Connelly has published 32 novels — including the Bosch, Ballard and Lincoln Lawyer series — which he began when he was a crime reporter at the Los Angeles Times, writing his first novel at home in a walk-in closet. Despite taking great pleasure from his podcast and television series, he says, “at the end of the day I’m a book writer, and I have to make room for that at all times.” Over coffee, we talked about his many projects — and how he manages to do them all.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).
Q: In your podcast “Murder Book,” you followed a real cold case that involved a killing in Hollywood in which the suspect was brought to trial many years later, and you went to the court to follow the story toward its conclusion. First, why do a podcast? And second, how did it play into your new novel?
A: To me, the podcast is hopefully an entertaining story that also is illuminating about our cracked system. And the case was in part chosen because it involved three detectives who have helped me the most in my books. I was able to get the voices of people who have inspired me — and I could get them to tell their story, rather than me fictionalize it in a Bosch book. On the second level, it’s about how I do my research. The podcast was me doing research on wiretaps.
Q: Wiretaps and DNA both figure into the podcast and “The Night Fire,” but not exactly the way you’d expect.
A: I think that’s my duty as a novelist, to take things that seem established — DNA is seen, probably, as the panacea to solving all kinds of crimes, and there’s just a lot more to it than that. So I will purposely look for ways of flipping the convention of what most people will think. In “The Night Fire” there’s a dead-bang case with a confession and a DNA match, and you can knock down both of them if your lawyer is smart.
Q: How does the TV show “Bosch” affect how you think about your novels?
A: Before the show, most of the Bosch books were the single narrative — they’re in his head. And you don’t have that in scripting. One of the first things [the producers] said was, Bosch can’t be in every scene or we’re going to kill the poor guy. We have to spread the story around to other characters, to give them more life. Most of my books since then have had multiple narrators. I’ve spread the storytelling out in my books as well.
Q: How do Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard let you make different kinds of storytelling choices?
A: It’s a perfect setup because one has a badge and one doesn’t, so one can do things the other one can’t. But also, Bosch has always been a guy who will go up to a line and put one foot across but not both, but Ballard’s all-in. In all the years I wrote about Bosch as a cop he didn’t do that, and now I’m writing about someone who did — who does. Ballard is ruled by the greater good as opposed to the protocols of the police department.
Q: Is it fun working on a television show?
A: Well it’s fun if you wrote the books it’s based on. Because you’re kind of like the unofficial mayor of a little town. The crew’s like 250 people. And it hits me every time. Sometimes we’ll do a scene and I can remember writing that scene in a book, and just crazy to think when I was writing that, I had no idea that 20 years later they would actually film this. It’s been a great ride. I’m very lucky.
Q: You’re considering stories for another season of the podcast, you’re going on book tour, you’re writing a script for “Bosch” while shooting a different episode, and you’re working on a new novel. How do you do it all?
A: When I write a novel, I get an idea and I think about it, sometimes for years, sometimes very quickly. But I don’t start writing until I have a sense of how it’s going to end. I need that light to go toward. And once I have that light, I can jump off and do something else and come back to it.
It may have come from my days as a newspaper reporter, because on the crime beat you usually write about something that happened, but it doesn’t have a conclusion yet, so you have many things that you want to keep checking on. You have a lot of balls in the air when you’re a police reporter. I have a lot of balls in the air now, but I don’t have daily deadlines, so what I do now is easier than what I used to do as a reporter. And I don’t have the pressure of being right because I write fiction.
Carolyn Kellogg is the former books editor of the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Alabama.
At 7 p.m. on Oct. 22, Michael Connelly will be at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Rd., Westminster, Md. This is a ticketed event.
THE NIGHT FIRE
By Michael Connelly
Little, Brown. 405 pp. $29