Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A crowded Connelly, packed with Pelecanos

The title for this post may seem like something out of an Italian recipe book, but I assure you, the readers, that this was the biggest turnout I've seen at a book signing event.

I arrived at the Borders on State St once again. It was noon and there were already people filling up the chairs and a post or two for a signing line. A woman was walking around, crouched low, with multicolored post-it's asking if anyone wanted their signature personalized. I just wanted to Roberto Scarlato. Many people had Hardcovers, which only reminded me of how cheap I must've looked.

While rearranging my books, days earlier, I found a copy of Michael Connelly's The Closers, figured I could get it signed and save myself some money. Then, when entering the store today, I went on a search to find one George Pelacanos book. I read the backs of Hard Revolution and Hell to Pay but instead got a paperback copy of The Night Gardner, which I'm told is really good. I was thumbing through it while we were all waiting for them to arrive.

By 12:15, the crowd had grown over fifty. Some stood, some sat on the floor right in front of the table.

In they came at 12:24, both serious and professional.

They both sat behind the table, water at the ready, mikes lined up, ready to go. Michael was promoting his newest book The Scarecrow on the left while George was showing his book The Way Home on the right.

"Thanks for coming," Michael said into the mike.

A round of applause.

This was exciting. So exciting, my palms were sweating as I found I was firmly holding onto my paperbacks for dear life. This was big.

These are my heroes of the written word, I thought to myself.

I was giddy but at the same time I managed to contain it.

"Hi, I'm Michael Connelly," George says, getting a laugh from everyone including Michael.

George starts right in, "I just want to give you a bit of background for my new book. It is focused on a man who has a dark secret that he's hiding . . ."

"Louder!" I hear from behind me. "We can't hear you, but we want to!"

He checks the mike, it's on. "Sorry, I just am naturally soft-spoken. But, what I did for this novel was I did quite a bit of research in prisons and juvenile halls. And they are not what you see in the movies, these are very confined and they don't even have a window. The main character, in a way, is trying to find his way home. And I think that's what we all look for; a connection to finding our way home."

Then Michael says, "Hi. My name is Michael Connelly, I was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times and I have seen a downward spiral with newspapers. For ten years, I saw the changes and the social revolution it was taking and I decided early on to write. My latest book, The Scarecrow, is what I would call a Thriller. There's no mystery or any of that, you see the killer on page one. And it revolves around the character of Jack McEvoy, a crime reporter who is on the last two weeks of his job because they have to let him go. As he is following a lead, he becomes entangled in this web by this killer who is very knowledgeable in computer systems and Jack begins to question whether he's chasing the killer or whether the killer is chasing him. Usually, what we like to do is take questions first, makes everything go a lot smoother and we don't have to rehearse anything. So George, if you're ready, we'll start taking questions now."

For eight seconds, the room is booming with silence.

No takers? I thought. Okay, I have a hand. I'll break the ice. Might as well be the first one to get my feet wet.

I raised my hand.


"I was wondering, between the both of you, how much research time do you put in writing your novels?"

George nods to Michael that he'll take the question first. "About research, what I'll do is I'll do a lot of frontward research four months before I write one word. That way I'll have a lot to back the story up with. With this novel, a lot of the research came from being a father and raising kids."

Michael says, "Yeah . . . research. I hate it. (laughter)That's where George and I differ. I like to write before anything. All I have at first is a story and I don't want to constantly be checking things or stop the flow, I constantly have to keep it moving. I can't tear myself away from the screen. Then, after everything, I'll literally fire e-mails to professionals and friends and researchers I know with questions about laws and stuff like that. Even with my e-mails, I don't like to write long e-mails all that much. I'm direct and to the point, then I'll go back and fill in what is needed."

I was impressed.

Michael goes on to say that, because of the Newspapers changing, some filing for bankruptcy, he would have to revise his draft of The Scarecrow with the changes seeing as how some companies were falling away. He laments that he hopes that the newspaper will not see it's end and that we not be forced to get our news from the net. "I like the newspapers. I hold it, I open it, I read it. I like it. Nothing will beat the big block bold headlines on the front page.That's never gonna change."

He even goes as far as putting a quote in the book of a character saying something that one of his real life friends told him while the newspapers were in jeopardy. "When the world has no more Newspapers, Corruption will rise," or something to that effect.

