me do this you know I went into journalism hoping to get to crime scenes and court rooms and things like that and observe what I wanted to write about as a novelist but it’s given me other dimensions and I think you know I ha ... I’ve put this in a few other books that I’ve written about, Jack McEvoy, the journalist but you know when you’re ... when I was working the Los Angeles Times the editors were always hammering you and they would always say B and D, breadth and depth you know I can’t even say the words, it’s something whenever I talk about my journalism days I react but ... but they are always looking for a deeper dimension even in crime stories and I think I carry that over to you know to my books you know the journalism has helped me in many ways, just in writing style and work ethic. I’ve been able to write at least one book a year for 23 years or so and I don’t feel like under pressure or anyone’s pushing me to do that, that’s the pace that I write at with a lot of comfort, it allows me to come to Australia and do other things to promote and still and get the books done. And I think that came out of the ethic of journalism where you write every day, there’s no such thing as worker ... writer’s block. I haven’t been afflicted with that because in newspapers it’s not allowed so you know and so that’s r ... all that stuff has really served me well, I think.
Jeff Popple: It’s been a good training ground for you and I guess for other writers as well, that ... now that ... as you say that capacity to be able to write every day ‘cause you ... just as part of the job sort of thing, yeah.
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I mean I ... I always say you’ve got to write every day and the truth is I don’t write every day, I ... what I do is when I start a draft I write every day and then wi ... [unclear 8:47] there’s always some kind of exception like I might drink too much on my anniversary and the next day’s lost but that’s when I say I have writer’s block but ... but what I do to try to keep momentum is write every day ‘til I get to the end of that draft but then it actually serves me to try to forget about that and take a vacation and then I come back you know new eyes on it and I go back into that draft and then I start writing every day again as I do a rewrite. But there is certain times where you want space away from the writing and you know you want a churning in your head of course but you’re not actually moving your fingers on a keyboard.
Jeff Popple: How often do you rewrite? Once or twi ... twice a novel or ..?
Michael Connelly: To me you know rewriting is where everything comes together for me first of all so I usually do two ... two ... I mean I write a book, I’ll rewrite the book then I’ll start letting select people see it like I have some ... if it’s a Bosch book I’ll throw it some detectives where I’ll ask them to read the whole thing and give me notes and then I’ll do a rewrite based on their notes. If it’s Lincoln Lawyer I’ll give it to some lawyers to help me and so the third rewrite is with input you know and sometimes I’ll let my editor read it although I ... I would really love to just have a book in best shape as possible before my editor sees it. So I don’t do that all the time but it ends up being about three rewrites before it goes into the real official process. And rewriting is a great battering ram you know maybe I have had writer’s block, I’m not really sure, but you’ll ... you can reach a point where you ... I don’t outline my books so I’ll ... I ... I know where I’m going you know I kind of know the beginning and end and then I head in that direction but there’s like 300 pages I don’t ... that are uncharted territory and sometimes you write and write and write and you feel like how am I ever going to get towards that end? I’m over here now, I got to get over there and I’ve often found that if you back up and just start rereading your book and make little fixes here and there, add some dialogue you know exchanges of dialogue in my first drafts are usually short and then I go in and add a couple more back and forths and I always add like 50 Bosch nodded so ... and so anyway ... and going through that rewrite I finally come to that point where I was having issues and I kind of push through it so to me in my head it’s like a battering ram, you pull back and then you hit the door and you go through the door.
Jeff Popple: Have you ever got to a different ending than what you were expecting to get to?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, yeah, I’ve often had that happen. You know it’s like a variation on the ending. One time I wrote a book called Angel’s Flight that I was so clear on how it should end I actually wrote the first chapter first and then I went back and wrote the rest and I just missed that ending like when I came out to where its ending was it was over there and I had to rewrite it as ... it’s kind of like when they were building railroads in the United States and they started on the side that they were ... they were two states away.
Jeff Popple: The ... your current book which is out, The Burning Room, I won’t give it away but the ending of it leaves Harry in an interesting situation. Do you have a long-term vision for him when you start? Do you sort of plot where he’s going to be for the next two, three years?
