California Book Club: Michael Connelly Transcript

Read a lightly-edited transcript of author Michael Connelly's conversation with California Book Club host John Freeman and special guest, L.A.P.D. homicide detective Mitzi Roberts.

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Blaise Zerega: Hello everyone. And welcome to Alta Journal's California Book Club. It's a thrill to be here tonight for Michael Connelly. My name is Blaise Zerega. I'm Alta's managing editor. It's great to see everyone logging on from so many different places. I'm broadcasting live here from San Francisco. And for those of you who are joining us tonight for the first time, the California Book Club is a free monthly gathering featuring books that reflect the wonderful diversity and humanity of life in the Golden State. In the weeks leading up to each club, meeting altaonline.com publishes numerous articles about that month's pick. And if you haven't had a chance to read them, please make sure you go back and do so. This time around, we published an illuminating essay by Michael Connelly about why he writes, it's called Chasing Your Heroes, as well as pieces on atypical police partnerships, female detectives and fiction, and many others.

All of these are included in the book club newsletter, which if you sign up for it, that's free. And speaking of free, five of tonight's audience members will be selected at random to receive a signed copy of The Dark Hours, just for attending. We'll notify the lucky winners tomorrow. This club would not be possible without the amazing support of our partners. They include the Los Angeles Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, Book Passage, Books Inc., Vroman's, Book Soup, bookshop.org, DIESEL, Narrative Magazine, and ZYZZYVA.

We are so grateful to all of them and we really appreciate everything that they do for this club. And you too can support the work we do. Our in-depth articles, essays, and interviews with authors would not be possible without your support. And you can show that by becoming a member of Alta Journal for just $50. You'll receive the award-winning Alta Journal quarterly right here. It's oversized, beautiful paper, beautiful stories. The book club tote bag, which hold all my books from the California Book Club inside it. We've got Michael Connelly. We've got upcoming ones, Steph Cha, Maggie Nelson, Luis Rodriguez, Rabih Alameddine. This tote bag is simply incredible. Everyone loves it. And when you join, you'll also get, in addition, to this bag, one of the upcoming books from the California Book Club. So watch tomorrow's thank you email for a link for this great deal, or you can sign up by just visiting altaonline.com/cbcoffer, or you can visit altaonline.com and become a digital member for just $3 a month.

Take advantage of the California Book Club sale and receive four issues of Alta Journal and a CBC tote bag for just $50.
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Finally, last bit of housekeeping, I promise. If you're going to the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend, please stop by our booth. It's booth hundred and eleven, 111. Very easy to remember. 111, please come by and say hello. There'll be about a dozen book club authors. They're signing books, greeting fans. So, please do stop by and say hello, we'd love to meet you. And so without further ado, allow me to turn this over to the host of the California Book Club, John Freeman.

John Freeman: Thank you, Blaise. Lovely to see everyone here from as far away as Saudi Arabia and as nearby as Sacramento, it's joy to host this club tonight. The goal of this club was to try to talk about California writing and writing that looked at the life in California in its total complexity. And I can think of very few writers in the history of California writing who have mapped life in this state and what it means to live here, what it feels like to live here, the way dreams kind of come and die, the way that bad things happen to good people and to bad people. Then Michael Connolly. It's so exciting to have him here 2022 because it's been 30 years since he's been delivering us stories from the dark reaches of his imagination and from the pages of his notebook. As many of you know, he began his life as a journalist, and his first novel Black Echo, which won the Edgar for first book.

One was first published in 1992, and now 30 years later, we're looking at the cusp of his 37th novel, a new Ballard Bosch novel is coming, I think, later this year. We'll tell a little bit about that, but we're here really to celebrate this new book, it's just out in paperback, The Dark Hours, which is his third book with Ballard and Bosch working together. As it was the first time we met her in the late show, she catches two cases pretty much in a night. She starts to work them both. And she brings in her old friend, Harry Hieronymus Bosch to crack the case, working the sidelines, working the angles, but also working some of her allyship that she's developed as a female detective within the police force.

One of the exciting things about tonight is we of the inspiration for Renée Ballard here with us, the actual Detective Mitzi Roberts, who's a 25-year LAPD veteran who began her life working gang crime in the San Fernando Valley and worked her way up to robbery-homicide. Now, she's in charge of the LAPD's Cold Case Unit. She's going to come in about 20 minutes to talk to Michael Connelly about what she does. And he's going to ask her some questions about, well, I guess probably how well he depicts what it is she does. There's not much more I can say about this except for Michael Connelly has, I think, illuminated all of our lives in this enormous body of work and it's just a real pleasure to have you here tonight, Michael Connelly.

Michael Connelly: Hey there. Thanks for having me. Thanks for the introduction.

Freeman: Hey, it's a big pleasure. Welcome. Even though we're both in here in Los Angeles or maybe you're somewhere else, but it's daytime where you are-

Connelly: I'm here.