Several people asked questions after that. This was the first time my brain felt like an Acer computer (over the hill and ready to crash) with all the information I had to take in. In a way, I felt like a reporter. I mean, why not, right? Next time I'll bring a tape recorder.

In regards to George Pelcanos, his name may seem familiar to you because not only is he a novelist . . . but also the writer of the gripping show The Wire, now in it's 5th season.

One bystander asked what Michael Connelly thought of the movie Blood Work (saw it twice) based on his novel. "Yeah. The thing is, I know it was changed a lot from the original story but it's also a different medium. I already had my shot with the story, the filmmakers have a different way of telling it. In the end, I accepted the money. Because once you accept the money, you bought yourself into it. You agree with them. So I don't think it was bad. I accepted it. If you don't like what they do with your story, you shouldn't accept the money. Also, Clint Eastwood actually helped promote the book. While the movie was out, they made a print run where it had a picture of Clint Eastwood's steely-eyed glare. (laughter) It spent six weeks on the bestseller list and I ended up having a new swarm of readers. So I'm thankful for Blood Work."

In reference to what their favorite part of writing is, (beginning, middle or end) Michael exclaims that he loves the end of writing a novel. "It's like crawling up and roof and then rolling back down. You begin to see all the little hints and minute details come together and complete the story."

When both asked what their breaks are like:

George~ "I like to take six months off after writing a novel. It just wipes you out."
Michael~ "I take all my breaks in between."

When asked what a book tour was like:

Michael~ "Writers are usually very private people. You spend the first month of the year, promoting your book, as a public person. Then you sit back the rest of the year. To give you an idea, we were at the airport at 8am, waiting on the tarmac because of the fog here in Chicago. When you finally get to the bookstore, it's like coming to an oasis in the desert. You've done it, you're finally there. But then you wake up early and do it all over again. When I brought my ticket up to the counter, it was obvious that we had a lot of places to go, but the woman wouldn't print out my ticket. Supposedly all my trips were one way and many of them so that sent up some red flags in security. (laughter) But it's a lot to do in that one month."

When asked if Michael Connelly was working on another novel:

Michael ~ "Just finished writing Thursday."

I can only assume that the one he's referring to is Nine Dragons, a Harry Bosch novel since he writes one book a year.

After having written all these books, does writing get harder?

George~ "No, You never forget how to write a book. You just wait for the right timing as a writer to go ahead with something."

Michael~ "If you have a character you enjoy writing, it will never get hard. I love writing Harry Bosch Novels. I don't think I'll stop with him."

But Michael confesses that Harry Bosch was an amalgamation of different inspirations. It is in The Scarecrow, that he states, he can relate the most to because Jack McEvoy is very much like him. It is a very close autobiographical character that he has created of himself. "I was doing what this guy did. Back then I was a reporter by day and a writer by night."

When asked what they're favorite books are:

Michael~ "I'd say The Last Coyote. That was the first book that I wrote as a full time writer. It was just great writing it. It felt great after spending all that time with it. As a writer, you work alone. It feels great to know that your published book is out there when it was really just you writing it in a walk-in closet."

George~ "The Hard Revolution. I was waiting to write that one at just the right time and it was great really creating how the character became the way he is, what shaped him, essentially."

Coincidentally, The Hard Revolution was the first book I had a look at in the store. And the main character shares the first name as my main character in my first book! But in Hard Revolution, revolving around the Martin Luther King killing, the main character's full name is Derek Strange. Now isn't that . . . strange?

In the end, they thanked us for coming. There was a signing line which wrapped around a whole section of books. They signed, we posed for pics and I was out of there. While entering the parking structure I was transfixed by the beauty of good old Chicago, like I was seeing it with a fresh pair of eyes. It really is an inspirational city, as many authors have claimed. I drove away with the window down blasting leonard skynard's Free Bird and Lovin' Spoonful's Summer in the city.

Why can't every day be this crowded and packed with awe in Chicago?

"Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake." ~E.L. Doctorow

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE the atmosphere you projected here. It sounds like something I'd love to experience a few times. When I get deeper into my scene, I'll have to document this just as you have.

I also love the way you write.