Michael Connelly: If I had a long-term vision I wouldn’t have started a series of him at age 42, I would have said 32 so I’d have more time. But you know ... you know back when I started his series I put some ... seasoned [? 12:34] the very first book hoping I’d get a second book and now here I am, I’m at home ... when I’m at home I’m writing my 20th Harry Bosch book so it just could not be foreseen what happened and so I’m very lucky but he’s aged in real time and I’ve said in the books he was born in 1950 so he’s in ... The Burning Room to me you know don’t want to give too much of a spoiler but to me the book is about Harry realising that his mission in terms of carrying a badge and a gun and being a representative of the state is coming to an end. And ... but what’s good about it is in this book he is assigned a new young partner and he had a lot of preconceived notions about her but then realises that she might have the same sense of mission that I have and so there’s a ... almost a ... it’s going to be okay, Harry, there’s somebody ... you’re not the only guy, you’re not the only person who has this sense of mission and it will be carried on by someone maybe for 30, 40 more years and so that’s what the book’s about and of course there's a murder investigation and stuff like that. Actually there’s two murder investigations or multiple murder investigations but they’re to me the framework around this larger story about Harry. And so that does dictate a new direction and that’s the book I’m writing now, it’s called The Crossing, it’ll be out in October and it’s about Harry going in a new direction. I hope I’m writing about Harry ... whenever I’m done writing or whenever I die I hope I’m writing a Harry Bosch story at that time so there’s no plans to end Harry Bosch but ... but he has to go in a new direction.
Jeff Popple: And of course now Harry’s got his own ... another life if you like you know through television for the TV show, Bosch. You were involved in that, how did you find that experience?
Michael Connelly: Well after you know 25 years of sitting in a room by myself and writing these books it was a refreshing change you know obviously a very collaborative medium and so it was all new to me and exciting, I was very much involved and had a lot of fun in the last year working on the show.
Jeff Popple: And you were pleased with how it came out?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, very pleased, in fact I’m ... writers always have this kind of crutch that you know if they make a movie of your book and it’s awful you can always you know Hollywood screwed me over and Hollywood messed up my book. I can’t really say that about the show ‘cause I was involved in all key decisions, the actor who’s playing Harry Bosch, I picked him, if you watch the show in July when it comes on here in Australia and don’t like it it’s all on me, you can go on my Facebook and tell me so. But my ... I think you’ll like it, if you like the books I think you’ll like it. I’m ... ‘cause I write the books and I like it and I think it is a very good translation and it’s like a book-like translation to me. Kind of like star ... slow burn like a book, you gather momentum and then hopefully you can’t wait for each ... I was about to say episode. When we were writing this show we never called them episodes, we always called them chapters ‘cause we were always mindful ... the whole team of writers, we had six writers on the show ... were very mindful that we’re adapting a book and it ver ... a book that’s ... series of books that are very specific to a city and that we have to get all that right and I think we did. But to me it is like ... it is a real capturing of a book as a TV show. I should say books ‘cause the first season, it’s 10 episodes but we draw from three books you know some more than others but essentially three of the books.
Jeff Popple: It’s ... I’ve had the pleasure of watching it and it’s very good but I found ... I found I was sitting there watching with someone and I ... who hadn’t read the books and I kept saying oh but you know in the books this and in the books that and you know and I thought I’m just ... I’m just actually ruining it for myself and for the other person so I stopped doing that and you know I think it’s you know sees a sep ... it’s being related but as a sort of separate sort of thing and it works very well and there are enough touches in there I guess to bring it back to the books as well.
