Michael Connelly is a writer devoted to making each book better than the one before. He is an intense writer who creates intense characters much to the delight of his readers.
This month marks the release of his 17th novel, another installment in his Harry Bosch series. Bosch is an L.A. police detective who is currently assigned to the cold cases unit. In Echo Park, Bosch is informed that a recently captured serial killer has confessed to the murder of a case that has bothered him for years. Rather than being pleased that he can finally put it to rest, he's disturbed that his failure to capture the killer let him go on and kill more.
Michael Connelly took some time before the release of Echo Park to share with Book Help Web readers a little bit about his detective and his writing.
Book Help Web: In Echo Park, your detective Harry Bosch and his partner Kiz Rider both have coffee cups with the motto "What's the bad guy up to?" given to them by a visiting writer. Is this advice that you follow when writing? Do you keep a hidden timeline or background of what the bad guy is doing throughout the story?
Michael Connelly: It was advice from Stephen Cannell, who writes good books and TV shows. I heard that he had such a motto hanging in his office. So I asked if I could adopt it for this story. It one of those connections between the art of writing and the art of detective work. I keep in mind the lives of characters off the page. This would include the bad guy. But I don't keep any sort of timeline or outline written down. I keep it all in my head. I should say I try to.
Book Help Web: What is it that you think works the best or that you like the most about Echo Park?
Michael Connelly: What I like best is that it is sort of backwards and that was refreshing. In most of the Bosch books Harry gathers evidence and it leads him from a crime scene toward the hidden evil. This time it is backwards. The evil is up front in the book. A man named Raynard Waits is in jail and wants to confess to several murders. Bosch, in effect, works backward from there, and heads toward the crime scene. So it was fun to sort of turn things around in a long-running series.
Book Help Web: In Echo Park, the character Rachel Walling, a former FBI profiler, reappears. For those new to the series, what was it that separated the two of them in the first place?
Michael Connelly: Good question, and I doubt they could even answer it. But they were thrown together on a case a couple years ago (The Narrows) and I think that they drew a sense of each other's character by how they worked the case. So there were some disagreements and some mistrust. It didn't necessarily end badly. I just ended. But time seems to soften hard edges. A lot of the past was forgotten or seen through cotton when he called her up in Echo Park.
Book Help Web: One of the open cases that Bosch and Rider investigate is from the 1992 L.A. riots. You covered the riots as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. How does that event continue to affect your writing and the choices you have your characters make?
Michael Connelly: It continues to underline how true life is always stranger than fiction. I spent one night on Hollywood Boulevard and saw the looting and burning of the glittery street. I saw a Frederick's of Hollywood a lingerie story picked clean by looters. It didn't make sense. It was surreal, to use an overused word. So I think it is something I come back to from time to time in my fiction because it made such an impression on me. It also helps remind me that I write about L.A. and that I have a lot of freedom in creating stories because the real world is always stranger, sadder, etc.
Book Help Web: One of the perks of Echo Park is the interweaving of cultural references from jazz music, folklore, and L.A. restaurants. Are those interests that you share with Bosch? How have those things helped you flesh Bosch out into a more complete character?
Michael Connelly: If they are of interest to Bosch then they are of interest to me. That's how they get into the book. I think all of these things are good ways to delineate character, which is what the whole exercise is about. For example, the musicians Harry listens to are carefully chosen. They have all struggled to make their music and that is why Harry likes them. He's had to struggle to make his music, too.
Book Help Web: You've said that you chose the name Hieronymus Bosch based on the 15th century painter who created canvasses of violence, debauchery, and human defilement. Your detective, despite some of the recklessness he engages in, seems more like one who strives to restore justice and some order to the world. What is your take on Bosch does he embrace the chaos of homicide scenes in Los Angeles and his ability to manage the chaos or does he resist chaos and see it as his mission as a fight against it?
Michael Connelly: I think he definitely resists it. I think he sees his mission as one of restoring order to chaos. One way of doing that is to remove evil from the equation. That is his mission; hunting the evil doers. The Bosch paintings have the things you describe but in their time they were seen as parables and warnings against the wages of sin.
Book Help Web: You mention on your Web site that the more you write about Bosch, the closer the two of you come in your world views. Could you give some examples of how this occurred and what views the two of you concur on?
Michael Connelly: I think the baseline view of hope for L.A. I think we both love the place for what it could be. We are constantly disappointed by the reality of the place but continue to hope. I think, however, the main connection I share with Bosch is through fatherhood. We both have daughters about the same age. That is a great connection to have with him.
Book Help Web: Does Harry Bosch do the things you want him to do when you first sit down to write? Or is he a renegade in your pages who surprises you with the directions he chooses to take?
Michael Connelly: I'm not that kind of writer. I've heard stories about the subconscious taking over and the characters taking on lives of their own. I don't experience that. I don't even understand that. To me, writing is a craft and I work at it. So when I compose my stories no characters let alone the main character do things I don't expect. They do what I tell them through the writing to do.
Book Help Web: Have you developed an overall theme for the Harry Bosch series? Is there a theme that is constantly recurring whether you want it to or not?
Michael Connelly: The intentional theme to the whole series is the exploration of the equation of darkness. By that I mean the idea that if you go into darkness to carry out your mission, then some of that darkness is going to get into you. So the question is, what do you do with it? How do you keep yourself safe? As the philosopher said, "When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you." That's it in a nutshell. These books are about a man looking into the abyss.
Book Help Web: What keeps you passionate about Harry Bosch?
Michael Connelly: The above answer. It is fun, interesting, and fulfilling to write about a character at the edge of the abyss.
Book Help Web: What has been the most rewarding part about interacting with your fans on book tours and at promotional events?
Michael Connelly: It's all good but two things stand out. It is very rewarding when I hear or meet cops who appreciate what I am trying to do. And when I meet any reader cop or not who takes this character of Harry Bosch to heart and really cares about him. When people make that empathic connection to him, that tells me I must be doing something right.
Book Help Web: Which book of yours turned out the most differently from what you thought it would be when you started?
Michael Connelly: Blood Work. I wrote 300 pages following my initial idea and plan, then scrapped the whole thing and started over with a different main character. So what I ended up with was quite different from what I initially envisioned for the novel.
Book Help Web: Thank you, Mr. Connelly, for taking the time to share with Book Help Web and our readers.