I was fortunate to catch Michael Harvey during his tour for The Third Rail. He was kind enough to take time from that schedule to answer a few questions. Thank you, Michael!
Lesa - Michael, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Would you start by telling us about yourself?
Michael - Sure. I am a lawyer, journalist, documentary producer and novelist, as well as co-creator, producer and executive producer of A&E’s criminal forensic series, Cold Case Files.
I wrote my first book, The Chicago Way, in the spring and summer of 2006. As a documentary producer, I have interviewed a lot of cops, a lot of killers and just about everyone in between. I’ve been inside a lot of criminal investigations and know how that world works. I draw quite a bit on those real-life experiences to inform the atmospherics of my novels and, hopefully, add to their authenticity.
Lesa - I see Michael Kelly as a creation of Chicago. Would you tell us how you see Kelly, and his city?
Michael - I always go back to the Chicago Bears, a team which, in so many ways, reflects how Chicago feels about itself. The Bears basically like to hit people in the mouth. Hit them in the mouth. and keep on hitting them in the mouth until the whistle blows. And maybe hit them once more after the whistle blows.
That’s Chicago. And that’s Kelly. Both are going to come right at you, play for keeps and sometimes make up the rules as they go along.
Lesa - Without any spoilers, would you tell us about The Third Rail?
Michael - “Everybody’s got plans...until they get hit.”
That’s a quote from Mike Tyson, and the epigraph for The Third Rail. It pretty much sums up the first half of the book.
Someone is killing people on the CTA. The murders happen over the course of a day and a half and the bad guy is taunting the police and Kelly as he continues to kill. In short, the city of Chicago is getting hit... and hit hard. And Michael Kelly is right in the middle of it.
Lesa - Your degrees are in classical languages, journalism and law. You’re an award-winning writer, producer, and a former investigative producer. What led you to write crime fiction?
Michael - I’ve always been an avid reader of crime fiction and thought a novel might be a fun thing to try. I didn’t think about getting published. I really just wanted to finish the thing. Much to my surprise, I did. Then I read it through from beginning to end and thought it held up pretty well. Not perfect. But good enough to see if anyone might want to publish it. So I packaged up the manuscript, sent it off and got lucky.
Lesa - What authors inspired you, and who do you like to read?
Michael - The big three of crime fiction -- Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald. James Cain. Robert Parker, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke. Robert Crais, Ian McEwan, Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Haruki Murakami, Dickens, Eric Ambler, John Le Carre, Daniel Silva, Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides. I have a lot more...but that’s a good start.
Lesa - I guess that's a good start. Now, with your previous background, what surprised you about writing books?
Michael - Nothing and everything.
I had no expectations going in. Just thought I would start somewhere and, hopefully, end up somewhere else. On one level, that’s pretty much what happens.
On another level, I think a major turning point was my willingness to let go and trust the process. Like a lot of writers, I would sometimes write fifty pages of fiction, hit a roadblock with plot or character (or both) and just give up. Mistake. Once I got it into my head to just keep writing... even if things made no sense...stuff started happening. Sometimes it would happen while I was actually writing. Mostly, however it would happen after I’d finished. I would be running along the lake, or walking the dog, when the subconscious would kick in. Whole pages of dialogue would come flooding in into my head. Huge chunks of plot or character would drop on me like a ton of wonderful bricks. I would run, not walk, to the nearest piece of paper and pen and scribble all this stuff down. And then I began to realize this is the process...the creative process by which I write fiction... and all that time banging my head against my laptop was not wasted. I’m just priming the pump for the old “subconscious creative process” guru thing. That’s my story anyway...and I’m sticking to it.
Lesa - Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
Michael - At the end of The Third Rail, I leave a couple of story lines hanging. I did that because that is often how life.. and especially life inside a homicide investigation... works. Frequently, there are more unanswered questions in a solved file than anywhere else. Whether they actually get answered is up to the detectives working the case.
Anyway, I pick up one such line of inquiry and blow it out in my next novel.
Lesa - Michael, my final question is one I always ask. I’m a public librarian. Do you have a story to tell about libraries or librarians?
Michael - Couple of things... My mom has been a librarian for thirty years at Boston College. She loves books and loves working there so that makes me happy.
Second, I studied Latin for almost ten years and ancient Greek for about six. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in the stacks...the lowest level of the stacks because that’s where they keep all the Plato, Homer, Aeschylus etc. The good stuff.
I really did love going down there, grabbing a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid and getting lost for the day. I guess that’s the best part of libraries for me. The smell of the books, the spines on the shelves, the continuity and permanence of it all. Homer was there when I was a kid, long before I was a kid...and long after.
Thank you so much, Michael, for giving us your time.
I hope you check back tomorrow when I recap Michael's visit to The Poisoned Pen Bookstore.
Michael Harvey's website is www.michaelharveybooks.com
The Third Rail by Michael Harvey. Alfred A. Knopf, ©2010. ISBN 9780307272508 (hardcover), 304p.