The road to Hollywood is a long and hard one.
Just knowing that keeps most
people from even attempting such a journey.
Robert Crais, a Baton Rouge native, is not
one of those people. His dreams
and talent led him 20 years ago to Hollywood where he started out writing
scripts for television and now pens suspense novels.
Crais recently wrapped up a whirlwind tour for
his newest novel, L.A.
Requiem, and took a little time to return to the place he first called home.
Friendly and relaxed, Crais enjoyed a seafood
lunch at Mike Anderson's
Restaurant, and talked about his eighth novel in just over 10 years. "I'm really
happy with this book. It's been my best seller so far," Crais says of L.A.
Requiem. L.A. Requiem adds another layer to the lives of private detectives
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. But more importantly, it has critics saying it will be
a breakthrough for Crais, one that takes him to a higher level of mystery writers.
In past novels, Pike has been a background player to Cole, but here,
Pike is in the spotlight, Crais said.
"Joe Pike has always been enigmatic and mysterious.
From the beginning, I had
indicated that he had shadows in his past. In my own mind, I knew his life story,"
Crais said. "What I needed was a way to tell that story convincingly. And I didn't
want to shortchange the reader."The answer came at an unlikely time in an unlikely
place as Crais jogged near Lake Hollywood. "It was early morning and really misty,"
Crais said. "I looked down and I saw this isolated spot - and I thought to myself,
'What a great place to find a body!'"Suddenly, the pieces fit: The body belongs to
a woman named Karen Garcia. She is the daughter of a wealthy L.A. businessman.
And she was a friend to Joe Pike.
"It hit me. Here was my doorway to Pike's life,
to his past," Crais said. "Here was
a way to explain him." Crais smiles as if realizing this might allsound a bit bizarre.
"Really, that's how stories take shape," he said. "As a fiction writer, you look for the
dark corners of life. You wonder where crimes might be committed. That's just how
it happens." Crais had also always wanted to know more about homicide investigations.
And more than anything, he wanted to be accurate.
So he went on at least 20 ride-alongs with the
LAPD and interviewed criminalists,
homicide detectives and coroner's investigators. The resulting detail makes L.A.
Requiem richer and gives the reader a crash course in police procedure.
After 13 months of writing and rewriting, Crais
was satisfied. His publisher,
Doubleday, was impressed and pulled out all the stops for this summer's book tour.
The tour took him all over California as well
as to Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver,
Chicago, San Francisco, New York ... 19 cities in just one month. "It's gotten lots
of press and the reviews have all been positive. Doubleday really believed in this
book, and they proved it with the great promotional job they did."Still, he was glad
to see the plane-hopping and book-signings come to an end.
Ah, the glamorous life. But it wasn't always that way.
Crais grew up in Baton Rouge, but didn't
find many outlets for his creative talents.
"I was always a closet writer," he said. "In junior high, I made Super-8 movies and
even drew my own comic books."As a teen-ager, he believed himself limited to two
career choices. "I could either be a cop or I could work for Exxon," he said. "That's
what everyone in my family did and I just thought I would probably do the same."So
he gave LSU the old college try and even declared a major ... mechanical engineering.
But his heart was elsewhere. Even as hestudied, Crais continued to write science
fiction and mystery articles. He submitted them to publishers, but got only rejections -
116 in all.
Finally, his luck changed.
He was paid $50 for his first story and $125 for
his second. "It was a paperback
collection of short stories," Crais said. "It wasn't much, but it made me believe I
might actually have a chance."Hollywood was looking more and more like reality.
In fact, Crais found success writing scripts for
television series like Quincy, Hill
Street Blues, L.A. Law and Cagney and Lacey. "I wanted to be a part of that world,"
Crais said. "And I couldn't believe it when it happened. I never, ever thought I could
be as successful as I am right now."Eventually, his writing moved in another direction
and he published his first novel, Monkey's Raincoat, in 1987. Crais is happy with the
life he has made for himself since he left Louisiana in the late '70s. But he stays connected.
"I come back about once a year," he said. "I still need my annual fix of oyster po-boys and
crawfish. Baton Rouge will always be home." Crais just signed a three-book deal with Doubleday and is already 150 pages into his next book. He keeps the details to himself,
but says his research included time with ATF agents in Washington, D.C., and experts
with the LAPD bomb squad.
"These are people who don't like having a light
shined on their world. It's a real cloak-and-dagger
world," he said. "I think that's why I'm so fascinated by it. "There
are challenges and risks attached, Crais said. For instance, his main character is a
woman trying to stop a serial bomber. If L.A. Requiem was a
departure, his next book is even more so.
But if anyone's up to the challenge, it's
Crais. Remember, he's already mastered that one difficult journey.
Back to Interviews the Craisie Annex