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A Conversation with George Pelecanos: Part I

The paperback edition of George Pelecanos’s THE CUT hits bookstores today. THE CUT introduces Spero Lucas, an ex-Marine and Iraq vet who specializes in recovering stolen property – no questions asked – in return for forty percent of its value. Spero’s first case involves an imprisoned drug lord, and drops him dead center into the midst of the Washington, D.C., underworld which Pelecanos has chronicled so vividly in all his novels. Spero is Pelecanos’ first series character since Derek Strange, the DC PI who appeared in four novels, most recently 2004’s HARD REVOLUTION.

In a series of e-mail exchanges with Wallace Stroby, Pelecanos talked about THE CUT, his influences, and what’s next:

WALLACE STROBY: After four stand-alone novels that in some ways mirrored your TV work – multilevel stories with a broad array of characters and social concerns – THE CUT feels like a return to your early, leaner and meaner crime novels. What led to that?

GEORGE PELECANOS: On a whim I wrote a short story (“Chosen”) about a married couple who adopt a bunch of kids, and wind up with an interracial family. The story ended with a few sentences about the current status of two of the brothers: Leo Lucas, a teacher at a public high school in Washington, and Spero Lucas, a Marine fighting in Fallujah. That led to me meeting several Marine vets of Iraq and Afghanistan who had come home and were working as private investigators for criminal defense attorneys here. It hit me that some of these guys weren’t interested in desk jobs, and maybe never would be.

Then one day, when I was doing some work at a local correctional facility, I met a man who had lost a leg in Fallujah, and was picking up a relative who was being released from jail. We had a very interesting, enlightening conversation. There are a lot of stories to tell about these veterans, and I felt like I had one cooking in my head. THE CUT came forward.

I guess I was ready to write a straight-ahead crime novel. On the internet some people were making comments that I had gone soft or literary, whatever that means. It puts a chip on my shoulder when people think they have me figured out. I write the book that knocks on the door of my imagination.

WS: Spero’s chosen profession has echoes of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, in that he recovers lost goods in exchange for a cut of what he salvages. Do you see yourself going down the road with him?

GP: THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE was on the syllabus of the University of Maryland crime fiction class that pretty much changed my life.  Eventually I read all the titles in that series.  I even named one of my dogs Travis, and she was a bitch.

Spero Lucas, in some respects, is me tipping my hat to Mr. MacDonald and McGee and to the physical-and-flesh spirit of those books. I’m not much for long-range plans, but I will definitely write another Lucas novel. The character stuck with me. I want to know more about him myself.

 WS: The McGee books also ruminated a lot about what it meant to be a man in today’s world. That’s a major theme in your books as well – manhood and what it entails, fathers and sons, mentoring.  You don’t see a lot of that in crime fiction. Is it something you felt was lacking in the genre?

GP: The subject of manhood and masculinity is underserved in all types of fiction, and when it is touched on it’s not always done with complete honesty. Meaning, it becomes wish fulfillment, giving the readers what they want to believe, rather than what’s true. You can add the subject of race and class to that, too.

Male father figures are a critical element in the shaping of young lives. When I go into a juvenile facility I can almost guarantee that nearly all of the boys I talk to had no significant male guidance when they were raised.  What you see around here now are coaches, teachers and mentors stepping up and taking on that role. My last three books were about fathers and sons. We’ve raised two sons and a daughter, so I felt like I was qualified to go deep into the subject.

Continue reading “A Conversation with George Pelecanos: Part I”

The Lineup: Weekly Links

Contrasted ConfinementDuane Swierczynski’s FUN AND GAMES has been nominated for a Barry Award for Best Paperback Original! Go Duane!

Papers like the New York Times have been covering the shopping of Amanda Knox’s book proposal. What do you think?

George Pelecanos’s WHAT IT WAS continues to receive great reviews–don’t miss coverage from the New York Times Book Review, which called the novel “great and breathless,” and USA Today, which selected the “rip-roaring introduction to Derek Strange” as a weekend pick. And at Spinetingler, Gloria Feit agrees.

