Originally a journalist for several Florida markets, Connelly was one of three reporters short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1986 after covering a major airline crash.
Soon thereafter, he packed up and moved to L.A. to work as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times. After three years of working the crime beat for the Times, Connelly began writing his first L.A.-based crime novel, THE BLACK ECHO, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel, and introduced the world to his internationally adored protagonist, LAPD detective Harry Bosch.
In this interview, Connelly discusses his approach to writing, how being an outsider as a teen helped shape his craft, and why he waited thirty years to try his hand at fiction.
Explain your road from journalism to fiction.
It was sort of a natural progression—I instinctively knew it was time to try it. It was still another four years before I sent anything out into the world and another two before anything was published, but I just hit a point. I told myself if I didn’t try soon I never would.
I also had accumulated enough images and experiences both personally and professionally, that I felt I had all the ingredients and it was time to try to make a cake.
Lastly, this particular summer I began writing fiction, I spent a lot of time with a homicide squad. I had full access on three separate investigations. I knew I would never get a better look at that world than that, so the only thing left to do was write about it in fiction.
Do you ever have days when the words just won’t come to you?
I’ve been doing this for a long time now and it is hard to write every day. In the beginning I wrote 365 days a year. Now what I try to do, and most times accomplish, is to write every day once I begin a draft. So I have periods where I am not writing. These are usually between drafts and between books. But I also have my stories in my mind.
Do you ever find it hard to escape your thoughts of work?
I really don’t want my stories to go away. I think the key thing to writing is to keep it alive and churning in your mind. This to me is more important than actually sitting down at the computer. It’s the interior activity. So when I do get away from my writing (even just the interior activity) I start to get uncomfortable. I don’t like going on vacations without taking my work with me.
How did your childhood help shape your craft?
As a teenager I went to four schools in four years and that sort of gave me outsider status. I think it made me more of an observer. This is a good attribute to have as a writer.
At the time, I didn’t know that. And I certainly didn’t think I should become a writer because of it. That decision came later. But now, I can look back and see how my writing skills may have been honed back then without me realizing it.
Please describe your writing environment.
I like keeping things fresh, so my writing environment changes from year to year, book to book. At the moment, I write in a windowless room without a desk. I sit on a couch and write on a laptop.
Last year, I had a room with a nice water view and a desk that weighed a ton. I had two big Apple screens on my desk and could spread four pages across them.
Usually when I start a new project I shake things up in some way. Sometimes it’s just changing computers, but sometimes it is completely changing the environment. For me change is good. The only constant is change.
You believe strong characterization is crucial to a story. Why?
I think it probably comes out of my instincts and interests as a reader. As a reader, I like to delve deep down into people and see how they react in different situations. I have found that I am the same way as a writer. I am more interested in interior rather than exterior circumstances. I think it plugs the reader into the world a lot better than plot aspects do. Of course, this is not to say plot is not important. You run the risk of slighting one thing when you talk at length about another. Plot and character are both two big plates that you have to keep spinning through a book. It’s not much of an act if only one plate is spinning.
Describe your road to publication. How did you break in?
While I sent out a blanket letter to more than a dozen agents, I ended up getting the first agent on my list. It just took him a while to respond, and in the meantime I was rejected by a half dozen or so agents who were further down my list.
My agent then sold my book to the third publisher he gave it to. This sounds like it was all very quick and easy. But, it was at least 6 years from the point I decided to try to write a novel to the point my agent called and said he had sold The Black Echo.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I like what Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said about the best advice he could give a writer. ‘Make sure that on every page every character wants something, even if it is only a drink of water.’
I think what he was saying is that it’s all about character—and character is delineated by wants and needs and how they are filled or lived with unfulfilled.
Besides writing every day, what other advice would you like to give aspiring novelists?
I think you have to experience the world to write about it. That’s not to say you must write what you know—I don’t believe in rules like that. I am just talking about experiencing the world. Living in order to write about living.
Your mind should be a blender. Everything you do, see, and experience gets thrown in. Throw in what you learn and what you hear. Throw in what you read in good books and see in movie theaters. Throw in what you see in your travels. Throw in the good and bad things in the world. When the time is right, you flick on the blender, mix everything together, and hopefully pour out a smoothie that is all yours.
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