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I mean it dictated a lot of changes like in the Harry Bosch books it’s ... the books are completely through his point of view so everything you know in the book comes through Harry’s eyes and his interpretation to the reader and in making a TV show you couldn’t have Harry Bosch in every scene you know that’s 14, 16 hour days, the actor would be ... he’d be so ... such an angry Harry Bosch. I mean Harry Bosch is already angry, it would be really rough and so we had to show lives and action of other people like his seminemesis Irvin Irving, we show him with his family and his son who’s a cop and you know so there’s invention. We take a lot from a book called Echo Park in which a very bad villain, probably one of the worst villains I’ve ever written about escapes and is loose in Los Angeles but in the book it was ... you only knew what Harry knew as he’s closing in on the guy. In the show we show him loose him in Los Angeles, we show what he’s doing while Harry’s looking for him so there is lots of intervention; at the same time I’m saying it’s very loyal to the books. I think why I say that is for two reasons, I think the Los Angeles we’ve captured in the show is exactly like the Los Angeles I know and that is in the books and I think we got the right guy to play Harry Bosh, an actor in Tyse Wilver, I just think nails Harry Bosch and so that ... those two things allow us the freedom to create some stuff that’s outside of the books.
Jeff Popple: Yeah, he does a very good job. There are also some touches, I like the poster of ... for Black Echo and also the apartment ... the building ... his house overlooking the city is just fantastic.
Michael Connelly: Yeah, the ... that’s TV for you, the ... his house has a much grander view than he does in the books and I think it immediately begs how does an LAPD detective afford this? The house is actually a shack, is a terrible house but it has like an unbelievable view and so we ... through the course of the season we have to explain how that happened and so we invented that a movie was based on him and Hollywood paid him the big bucks and so we have a poster of a movie called the Black Echo on the wall prominently displayed and it’s explained a couple times in the course of the season.
Jeff Popple: Perhaps moving away from Harry for the moment, your next book reunites him with the other character that you use quite a bit, Mickey Haller. Was it hard shifting between the two viewpoints? Do you enjoy writing about Mickey as much as you do about Bosch?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I mean I do enjoy writing about Mickey, he’s lighter than Harry. In my mind, just something about his personality and so I call these books the hybrids where they’ve both been together ... I think this is the third or fourth time and I do enjoy ... ‘cause I you know I don’t know if readers even get it but I think there’s some humour in the digs that go back and forth between them and the banter and I’ve always found that interesting. I’m doing this one quite different from the other one, usually the Lincoln Lawyer books, every time I write about Mickey Haller, it’s in first person, and he’s explaining the world to us, the reader. And this time it’s all through Harry Bosch’s eyes, there’s no point of view from the Lincoln lawyer and so it’s been interesting to do it that way.
Jeff Popple: And I mean the Lincoln lawyer’s also had some ... been made into a movie as well. Is there any other plans to do more movies in that series or not?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, we you know the guy who plays him is now one of the biggest stars around so he’s hard to get so ... but every now and then out of the blue I’ll get an email from McConaughey saying where’s the script? So he’s interested. I’ve nothing to do with the script, it’s kind of like very cool to be able to say I get an email from Matthew McConaughey but I have no ... I can’t do anything about it. But I always forward them to the producer of the film ‘cause he’s the guy who can get it together and so they have a script being written by the same guy who wrote the first movie based on the Gods of Guilt and so hopefully that will be a good script and hopefully that will lead to another movie ‘cause it’s been a while, it’s been like four years.
Jeff Popple: Yeah, yeah. And then sometimes you also do some standalone novels as well, have you got any more plans for a standalone novel or..?
Michael Connelly: Yeah, I really feel I should come up with a new character. I ... it’s weird, it’s like it weighs on me almost like a guilt thing like it’s my duty to not rest on my Mickey Haller, Harry Bosch laurels and come up with something new you know as a writer. I’m approaching 60, I feel like I have one ... I should have at least one more really good character and I think in Burning Room I started the Harry Bosch’s partner, Lucy Sodo, I really liked her a lot and she comes back in the book I’m writing now and maybe I can see her being a lead protagonist in a book, I’d like to do that at some point but I also feel like I should have something new and I have the inklings of it working out now. It’s funny I was at a party like a fundraiser and a private detective was at this thing and he just came up to me and he was familiar with my books and he started telling me about one of his sidelines and it was ... I thought it was so interesting that you know I got his card and I said you know I want to circle back and talk to you about that. And that kind of has taken off in my head and that could be a new character.
