Meet Your Heroes: Jonathan Kellerman

I first discovered Jonathan Kellerman’s novels when I read MONSTER, plucked off the shelf at my local bookstore while I was browsing for a new series. I consumed MONSTER in two days, and from that time on I’d search for Kellerman’s Alex Delaware mysteries at whatever bookstore I happened to be in. I was hooked. I still am. Kellerman’s sharp prose, biting insight, twisting plot lines, and unrelenting suspense are addicting—just ask the millions of readers who have made him a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author. Imagine my delight when Dr. Kellerman agreed to answer a few questions for The Thrill Begins.

Congratulations on the recent release of your new book, BREAKDOWN. BREAKDOWN is the thirty-first novel in the Alex Delaware series—an incredible accomplishment. Did you set out to write a series when you wrote the first Alex Delaware novel, WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS? If so, what attracted you to the idea of a series? How has Dr. Delaware’s character evolved?

 I didn’t set out to write a series. I just wanted to publish WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS. After the success of that book I realized I liked hanging out with Alex and Milo and, apparently, so did readers. So I tried another one. And another…etc. Thirty one years later, we’re still buddies.

I don’t re-read previous novels unless I’m fact-checking, so I’m not the right person to ask about Alex’s development. I’d like to think his initial virtues have remained intact but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s matured a bit. Not sure I have, though.

Most of the Alex Delaware novels are set in Los Angeles. In fact, the city is another character, as multifaceted and complex as any person. Why Los Angeles? What have been the challenges of choosing a real-life locale as the backdrop of your books? 

I do consider L.A. a character in my novel. I’ve lived here since age nine and So Cal culture is firmly set in my consciousness. I’m lucky, because L.A. is one of the best places in which to set a crime novel. It’s a company town where the company is the film industry, basically a purveyor of fantasy and falsehood. People come here to re-invent themselves. Taste is debatable, trends transitory. On top of that, the disparities between the haves and the have-nots rival those of a third world nation. Perfect breeding ground for rage, deception and felonies. 

You’ve recently co-authored two novels with your son, Jesse KellermanTHE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD and THE GOLEM OF PARIS, books one and two of the Detective Jacob Lev Series. What inspired you to take on a collaborative project with Jesse (also a successful suspense novelist as well as a playwright)? How is partnering on a series different from writing alone?

I began the first Golem novel and then put it aside because I knew it was going to be a huge undertaking and I was already working on two other books and felt overwhelmed. Jesse happened to be visiting with his family, I mentioned my quandary – 100 pages of great story, lack of time. We chatted, he knew a lot about the Golem legend and was in between books. I said, “Hmm,” and asked if he’d be willing to give me a hand. He thought about it and agreed.  He’s an immensely talented writer and collaboration was fun, so we did it again. We’re currently working on a third novel together, a psychological thriller set in Northern California, titled CRIME SCENE.

Collaboration works when: A. You score the right collaborator and B. You decide at the outset that it’s a shared experience and don’t get possessive or cranky. 

The Jacob Lev books are genre-bending—thrillers with elements of supernaturalism and religious mysticism.  In fact, Stephen King called THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD “An extraordinary work of detection, suspense, and supernatural mystery.” What led you and Jesse Kellerman to expand upon the thriller genre in this way? How important is genre to new writers?

One is always trying to stretch creatively; that’s the pleasure of writing fiction. I don’t think much about genre or any other limitation, nor do I mind writing a long-term series such as the Delaware novels. The main thing is that I get to characterize, imagine, invent, plot, solve problems, and, overall, have a blast. If it’s not fun for me, it won’t be fun for my readers.

Regarding new writers, my bet would be that crime, romance and fantasy comprise a healthy proportion of published first novels. But I’d never let that plot my course. Write what you know, write about what moves you. The key is to bring passion, discipline, and a serious work ethic to the process.