With Michael Robotham’s BLEED FOR ME soon on its way to bookstores, great blog reviews have begun popping up–don’t miss the ones at Caite’s Day at the Beach and Bestsellers World.

And Donato Carrisi’s THE WHISPERER received another great blogger review from Martha’s Bookshelf!

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch atmulhollandbooks@hbgusa.com or DM us on Twitter.

Want to be a literary rock star? Live like a boy scout. A conversation with George Pelecanos.

The below guest post originally appeared on Allison Leotta’s site and is reprinted with the permission of the author.

George Pelecanos is an author at the top of his game. When he’s not writing bestselling crime novels, he’s creating some of America’s finest TV dramas: shows like “The Wire” and “Treme.”Stephen King called him “perhaps America’s greatest living crime writer”; Esquire anointed him “the poet laureate of D.C. crime fiction”; Dennis Lehane said, “The guy’s a national treasure.” In short, George Pelecanos is a literary rock star. So how can a new writer capture a little bit of that magic?

George’s answer surprised me.

I recently sat down with him for lunch, and that question was at the top of my mind. My debut legal thriller, “Law of Attraction,” got positive reviews and some nice buzz – but no one’s calling me “a national treasure.” I’ve read George’s earliest books, written before he was nationally treasured himself. They showcase considerable raw talent, but they’re unrefined and inconsistent. Like the evolution of cell phone technology, George’s writing has developed from an interesting conversation piece to a body of work so smart and sophisticated, it makes you shake your head with wonder. I wanted to know: how do I make that happen to my own writing? Will I need a more apps and better ringtones, or just some writing seminars?

None of the above, George answered. To be a good writer, be a good person.

That’s not exactly what he said – more on the specifics below – but that’s what it boiled down to.

It wasn’t the advice I expected from this author. If you’ve read his novels, you know George Pelecanos creates worlds that are dark, testosterone charged, and dangerous. “King Suckerman” opens with a disgruntled employee using a shotgun to blow a hole through his boss. In “The Sweet Forever,” one man proves his love for another by brutally murdering a rival. “Drama City” features a female probation officer who’s straight-laced by day and driven to risky one-night stands by night. George’s novels are full of violence and retribution, the grimmest side of humanity, and plenty of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.

But his advice on how to create these worlds is akin to what a thoughtful father might advise his daughter on the larger question of how to live her life. The melding of these dark worlds with more wholesome introspection may be what makes his novels so finely textured and morally complex.

Here’s George Pelecanos’ advice for becoming a great writer: Continue reading “Want to be a literary rock star? Live like a boy scout. A conversation with George Pelecanos.”

The Lineup: Weekly Links

Contrasted ConfinementDonato Carrisi’s THE WHISPERER received  a starred review from Library Journal that calls the novel:Exquisite.Readers will be enthralled.” Congrats, Donato! And don’t miss excellent blogger reviews of THE WHISPERER from HorrorTalk and The Mystery Reader, too.

The Washington Post reviewed WHAT IT WAS, calling it part of a body of work that amounts to “a profound meditation on good and evil in this city, mostly in parts of it that many of us pass through often but never really see.” Right on.

And hey, George did a bang-up job of a Reddit AMA appearance last week.

Michael Robotham’s novels have been receiving high praise from book bloggers recently. Check out this review of SHATTER from The Blog of Litwits and this review of BLEED FOR ME from Thinking About Books.

Duane Swierczynski’s HELL AND GONE also received a rave review from The Literate Kitty.

Some pretty good stuff out there this weekend if you’re in the mood to visit the theaters:

Some other good stuff coming up:

The first full-length trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man is out:

And we rather liked this post-apocalyptic Super Bowl commercial–did you?

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch atmulhollandbooks@hbgusa.com or DM us on Twitter.