Freeman: I'm going to sort of switch gears and talk about darkness and night because it's a big part of this book. A lot of the crimes across all of your books do take place in the night. I wonder after 30 years of writing about and describing things which happen in the night, if your relationship to light and dark to night and nighttime has changed at all and if it changes the way that you conceive what it means to kind of live in a daytime-dark time universe. Are your hours switched around or do you basically wake up like the rest of us and read the newspaper to find out what happened overnight?

Connelly: Well, for the beginning of my career as a novelist, I had a day job. I was working at the newspaper here in Los Angeles. And so I was doing my early writing about Harry Bosch through the night. I kind of had to deal with my wife that I would disappear into a writing space, which was basically a walk-in closet four nights a week. And I would just go till I had to go to sleep and then one night on a weekend or one day on a weekend. So really the start of my career was kind of birthed in darkness. And I do like to write that way but I have not sustained the writing through the night stuff.

While a perfect day of writing for me is getting up in darkness, getting up around five or six before the... I like to say before the city wakes up. And where I'm at right now, I sit here and it's dark and I see the sun come up and there's something about that's inspiring, keeps me going, the quietness of it. But it's a good question because I do kind of focus on the idea that this becomes a different place at night and it becomes a place of predators, not everywhere in the city, but a lot of the city and parts of the city. And I also worked the night beat as a police reporter for a number of years in town here. And so I used to drive home like after midnight after deadlines and just kind of felt like I knew some of the secrets of the city. It was totally false but it was an intoxicating way to feel about my job that like I knew stuff that people don't know yet. They'll find out, as you say when they pick up the newspaper in the morning.

So the clash of light and dark is important. And Ballard works the night shifts and that was a job that Mitzi Roberts, who will hear from later, worked. And when she started telling me... She's helped me with my books for many years, and I didn't realize this was part of her advancement in the police department. Her way to get into being a detective because she was a woman is to take the job no one wanted, that was working midnights. And when she told me some stories about that, I just knew right then, right in that moment, I was having breakfast with her and I knew I'm going to write about this. And that's where Renée Ballard came from.

Freeman: A question came in from the audience before this event, which I thought was really apt about the challenges that starting a new series must present to someone like yourself who's become extremely familiar with your lead character, Harry Bosch. And it was from someone named Addy. And she was asking how overtime do you start to look at the way that Renée Ballard applies her methods? In her opinion, she said her ability to kind of bend the rules and cover for herself at times felt different and more nuanced, involved more cunning, and involved more allies than Bosch. And I wonder if that's something that you picked up in your interviews with Mitzi or if that's something that you thought about from the very get-go of setting her up as a character.

Connelly: Well, I did want to make sure she felt different from Bosch, but kind of have some shared DNA, a kind of a relentless, undaunted view of the job. It's funny, I'm not, I always say this, I'm not a creative genius. I'm a reporter, really. I'm really taking stuff from the people I know, including Mitzi Roberts and so many of the things that happened to her, many of the ways that she looks at cases, I didn't make it up. I have this person who's willing to work with me and I get as much as I can from her. If I have any kind of creative facility, it's knowing what to do with what I get. Mitzi/Bower is not, is not like Bosch, but she's in the same league with Bosch in terms of how she wants to go about her cases and her jobs.

I'm probably going to put Bosch's name on my tombstone, because I've been writing about him for 30 years, but one of the overriding things in what I try to do is realism. That's why Bosch is no longer a cop, because he is born in 1950. He's too old to be carrying a badge, but he's not too old to stop what he's doing. I mean, I know that retired detectives who are volunteers in cold case squads that are 70 years old. A friend of mine who also helped me with Bosch [inaudible] solved a murder three weeks ago. He's a volunteer for San Mateo County up near San Francisco, and solved the murder three weeks ago. It's interesting that because of technology and budgets that are thin, and the willingness of people that have the same Harry Bosch genes that this is a mission. I don't care if you pay me or not, I'm going to work cases.

That's very inspiring, and I take that into what I'm doing and it's kept Harry Bosch alive. But the reason I think I introduced Ballard about, I think it was about five years ago, maybe four years ago, was that I needed someone to keep... I plan to keep writing, so I need someone to continue what I'm trying to do when Harry Bosch is going to be kind of pushed to the sideline. I don't think I'll ever stop writing about him, but at some point it'll just kind of be a mentor who, or a sounding board, for someone like Valerie.

Freeman: I'm curious about how you build your books, because this book, like the 2017 novel that in which you introduce Ballard, there's two cases working simultaneously and they're braided together with such intricate detail. The clues come just often enough that, one of the people that wrote in in advance was saying, Shirley was her name. She said, "Do you outline?" How do you plan a book out once you it's going? Because it seems like it would be a very delicate process that you have to be very careful for chapters not to go on too long and for clues not to come too early.

