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Episode #210

Crime Fiction

Air date 04/08/10
Host: Gene Edwards
Guest(s): Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos

“I like writing books. I’m in complete control. My name is on it. I live and die by it,” says novelist George Pelecanos in Writers: Crime Fiction.  Literary partners-in-crime Michael Connelly and Elmore Leonard, who shares his ten rules for writing, join Pelecanos and host Gene Edwards at the roundtable. Connelly observes, “In fiction you have to be more believable than real life.”

 

 



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“I like writing books. I’m in complete control. My name is on it. I live and die by it,” says novelist George Pelecanos, a guest on Writers: Crime Fiction. Literary partners in crime Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly join him at the roundtable. Each of these authors chose to write specifically about detectives and crime, and each is a master. 

Pelecanos published his first novel in 1992 and before that he held various jobs. A stint working in a prison was his impetus to write about “other side of the yellow tape.” Pelecanos, who “has never taken a writing class,” credits his colleagues on The Wirefor making him “a better writer.” He joined the staff of The Wire in 2002, and stayed with the show until it ended in 2008. “Police love that show.”

 From an early age, Connelly wanted to write crime novels. He studied journalism, worked as a reporter, and got a press badge so he could get into police stations to observe detectives. “What you’re looking for as a reporter is always quite different than what you’re looking for as a novelist.” Connelly believed his job was “feeding into his books, and was always putting stuff in his back pocket.” He adds, “There’s nothing better than having detectives or somebody in the field that you’re writing about say, ‘Hey, you got that right.’”

Leonard, whose career spans 58 years, began as an advertising copywriter and wrote westerns in his spare time. Hugely successful, he foresaw a decline in that genre and made the deliberate choice to being writing about crime. Starting in a new area meant he “had to learn about crime genre, know what it was about.” Like Pelecanos and Connelly, he studied police at work and found them fascinating. Of his 43 novels, more than half are whodunits.

Crime has paid for Connelly, who has 15 books in his Harry Bosch series. “He ages in real time, and so if I miss a year writing about him, I’ve lost that year. I like the idea of being very contemporary, reflecting what’s going on at the moment they’re published.” Pelecanos admires Connelly’s ability to stay with the same character. “Most people can’t keep it fresh and the books suffer but Mike has done a tremendous job.” Leonard has also written well-loved, recurrent characters. “I like them and I miss them. I want to see what they’re doing now and get them in action again.”

These three prolific crime writers have little tolerance for writer’s block. “No such thing as a block. You’re writing the wrong scene or you’re not approaching it correctly,” says Leonard. “Get back to work and figure it out.” The other guests agree. “Writers write,” says Connelly. “If you’re a writer, then you can push your way through.” “People who have other jobs report to work every day when they don’t feel like going,” adds Pelecanos. “Get back to work.”

“When I’m writing a book, I write seven days a week,” says Pelecanos, author of 15 crime novels. “I rewrite at night and I’m ready to go forward the next day. According to Connelly, “It’s all about the zone. Get into the zone.” He gets his momentum going and “builds characters as he goes.”  Leonard, too, is known for his self-discipline. Before writing full time, he “would get up at 5:00 in the morning before going to work and write fiction for two hours.” This has paid off for the writer who counts Get Shorty, Road Dogsand Out of Sightamong his best sellers.

Late in the show, Leonard expands on his Ten Rules of Writing. He says these are rules he follows to help him show the story rather than tell it. Some of his rules include never begin a book with weather, leave out adverbs, and keep your exclamation points under control. Pelecanos follows his own rule which is to be “engaged with your city.” He adds, “Just getting out there and talking to people and mainly listening.”   Connelly concludes, “In fiction you have to be more believable than real life.” 

