Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Stars Come Out at Harrogate, Part V

Robert Crais submits to a grilling by our man Ali.

(Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of British correspondent Ali Karim’s report from the recent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. Previous parts can be read here.)

So, after dropping a huge bolluck (American translation: “making a tremendous blunder”) during my post-panel session conversation with Thomas H. Cook (Master of the Delta, 2008), my son, Alex, and I headed off to the Crown Hotel bar, where Orion Publishing publicity manager Angela McMahon and author Robert Crais were waiting for us. I’d scheduled an interview with Crais even before this crime-fiction festival began.

Crais is easy to spot--he’s always the one in the colorful shirts. I’ve interviewed him several times and have followed his work religiously, ever since I read L.A. Requiem (1999), his eighth novel featuring Los Angeles private eye Elvis Cole and his “sociopathic sidekick,” Joe Pike. Crais is an erudite but modest man (which is quite remarkable, considering that he’s become world renowned for his TV writing and best-selling novels). And among the ranks of P.I. novelists, I’d classify him as one of the greatest working today.

When he saw me approaching, Crais came over right away and shoot my hand in a Joe Pike-like clasp. Then he talked to Alex for a while, as I set up my tape machine. We found a place on a stairwell where we could converse quietly, and he graciously answered my questions about his new novel, Chasing Darkness, Hollywood’s interest in his fiction, and why--despite his being a comic book fan--he’s not likely to join other crime novelists in contributing to that storytelling field.

Ali Karim: After a number of years of not coming to the UK, you seem to be frequenting our shores with some regularity. So what have you been up to in England?

Robert Crais: I’m having the time of my life as this is my first time at the Harrogate event, which, simply put, is the best. All my writer friends in the U.S.--Harlan Coben, Mike Connelly, and Lee Child--told me that the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival is the best experience they’ve had at any conference or convention, and I echo that.

AK: I must say, I was delighted with your latest novel, Chasing Darkness, and having Cole and Pike back in action after their adventures in The Watchman.

RC: Thank you very much. Coming from someone so well read, that means a lot, believe me.

AK: So, after writing a few standalone novels, do you have a plan for Cole and Pike in the near future?

RC: Next year’s book is a Joe Pike book, and then the book after that may well be a standalone. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for some time, something I’ve been actually working on for a few years now. And then it’s back to Elvis and Joe again.

AK: The Watchman was really a Joe Pike novel, with Elvis being the sidekick, as opposed to the other way around in your earlier books. Will the next Pike book feature Elvis again?

RC: Yes. Elvis Cole’s role will be a lot larger than it was in The Watchman, but it will be set up in exactly the same way. Since writing The Watchman I can tell when I start writing, [the differences in plot that] make it a Joe Pike book as opposed to an Elvis Cole book. Pike books, by their nature, are more … how can I explain it? Well, Joe’s not an investigator, that’s not his thing, he’s more proactive …

AK: [Laughing] Proactive. That’s a nice way of putting it.

RC: Yes. Proactive is my way of saying he kick’s ass. [Laughing] That’s right, he kicks down doors and takes names. He needs stories that are not best suited for an Elvis Cole novel. But I enjoy writing Joe Pike novels; I enjoy getting inside Joe’s head and seeing the world the way he sees it. I really enjoyed writing The Watchman, and I want to do it again.

AK: I think you’ve really hit your stride in this series with Chasing Darkness. As you get more publicity, are you finding renewed interest in your older novels, because L.A. Requiem remains, for me, the definitive post-Chandler, contemporary P.I. novel currently in print.

RC: Well, thank you. And you’re right: interest in my backlist is very strong. In fact, every time a new book comes out, the sales of my backlist spike as readers explore the world of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike as well as my standalones. … [W]hen The Watchman was released, the spike was more pronounced; in fact, the sales spike was bigger than anything we’ve had before when a new book was released. Wonderfully, the same can be said for Chasing Darkness. Maybe it was as a result of the wider distribution of The Watchman; beyond that I’m not sure. The only figures I have are that the first week’s sales of Chasing Darkness, [which were] up 30 percent above that for The Watchman.

AK: My U.S. critic friend David Montgomery e-mailed me when he read Chasing Darkness, telling me that it was one of his top three reads of 2008--and I have to agree with him, after reading it myself just last month.

RC: Well, David has great taste. [Laughing] I am flattered that you and David enjoyed it.

AK: We know of course about your previous work writing for television. And it leads me to ask whether there’s anything happening as far as adapting Joe and Elvis for the small screen, or perhaps the large one.

