Interview with Michael Connelly

Posted by Goodreads on June 26, 2017
Michael Connelly is the bestselling and prolific author of crime fiction, most notably the Harry Bosch series—the basis of the Amazon series Bosch—about an LAPD homicide detective; the Mickey Haller series, about an L.A. criminal defense lawyer; and the Jack McEvoy series, about a crime reporter.

Connelly's 30th novel, The Late Show, is the first in a new series about LAPD detective Renée Ballard. As retribution for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor, Ballard is assigned to the night shift at Hollywood Station, a job that responds to all kinds of cases during the night and then hands them off to detectives in the morning. On the night The Late Show begins, however, Ballard responds to two calls that she can't let go of in the morning.

Connelly talked to Goodreads about starting a new series with a female detective, the end of the Harry Bosch series, and how working on a television show has made him a better novelist.

Goodreads: How did you know it was time for a new series character, especially a female main character?

Michael Connelly: I've been writing about either [Harry] Bosch or [Mickey] Haller for a long time, so I was feeling that creatively I just can't do this for the rest of my life.

Coupled with that, I have a cadre of friends who are real homicide detectives in the LAPD who help me with my books, and one of them is a woman named Mitzi Roberts, who had spent time on the midnight shift at Hollywood Station earlier in her career and has been telling me stories about it over the last few years. I like the variety that the night shift had, so I've been asking her a lot of questions about it and gathering stories for a few years, and it just kind of all came together that now was the time to do it.

GR: Renée Ballard is assigned to the late shift as a punishment. Was Roberts' time on the late shift a punishment?

MC: It was an opportunity. It wasn't a punishment to her, but it can be a punishment within the bureaucracy of the LAPD. With her, as a female, she was trying to get ahead, and she saw an opportunity to expand her expertise by doing other crimes and so forth, and that's why she went. In real life she didn't have as much drama as Renée does.

GR: An early reviewer called the book feminist—were you particularly interested in feminist issues within the LAPD, or does that just come with the territory of a female detective?

MC: I think it just comes with the territory. I do really admire Mitzi. I've known her for a long time, and I admire what she does. She's one of the premier homicide detectives at the LAPD, but it's been a tough road to get her talent recognized. I've known her partner, Tim Marcia, even longer—he has been helping me for 15 years, and when he was matched up with Mitzi, I got to know her, and I liked their relationship and how they work and so forth.

I admired them so much because they recognize that Mitzi has certain skills as a woman that they should put to use to find bad people, and none of it is misogynistic, and I really admired that. So that kind of drew me toward it, but no, I wasn't making any kind of statement. I just wanted to make her good at her job. I wanted her to be fierce, and I wanted her to care.

GR: When you're starting a new series with a new main character, do you have her entire backstory worked out before you start, or are you filling it in as you write?

MC: I like to fill stuff in. I don't want to clobber anybody with someone's history. I want it to be intriguing. Especially when you think you're going to come back to the character, I want to just say enough. There's a lot of childhood trauma that's affecting how she lives on and off the job, but there's still a lot to say. Do I know all that? No, I look forward to exploring that jumping off from what I already have. I think I pretty much put in everything I know.

GR: How involved are you with the Amazon series Bosch?

MC: I'm really involved in the writing of the show. We're in the midst of writing season four. We started March 1, and we won't go into production until August. It's the lead-up to production where I have a value.

I love being around during production, but there I'm just a guy feeding his ego, like "look at all these people that are all playing stuff from a book I wrote." That's fun, but I don't add value; my value add is in the writers' room. The first season I was full-time, the next season I was probably 90 percent, then 80 percent. This year I'm probably 60 percent there. It has a tendency to become a well-oiled machine, and my opinion is that the show's getting better each year, and it feels more like I can take my tight fist off of it now. I can let it go, let them run with it.

And I love going back and fixing my mistakes. This past season we adapted my first book, The Black Echo, which I wrote 25 years ago, before I knew how to write a book. It's been refreshing to revisit things, make them better, work out the logic flaws, all that kind of stuff.

GR: Has working on the show affected writing the books?

MC: It hasn't affected the process, but it's affected the output, and this is more subliminal. I haven't noticed it, but other people have noticed it and told me that my books have changed. It's almost like a crutch; when you write books, you can go inside your character's mind. I love living inside Bosch's mind, and that's what's beautiful about writing books.

But when you shift and take the same characters to the screen, you can never go inside their head. In books you have what they're thinking, what they're doing, and what they're saying, but in TV scripts it's only what they're doing and what they're saying. You lose a big component, and that makes you develop stronger muscles in those other two areas. My dialogue has changed almost subconsciously, but I've gotten feedback from people who say my dialogue carries more information, that it's less fluffy. In scripts there's such an emphasis put on dialogue because it should impart character and impart what people are thinking, so that's the big change that is occurring.