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Elmore Leonard

Michael Connelly

  • The Black Echoe, Grand Central Publishing, 1992.
  • The Black Ice, Vision, 1993.
  • The Concrete Blonde, Macmillan, 1994.
  • The Last Coyote, Macmillan, 1995.
  • The Poet, Little, Brown, 1996.
  • Trunk Music, Macmillan, 1997.
  • Blood Work, Warner Books, 1998.
  • Angles Flight, Warner Books, 1999.
  • Void Moon, Warner Books, 2000.
  • A Darkness More Than Night, Warner Vision Books, 2001.
  • City of Bones, Warner Books, 2002.
  • Chasing the Dime, Warner Vision Books, 2002.
  • Lost Light, Little, Brown, 2003.
  • The Narrows, Little, Brown and Company, 2004.
  • The Closers, Warner Books, 2005.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer, Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
  • Echo Park, Grand Central Publishing, 2006.
  • Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers, Little, Brown and Company, 2006.
  • The Overlook, Little, Brown, 2007.
  • The Brass Verdict, Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
  • The Scarecrow, Orion Books Limited, 2009.
  • Nine Dragons, Warner Books, 2009.
  • The Reversal, Orion Publishing Group, 2010.

George Pelecanos

  • A Firing Offense, Serpent’s Tail, 1992.
  • Nick’s Trip, Serpent’s Tail, 1993.
  • Shoedog, Warner Books, 1994
  • Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go, Serpent’s Tail, 1995.
  • The Big Blowdown, Macmillan, 1996.
  • King Suckerman, Little Brown and Company, 1997.
  • The Sweet Forever, Serpent’s Tail 1998.
  • Shame the Devil, Orion, 2000.
  • Right as Rain, Warner Books, 2001.
  • Hell to Pay, Grand Central Publishing, 2002.
  • Soul Circus, Orion, 2003.
  • Hard Revolution, Grand Central Publishing, 2004.
  • Drama City, Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
  • The Night Gardener, Grand Central Publishing, 2006.
  • The Turnaround, Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
  • The Way Home, Little Brown and Company, 2009.
  • The Cut, Regan Arthur Books, 2011
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Elmore Leonard

Official website

List of Elmore Leonard’s works

Q & A with Elmore Leonard

Interview with Elmore Leonard

interview with Elmore Leonard

Article about Leonard’s researcher

Profile of Elmore Leonard

Article about Elmore Leonard’s new television series

 

Michael Connelly

Official website

Interview

Articles about Connelly

Interview

Interview

Book review of the Harry Bosch novels

Book reviews

 

George Pelecanos

Official website

The Wire: crew bio

Info on George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos gives a list of his favorite tough guy movies

Interviews with George Pelecanos

Interview with George Pelecanos

Book review of The Way Home

Interview with George Pelecanos

Interview with George Pelecanos

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Elmore Leonard

Michael Connelly

George Pelecanos

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Click here for a complete list of teaching resources related to this episode.

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Journalism

Los Angeles

The Wire

The Scarecrow

Humane Society

Gregg Sutter

Pirates

James Lee Burke

Derek Strange

Tremé

Harry Bosch

Ten Rules of Writing

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Producer: Edie Greene
Director: Rick Klein
Technical Director: Clark Lee
Cameras:  Earnest Seals
Ryan Bohling
Jeremy Burson
Chris Bufkin
Floor Director: Laura Mann
Production Audio: John Busbice
Taiwo Gaynor
CCU: Adam Chance
Videotape: Steve Downing
Production Assistant: C. J. Burks
Location Videography: Jeremy Burson
Manoj Buhdraja
Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan
Production Supervisor: Paul Miller
Editor: Edie Greene
On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen
Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell
Production Assistant: Kate Robison
Art Director: Karen Wing
Makeup: Audrey Fitzpatrick
Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke
Audio Post Production: Taiwo Gaynor
John Busbice
Closed Captioning: Keri Horn
Scenic Designers: Karen Wing
Jack Thomas
Frank Cocke
Kenneth Sullivan
Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas
Ray Green
Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith
Publicity: Mari Irby
Sam Wells
Webmaster: Thomas Broadus
Host: Gene Edwards
Guests: Elmore Leonard
Michael Connelly
George Pelecanos
Director of Television: Jason Klein
Executive Producer: Rick Klein

Special Thanks to
Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi

Image of Eudora Welty courtesy Eudora Welty House Museum. All rights reserved.

Created by
Gene Edwards
John Evans

Copyright © MAET 2010

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