Our readers, many of whom are aspiring authors, love to know how successful authors got their starts. Prior to writing, you were a practicing psychologist. What did your publishing journey look like? How do you keep your material fresh?

I’ve been writing compulsively since age nine, won several writing contests and embarked on a thirteen-year struggle from 1972, when I won the Goldwyn Award in college, to 1985 when my first novel was published. Prior to that, I published two books on psychology and a lot of scientific essays, op-eds, short stories, etc. But in terms of full-length fiction, I was a failed writer with a really good day job. I just kept plugging away and finally learned how to do it. No mentor, no magic bullet, just plain old perseverance–or obsessive-compulsiveness, if you’re inclined psychiatrically. That’s probably not what aspiring novelists want to hear but that’s my story.

Keeping it fresh is no issue; if I’m not passionate about a story, I avoid it. I don’t chase headlines–it’s the story on page 45 that interest me, not the “big story.” Once it’s gone viral, I’m bored.

What authors have most influenced you as a writer?

Faye Kellerman, A. Dumas, R.L. Stevenson, James T. Farrell, Kenneth Millar (Ross MacDonald), Dickens, Joseph Wambaugh, Stephen King–and so many more.

What are you reading now?

Just finished THE QUARTET by Joseph Ellis, an account of how Washington, Madison, Hamilton and John Jay created our Federalist form of government. Washington, in particular, stands out because he was a non-politician. He really didn’t want to be President (perhaps that’s the pool from which we should draw candidates) and he fought off attempts to crown him a monarch (that was Hamilton’s thing. Ol’ Andy also wanted senators to be appointed for life. Can you imagine?). The 900 lb. canary in the room was, of course, slavery. Our founding fathers were brilliant visionaries who truly wanted to create a free society. Unless you were a slave. At the time, they knew they were condoning a hideous moral abomination. But they managed to compartmentalize. I’ve always found that human tendency fascinating. And terrifying.

What does your writing routine look like? Do you have a favorite spot (or locale) from which you like write? Does this differ when you are collaborating on a project?

I write in home offices in L.A. and New Mexico. No phone, no distraction, as silent as I can get the environment. I spend some time with Faye in the morning, go to the gym and pretend I’m going to be fit, groom myself to the extent a codger can be groomed. Then I get dressed and commute 300 feet to the office. In other words, I go to work and stick with it until I’m exhausted.

Collaborating entails lots of story conferences and passing drafts back and forth. A necessity because Jesse and I live in other cities. But even when Faye and I collaborated and were writing yards away, in the same house, we avoided face-to-face meetings and emailed drafts. That made for a much friendlier environment.

According to [an article published by] Time Magazine, the average adult attention span is eight seconds, one second less than that of a goldfish. There is an incredible amount of pressure for new authors to capture the attention of audiences and keep it. What advice do you have for authors just breaking into thriller writing (or any area of fiction)?

That sounds like utter nonsense; my grandkids are a lot smarter than that, including the four month old. In fact, my koi fish are a lot smarter than that. Perhaps being saddled with the attention span of a decorticate gnat is a unique affliction, limited to people who work for Time. In any event, what captures a reader’s attention is an interesting story featuring characters we care about. It’s always been that way, back to troglodytes recounting tales of woe and derring-do bathed in the gentle glow of a fire as their audience noshed on mastodon sashimi and yak sliders. I don’t see the process changing. 

What’s next? Can readers look forward to another Alex Delaware novel?

Next year’s Delaware novel, HEARTBREAK HOTEL, comes out this spring. I’m working on the one after that, THE DYING ROOM. I plan to write as many novels as God, Country, my mental and physical health, and, most important, the gracious reading public, will allow.

Wendy Tyson has written five published crime novels.  The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com.  Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, was released in March 2016. She lives with her family on a micro-farm near Philadelphia.

To learn more about Wendy Tyson’s newest book, click on the cover below:

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Previously: Rob Brunet interviewed Carl Hiaasen.

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