GR: You've had a long relationship with the LAPD and know a lot of the detectives. The LAPD has a problematic reputation. Does that affect the way you portray the organization? Do you feel obligated to portray it sympathetically or that people look to you to explain the LAPD?

MC: I don't feel any obligation to be nice to the LAPD or anything like that, and I really shouldn't care if people are looking to me to explain anything. You've really just got to put your head down and write the story for yourself. The thing is that I write about a unit within the police, and that is people who are not in uniform, people who don't have that kind of interaction with the public that has led to so many issues and so many incidents of poor police response and behavior. Those are not the people I write about. That's not really that interesting to me. I know it's a tough job and a job that requires split-second thinking and reactions, and you're not always going to have people making 100 percent correct choices 100 percent of the time, but my books are not about that.

My books are about detectives who have a very different responsibility and carry it out in different ways. I'm not saying that kind of stuff doesn't infiltrate my books or the TV show, because it is referenced, but it's not really what I feel a responsibility for doing. I write about a guy most of the time—and now here a woman—who feel a mission in their lives, and one of the big obstacles in front of them is their own police department, the corrupt bureaucracy and politics of their own department. That's in the books, but I don't pretend to be—or try to be—an apologist for the LAPD.

GR: Brian asks: Are there process differences between writing a Harry Bosch novel versus a Mickey Haller novel versus a Jack McEvoy novel?

MC: When I write about Jack McEvoy, essentially I write about myself. There's a process, no matter what character you're writing about, where you say what would he/she do in this situation? With Jack it's a very quick and smooth process because I'm asking what would I do if I had his job. Even though I haven't done it for 20 years, in my heart of hearts I still feel like I'm a journalist who's been moonlighting for 20 years as a novelist. And that's probably why those are the books that I write the fastest because I don't have that thing where I have to go outside of my writing room to get that question answered.

I covered police for so long, and my closest friends are police, so the next easiest to write is Harry Bosch. What I normally do is write Bosch the way I think he would make choices, and then I get it checked by my friends who actually do the job and have those choices, but I usually write first and ask questions later.

Now with Mickey Haller I do much more research. I'm constantly hitting up a couple lawyers who help me with those books, like "In this scene Mickey's going to go into the courtroom, and he needs this outcome. What would you do?" That's part of my process for writing a Haller novel, consequently those books take the longest for me to write.

Writing Renée was a bit of a hybrid between Bosch and Haller. I had to keep going to Mitzi to ask about stuff—not just woman stuff, more like midnight shift stuff—because of all my friends who help me with my books and are detectives, she's the only one who's actually worked the midnight shift for the LAPD. So I asked her a lot of questions before I would write.

GR: Ralph asks: Do you have an end game for the Harry Bosch books? Or does it continue to be a work in progress?

MC: It's open-ended. I think he found new life professionally by becoming involved as a volunteer detective at the San Fernando Police Department, which is what happened in the last book, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, and I think for me personally it recharged the series. It's based on a real situation in a real town that's financially strapped and needed volunteers, and they really don't care how old someone is, as long as they can close cases.

I think Harry will be in business for a few more years. I never think about how the series will end. It will be very cool if I know I'm writing the last book, but I don't know if that will happen. Harry is the character who's dearest to my writer's heart because I've been writing about him since the beginning, so I hope that on the last day I'm writing, whenever that is, I'm writing about him. It would be hard to formulate an ending. Somebody, I think John D. MacDonald, wrote the last Travis McGee novel to be found after he passed away. I wish I could do that, but I don't have the time. I also don't really want to think about it.

GR: Kathy asks: Of all the character moments you created on the page, what was your favorite to watch when it was made into a movie or TV show?

MC: It happened with the third season of Bosch, and it was the opening scene of the third season. It didn't even have Harry Bosch in it. It was about this kid who was spraying graffiti on a wall when he partially witnesses a murder. It was the first chapter of my first published book; it was actually a prologue. I wrote that not even knowing if it would be published, and it did get published, and then 25 years later for that scene to be filmed.

It was an amazing moment to be on the set when they did that, to see them create the graffiti I described, and the actor who played Sharkey was so good, it was a very surreal moment. And then that carried over to when I watched it with my family when the show came out, and it was really special. I'm sitting here in my office, and I have a framed blowup of the wall that Sharkey graffitied on it. It's here in my office because that meant a lot to me.

GR: What's your writing process?

MC: Because of working on a TV show, my writing process is to write whenever I get a chance. Also, my training in journalism has taught me to write—I don't need to be coddled. I can write in my office, I can write on planes, I can write in cars. I was on a plane last night for five hours, squeezed in so tight, my elbows were pushing into my ribs, but I wrote the whole time and got a lot done. That's my process: to try to write whenever I can.

