ichael Connelly is having a moment. If you asked him, he’d probably be the first to admit that crime does pay. It paid a little back in 1980 when he churned out bad-guy stories for the Daytona Beach News Journal. It paid better when he covered South Florida cocaine wars and plane crashes for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel. But the real money started flowing in ’87, when the Los Angeles Times crime desk came calling. Connelly thought he’d hit the jackpot.
Little did he know.
The man some are calling America’s greatest living crime writer has authored 30 tightly coiled novels, many of which have hit or flirted with the top spot on fiction bestseller lists. More often than not, Connelly’s thrillers feature the irascible LAPD homicide detective, Harry Bosch, who burst off the page in 2015 courtesy of Amazon Studios’ “Bosch” series. (“Bosch” is played in simmering, tormented-cop style by Titus Welliver, who caught Connelly’s eye months before the show was cast and who is currently having a moment of his own.)
Even as he cruises into his 60s, splitting his time between the “Bosch” writing room and his home office, Connelly continues to hone his craft. Periodic plot diversions — breaks from Harry-centric stories — recharge both writer and reader, but the various types of writing Connelly has produced deserve much of the credit for his popularity.
“Reading is about momentum, and it’s the same with writing,” Connelly said during a break between touch-ups to his next novel and the shooting of a “Bosch” episode. “In newspapers, you never get enough space, so you learn to sculpt. It’s the less-is-more school of writing. Don’t lard things up with detail. Don’t show off all the stuff you know. And don’t put in any speed bumps. Hopefully readers are seeing the results of everything I’ve learned for 25 years.”
“I never really want to LEAVE the WORLD I’m in when I’m writing a STORY.”
Connelly is gently pointing us toward “The Late Show,” which came out in July, 2017, and catapulted to number one on USA Today’s bestseller list. In this example of one of those plot variations, we meet the alluring (but, naturally, relentless and tortured) detective-slash-heroine Renée Ballard. Many of Connelly’s characters, including Bosch, are made from scratch, as it were. But Ballard was patterned on Mitzi Roberts, an LAPD detective who for years helped to lend legitimacy to the procedural details and who spent time, early in her career, on the midnight shift — euphemistically known as the late show.
“She told me that she’d get off work at dawn and go surfing. It was her way of chilling out after a night of dealing with any number of strange, sad, sometimes dangerous situations,” said Connelly. “I knew I had to take that. Ballard is a character I’ve been waiting to write about for a while.”
A Writer’s Routine
What’s it like to write a book? Is the creative process random, spiritual…or does it resemble a 9-to-5 grind? Is it difficult to exit the fictional world and rejoin the real world when it comes time for dinner?
Connelly believes that work ethic is essential. “I was taught that if you’re going to be a writer, you have to write every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. That’s how it is in the newspaper business; you write whether you feel like it or not. I think that discipline has been a key to my success.”
Another key is Connelly’s knack for creating dialogue that keeps readers engaged and begging for more. He’s seen improvement in this arena, which he chalks up to his screenwriting work.
“One thing about spending three years in a [Hollywood] writing room is that you realize you can’t go inside a character’s head like you can in a book,” he said. “It’s a huge transition. That’s made me stronger in terms of dialogue, and I’ve taken that lesson into my books. Dialogue carries information. There’s no fluff. And that serves the momentum need well.”
And at the end of the day? Connelly can walk away from the keyboard, but the proverbial cameras keep rolling. “I never really want to leave the world I’m in when I’m writing a story,” he said. “I want to keep it in my head and active. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m figuring it all out. I’m writing. I sleep with a laptop right next to my bed.”
“Reading is about MOMENTUM, and it’s the same with WRITING.”
Connelly has watched reading transition from print — hardcover and paperbacks — to electronic delivery systems. He’s seen the shuttering of mom-and-pop bookstores and the rise of online platforms. And, while he has a soft spot for old-fashioned book reading, there’s no denying that the broader spectrum has been very, very good to him.
“There are so many more outlets for storytelling,” he said. “Some people don’t have time to sit down and read for an hour, but they might have an hourlong commute. E-books and audiobooks have expanded the universe of reading. If people can hook their phone up to the car, they can consume stories.”
Still, he laments the demise of the brick-and-mortar bookstore. “I can celebrate my success, but there’s always a hitch in my stride because those stores helped me get here. Something has been lost. The community meeting place is gone, and I don’t think anything will ever beat the sit-down of a book club in the back room of a book shop.”
The Next Chapter
As if 30 novels weren’t enough, Connelly’s upcoming thriller, “Two Kinds of Truth,” hits the stands October 31st. Meanwhile, he and his team of screenwriters are inking new episodes of “Bosch,” which was renewed by Amazon Studios for a fourth season. Even over the phone, I can see Connelly shaking his head in wonder.
“It’s a surreal thing to go on set and see that guy playing someone I thought of more than 25 years ago,” he said. “It’s a magical mystery journey and a fulfilling turn as I get closer to the end of my career.”
Closer, but not there yet. Connelly still has a couple of items to check off his bucket list. He’d like to executive-produce a show of his own creation. He’d like to have a boat and get back to fishing. And, like so many of us duffers, he’d love to break 80.