RC: Nothing has changed here, you know. People always pursue film rights to Elvis and Joe, but the only thing new is that there’s a possibility that Demolition Angel [2000], which featured Carol Starkey, could wind up as a weekly TV series. I originally sold the film rights to Columbia TriStar, who wanted to make a film out of it, but for whatever reason they couldn’t make a go of it; but they still own the rights. They called me up a few weeks before Chasing Darkness was released and they said that they are now looking to adapt Demolition Angel as a weekly TV show. They wanted my participation and my blessing. Well, I gave them my blessing, so now we’re seeing how that progresses.

AK: As a Marvel comic-book reader from your youth, you must be aware that many writers are working on comics these days: Stephen King [The Dark Tower] Richard Morgan [The Black Widow], and David Morrell [Captain America], to name just a few. Do you have any plans of your own to write for Marvel?

RC: Well, funny you should mention that, as I have had a lot of offers from many comic-book publishers for me to write for them, but I’m not going to do it. Now, it’s not that part of me wouldn’t like to do it; but I suffer the burden of being a slow writer. I am always knocked out by these guys who can knock out a novel in four to five months. There is no way I can do that; in fact, there is no way I can take a month out of my schedule to write a four-to-six comic-book series--it would kill me. So I have had to turn down the offers.

AK: As a comic-book fan, I must admit I’m disappointed. However, your novels--especially Chasing Darkness--are so damn good, I’m glad you’ll be using your time to chronicle the lives of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Thank you for your time.

RC: And, hey, thanks for the kind words. Always a pleasure. Now let’s get a drink.

With that, Alex and I accompanied Crais and McMahon to the bar. We were soon joined there by some of Crais’ fellow Orion authors, Roger Jon Ellory, Chris Simms, and Steve Mosby. Over beers, what did we discuss? Crime fiction of course. Crais was very generous in telling Alex about how he’d worked with actor Bruce Willis on the 2005 film adaptation of his 2001 novel, Hostage. My son loves Willis’ Die Hard movies, so he was transfixed by the author’s recollections.

Due to our meeting with Robert Crais, we’d missed enjoying one of the annual highlights of Harrogate, the “Bloody Women” panel. However, I spotted a thick stream of people exiting from that sold-out event and heading for the book-signing room. So I sent Alex off with my copies of Chelsea Cain’s two most recent novels, Sweetheart and Heartsick, to have them autographed. Now, those books are not suitable, in my opinion, for a 15-year-old. So, as Alex told us later, when he finally arrived at the front of the signing queue, Cain, who had come over from America to participate in this festival, was a bit surprised. “My, my,” she said, “you must be an advanced reader.” To which Alex replied sheepishly, “No, I haven’t read them. They are for my dad.” Apparently, Cain smiled and winked at my son and said, “Yeah, right ...”

McMahon, Crais, and I all broke out laughing when Alex recalled this meeting with Chelsea Cain. And then Alex and I had to say our good-byes, because we were headed off to our hotel for a quick change and then a cocktail party at Harrogate’s Hotel Du Van, hosted by Quercus Publishing.

Tagging along with us on our way to the Quercus affair were Steve Mosby, Simon Kernick, Chris Simms, and Roger Ellory. And since the rest of us had consumed a rather great quantity of beer by this point, I thought it wise to hand the navigating responsibilities off to Alex. He’d surely get us to the hotel on schedule. In the meantime, I had the chance to ask Simms, who’s a terrific writer of Manchester-based police procedurals, about a scene in his 2004 book, Pecking Order. In that scene, a male character--a subnormal psychopath named Roy “Rubble” Bull--has sexual intercourse with a chicken. A fowl act, indeed. I inquired offhandedly of Simms what his mother (who I had met during the Manchester launch of Pecking Order) thought when she read that particular chapter. Simms blushed heavily and answered that his mum had ... er, skipped that part. The rest of us just roared laughing. Poor Simms explained that I was (pardon the pun) “over-egging” that scene--and besides, the chicken Rubble had had sex with was dead. Ellory screwed up his face then and said, “But that doesn’t make it any better that the chicken was dead. ... [I]n fact it makes it worse, as not only are you writing about bestiality but as the chicken is dead, you also are involving necrophilia.”

We were still laughing as we came in sight of the Hotel Du Van.

(Part VI can be found here.)

1 comment:

Dorie said...

Just wanted to say thanks for posting this interview. Crais is one of my favorite authors, and you've got to love his fashion sense!