Jeff Popple: Can I ask what the sideline is?
Michael Connelly: He’s a ... well he’s called an heir hunter so what’s an heir hunter? I was thinking AIR like he’s looking for clean air or something but it’s heirs to people ... HEIR and ... and just the case he talked about where he’s trying to find an heir to somebody who died with $20m and they couldn’t find any relations. And what he went through to find somebody. And then if you add in my usual stuff of murder and dangers it’s going to be pretty good.
Jeff Popple: It sounds pretty good, yeah.
Michael Connelly: Yeah.
Jeff Popple: You’ve just ... we’re lucky here ‘cause you were up in Sydney at the Writers’ Festival last week. Is that an important part you think of an author’s role now to sort of attend festivals and signings and stuff like that? Is that ... helps ... help the book progress along?
Michael Connelly: I think so, I mean it’s just fun to do, I mean and you see you know normally if you’re on a book tour it’s just you and like you ... it’s always good when you can go to something and see other writers and writers you know or writers that you love their work and so forth, that’s always fun. But it’s also ... it’s just like a great celebration of the importance of storytelling you know like so you know I’ve done a couple of things in Sydney this week and it’s just really hammered home to me that there you know it’s just not all about book sales and things like that, there's some importance to it you know when someone comes up to you and say they’re very worried about Harry Bosch you know and it’s like ... and have you ever been to Los Angeles? No, I you know I don’t know anything about Los Angeles but I’m worried about Harry Bosch. It shows like this amazing importance in storytelling and how we take social cues and ideas of about who we are and so forth from books and it’s a pretty sacred thing and when I do a book festival or I do something like this that comes back home to me so they’re important, it’s not just to promote and sell books, to me there’s something that goes the other way towards me and it’s great.
Jeff Popple: Okay. The ... when you were last here we were talking ... we were talking about a range of things but we were also talking about the impact of eBook sales on ... at this time. I think you said you’re ... the number of books you were selling through ... online have increased. Is that still the case?
Michael Connelly: Well it’s increased a lot since I was last here ‘cause that was four years ago but it has ... now it’s levelled off but in the United States about 60% of my sales are eBooks so it’s huge but it’s stayed at 60% for about I think two or three books and so I don’t know what that means, I leave that kind of stuff for other people. But you know I don’t know whether eBooks have increased overall sales in the world among readers and so forth but I have this nagging suspicion that a lot of books are sold or bought on eBooks and then never read because it’s ... the convenience is there and you go oh I’ll read that and then you never get around to it, it just seems like if you buy a solid book you’re going to read it.
Jeff Popple: Do you think that those sorts of forums like on Amazon and that sort of encourage reading as well? Like people ... like there’s much more engagement from ordinary readers to you know have instant reviews and comments on books that they’re reading?
Michael Connelly: Well there is real ... I assume it happened here but there was a huge contraction of bookstores and before the internet you’d go into a bookstore and people would tell you this is ... this guy, you got to ... I mean I’m the benefactor of that, that so many bookstores said this new guy, Connelly, is the guy to read and that’s how my career advanced and unfortunately and sadly most of the stores where people were doing that are gone in the United States. And they have been replaced by these kinds of internet forums and so forth so I think there is a great value to them. I kind of miss the days that you could find that in a bookstore and there are bookstores still that you can do that but there’s far less of them.
Jeff Popple: Yeah, they’re few and far between here too, we’ve lost a number in Canberra but also you know in Australia more broadly so yeah.
Michael Connelly: It’s weird though in ... it just seems like a lot of stuff is eq ... stabilising or reaching equilibrium. The eBooks are now flat-lining, I’ve noticed in my home t ... the town where I live alone two independent bookstores have opened in the last year and then I know in other parts of the country the number of independent bookstores has grown actually and hopefully they’ll be successful and it’ll stay like that but it’s interesting, it just seems like there’s some kind of change going on.
Jeff Popple: Okay.