A perfect day would be to get up before the light gets up in the sky and start writing and get a lot done before the rest of the city wakes up. That's what I try to do when I'm at home or even when I'm in a hotel on the road. Morning hours are really good for me, dark morning hours. So in that regard I kind of share something with Renée because I like to work till dawn.

GR: Who were your favorite writers growing up?

MC: Growing up, I was reading all over the place. My mom was a voracious reader of crime fiction, mostly the soft-boiled kind, and that was passed on to me, and then I started discovering a lot of stuff on my own. I think the big three for me were Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Joseph Wambaugh.

I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, which is where Travis McGee kept his boat. I actually worked at the hotel as a busboy where MacDonald's character kept his houseboat, The Busted Flush, and they actually had a slip for a boat. MacDonald used real people from the hotel as characters in the book—the manager from the hotel is the manager in the book. I know that's something that I picked up on, and in my books I use a lot of real people, real detectives, and I think I got that from the wonder of reading a John D. MacDonald book and going, "Hey, I know that guy; he's my boss."

GR: What are you working on now?

MC: The writer's room for Bosch lasts about three hours a day, and then the other hours I'm writing the Bosch novel that will be published in November.

Read more of our exclusive author interviews on our Voice page.

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by L Wilson (new)

L Wilson Love the incite in this interview.

message 2: by Marcelina (new)

Marcelina Enjoyed the Bosch Books so much, Mickey Haller fun to read , an your new book really looking forward to read her!

message 3: by George (new)

George Gurney I always enjoy hearing MC talk about what he's doing. As a crime fiction writer myself, he's always giving me things, thoughts, ideas that I can use. I'm slowly getting my Connelly library to be only hardback copies of all of his books. Still haven't had the opportunity to meet him in person yet. Soon, I hope.

message 4: by Isobel (new)

Isobel Brown Loved The Wrong Side of Goodbye - especially as You Signed a Copy for me when You were last in England and Love that Harry is still working and hope he never stops!

message 5: by Reg (new)

Reg keep writing Bosch! I love 'em all !
Maybe a new Mickey would be good too!

message 6: by Meinarva (new)

Meinarva I would like to know if Renee Ballard is any relation to Detective Laura Ballard from David Simon's "Homicide - Life On The Streets".

I wouldn't think so but thought I'd ask anyway. LOL.

We (wife, daughter & me) have everything that you've published. Great stuff!

message 7: by Bob (new)

Bob I have read every book ne has written and will get this one and the new Bosch novel the day they come out. Love every one of them but maybe probably The Poet the most.

message 8: by CDF (new)

CDF L Wilson wrote: "Love the incite in this interview." do you mean the "insight" ?
I think I have read every Michael Connelly book written .. so this one of course is on my list.

message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Filip I always look forward to a new Connelly book no matter who the protagonist.

message 10: by Jude (new)

Jude Lamare Thank you for so many interesting hours. Loving the Bosch series and seeing the stories and characters so stunning on the screen. As an Angeleno in my youth I adores the visuals - the cinemaphotography of LA.

message 11: by Tommy (last edited Jul 08, 2017 01:15AM) (new)

Tommy Kiedis Thanks for the interview and for asking about and sharing MC's writing process. Interesting, encouraging (as I am an early hours writer), and a needed kick in the butt to write now, it is 4:14 a.m., and "to try to write whenever I can."

message 12: by Kirk (new)

Kirk Jockell Great interview and insight to MC's writing process, style, and involvement with the Bosch show (which we love, BTW). Thanks GRs.

message 13: by Gary (last edited Jul 08, 2017 06:46AM) (new)

Gary Marshall I'm retired so now I can play catch up on my reading. I've currently read (reading) everything that Vince Flynn/Miller, Ben Coes, and Brad Thor have written, but expanding into other areas of interest. I binged on the Bosch series on Amazon Prime (being retired is great!) so now I will go back and read the Bosch book series. So much to read with so little time. Great interview with Connelly! I'm adding him to my list of authors to read.

message 14: by Chris (new)

Chris Michael , I think I've read most everything you have written ,watched The Lincoln Lawyer many times ,and I'm thrilled to watch Bosch on Amazon. I love to tell people that I meet, how amazing a writer that you are. The world of Bosch is amazing. I have relatives that still live in L.A. they are huge Bosch fans! Keep up the work. We love it!

message 15: by Eugene (new)

Eugene Mc ginley great writer, down to earth, harry is the man we would all like to be, so keep them coming....

message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol Cunningham I love the Bosch series and have read them all more than once, so I am happy that Harry is continuing with the SFPD for the time being. My favourite stand alone book is Chasing The Dime, but each and every Michael Connelly book is a fabulous and rewarding read. Thank you Michael for many, many happy reading hours - long may it continue.

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