Andre Chung For The Washington Post

George Pelecanos, 57, is an award-winning author of numerous novels. His most recent book, “The Martini Shot,” was released last month. He is also a television producer and writer whose credits include “The Wire” and “Treme.” Pelecanos was born in Washington and now livesin Silver Spring.

Your books in many ways tell the history of 20th-century Washington. How do you feel about Washington so far this century?

Well, I think things are going well. I like all the changes, and, nostalgia aside, it’s all positive. It’s a trap to get caught in that, “I wish Washington was the way it was,” because there are more jobs, there are more opportunities, people seem to be doing better, and obviously crime is down. The culture seems to have changed in a lot of ways. I do miss the Chocolate City of my youth.

A lot of the things you write about have sort of disappeared.

Yeah. And if you stay in one place long enough, as I have my whole life, you see these things, one by one, go away. It’s like they’re taking away your memories.

I want the city council to adopt a law that requires everyone who moves to D.C. to read one of your books.


Which would you recommend?

Well, I’d say “Hard Revolution” [set in the District’s turbulent ’60s] because it’s such a big part of our history that people don’t really know about. It seems like even young people aren’t aware of what happened. And I think it’s a good book. That’s the one they’re going to put on my tombstone.

If you were growing up in Washington today, would you be the same kind of writer?

No. I’m a product of growing up here in the ’70s and on. Everything, whether it was the black culture of my early years to the punk movement, all these things happened then that made me become a writer and tell the stories. The ’68 riots were a big thing. I was only 11 years old, but it made a huge impression on me. And punk in particular inspired me to try writing. Before that I always felt, How could I be a writer? I’m just a Greek guy from Washington. I don’t know anybody. I’ve never been to New York. I’ve never met a writer before. But then I saw these people picking up guitars and playing, and they weren’t trained musicians. That whole DIY thing was an inspiration for me.

Do you have any interest in the national politics aspect of Washington?

None at all. [Laughs.] I’ve pointedly never written about it. I’m more interested in how everyday people sort of deal with their lives. “Hard Revolution,” which is something I’m deep into now because I’m adapting it for HBO, is about this one working-class family that is caught up in these events and really powerless to do anything about them. As opposed to a James Ellroy or someone who writes about powerful white men who change history, my people are just trying to get through their day. So I really am not interested, and I’m disillusioned with politics after living here my whole life. I really feel like people who want to change things need to go out and change it themselves and not look to politicians to do that.

It’s very cool that you’re making “Hard Revolution” for HBO. I hadn’t heard that.

Yeah, that’s an exclusive. Nobody knows about that. [Laughs.]

What’s the timetable for that?

Well, I sold the [Derek] Strange character to HBO, and I’m going to do it in chronological order, so the first one I’m writing is “Hard Revolution.” It’s a long process. I’ve got to turn it in. They’re going to give me notes. I’ll do rewrites, and then they’ll decide if I can shoot the pilot.

But the other thing is that I have to figure out how I’m going to do it in Washington, because I won’t do it anywhere else. As you know, it’s problematic. There are no tax credits here. My goal is to get a real film industry started in Washington. An actual one, not where features come to town and shoot second unit for a few days. I would love to get something started here. Hire local crews. People could work year-round and raise their families here. So that’s what I’m trying to do with this one, and hopefully it will happen.

Your books are about much more than crime, but violence or a violent explosion recur in almost everything you write. Is violence integral to your writing?

I don’t think so. I really don’t think of my writing as being very violent. You are correct in saying that these things come out of nowhere in my books, and they happen very quickly, which is how it usually goes down. They are sometimes more surprising in that they don’t happen in the traditional format of the crime novel. Because it’s not a murder in the first chapter that needs to be solved in the end or even gets solved necessarily. It happens in the course of the narrative as it should based on how the characters have been developed.

So maybe violence isn’t quite right. But I feel like there’s a lot of tension or even below-the-surface rage in a lot of your characters.

Yeah, particularly in the men. Because that’s a male thing. A lot of guys are walking around with a lot simmering beneath the surface, and sometimes it explodes.

Do you go back and read your books at all?

I don’t read the early books very often. I hardly ever crack them. There’s a sort of hesitancy to what I was doing then. And I think I’ve gotten better, which is what you want to do. In 10 years I want to be a better writer than I am now. I was learning how to write when I wrote those first books because I had never written anything before. The very first thing I ever wrote was my first novel. I sent it up to New York, and somebody bought it. And I think the early books had a tremendous amount of energy because I was a young guy and the energy comes through. But I don’t think they’re anywhere near as good as what I’ve been doing in the past 10 or 15 years.

David Simon once described you as a moralist. Do you see yourself that way?

I think he sees me that way. [Laughs.] I don’t feel that way when I’m writing. I’m just trying to tell the truth and let the characters speak for themselves. That’s the goal.

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