Connelly: Yeah. I don't outline books. I don't start writing something until I have a pretty strong idea of what's going to happen in it, where I'm going. I often know the exact ending before I start writing the first page. In the piece you wrote today in Alta or yesterday, came out yesterday, you call it the double helix pattern, which I really liked. That's kind of the way I look at it. Again, it goes back to the realism. In real life, no detective works one case, as you see often in popular entertainment, like they can drop everything and just run with the one case. That's not true. I don't think I really hit the full realism of that, but I never want to write a book where Ballard is only working on one case.

She's got to have lots of, she's spinning a lot of plates. I like to try to focus on one or two of them, or two or three of them and twist them around. You mentioned the length of chapters and so forth. I'm also very aware about momentum. Momentum in writing translates to momentum in reading. That's a bedrock understanding I have. I'm always taking my own pulse in a way. I'm always saying, am I moving? Do I have momentum in what I'm doing? Because if I notice that I've lost momentum, so the reader's going to lose that, too. So I'll back up and rewrite and try to make something more lean and mean and moving. I think that's one of the things that I pay lots of attention to.

Then just the other aspect of this I'll say is that no matter what you do in life, the more you do it, you get better at it. I kind of know, I kind of have confidence and I kind of know that when I start in the book, that these things will come to me. You mentioned the way clues are spaced out, that kind of stuff just comes to me. It comes easier now than it did 20 years ago. I just, when I get into a book, I don't need to outline anything. I just take what I've been thinking about, take the stories I've learned or heard from Mitzi and other detectives that help me, and I just start going. Also, I've written all my books on the computer, which allows for easy rewrite. That's the key thing. Rewriting is your friend.

Freeman: Who have you read that writes interviews well? You began as a journalist, so you obviously were asking questions from the very beginning of your writing life. A lot of your novels take place during interviews, during question and answer sessions between witnesses or various coroners, or cops, or beat cops. The interviews in this book are particularly good because the book is set, obviously during the pandemic, after the Black Lives Matter protests. There's been some trust loss between civilians and the police department. You have a female detective, and so she's often having to coax and conjole and flatter assets out of her interview subjects if they're men who are of a certain age and don't respect her because of her gender. So much of the texture of the book comes out in the interviews. I'm curious if as a writer you had any writers you look to, fiction or otherwise, that reproduce what an interview is well on the page.

Connelly: Yeah, there's a few, but James Lee Burke comes to mind. He does that very well as a contemporary writer, someone that's still writing. I think that really comes from me spending time with the kind of people I write about. That would be detectives and lawyers. I've been in lots of courtrooms and you can see how lawyers work to get the diamond out of someone on a stand, how they might come at it from angles, and so forth. I hate to call it research because A, the people I talk to are my friends first, I think, and then research subjects after. But my research amounts to having breakfast and letting people tell stories. I just think I have, I mean, as a reporter, you deter, you get an ear for dialogue, because... I was a reporter before the internet was a big thing, and so newspapers didn't have the luxury of putting stuff on a website that could go on and on and on.

I wrote cop stories. I wrote crime stories and they're always the first thing to get cut down. You kind of learn to not waste dialogue. Dialogue should advance the information you're giving the reader. I think I carry that over into my books. I love pages that are just dialogue, and that's where the rewriting comes in. Sometimes they're written complete dialogue, and then I'll come in there and put in stuff, because I know I have to break it up a little bit, like Bosch nodded, or Bosch took a sip of bourbon or whatever. That kind of stuff comes in later, because that's not really the important stuff on transmitting to the reader.

Freeman: There's a bit that you might read from the book, and I wonder if now it might be a good time to break and have you read a tiny section from The Dark Hours?

Connelly: Yeah, I'll do... I'm just going to read the first couple pages. It kind of sets the stage. Then if we do another reading, I have another thing. So yeah, this is from The Dark Hours.

It was supposed to rain for real, and that would've put a damper on the annual reign of lead, but the forecast was wrong. The sky was blue, black, and clear. And Renee Ballard braced for the onslaught, positioning herself on the north side of the division, under the shelter of the [inaudible] overpass. She would've preferred being alone, but was riding with a partner, a reluctant partner at that. Detective Lisa Moore of the Hollywood division, sexual assault unit was a day shift veteran who just wanted to be home with her boyfriend, but it was always all hands on deck on New Year's Eve, tactical alert. Everyone in the department in uniform and working twelves. Ballard and Moore had been working since 6:00 PM and it had been quiet, but it was now about to strike midnight on last day of the year and the trouble would begin.

Added to that, the midnight men were out there somewhere. Ballard and her reluctant partner needed to be ready to move quickly when the call came in. " Do we have to stay here?" Moore asked, "I mean, look at these people. How can they live like this?" Ballard surveyed the makeshift shelters made of discarded tarps and construction debris that lined both sides of the underpass. She saw a couple of Sterno cook fires and people milling about their meager encampments. It was so crowded that some shanties were even pressed up against the mobile toilets the city had put on this sidewalk to preserve some semblance of dignity and sanitation in the area. North of the overpass was a residential zone of apartments running the hillside area, known as the Dell. After multiple reports of people defecating in streets and yards of the neighborhood, the city came through with portable toilets, a humanitarian effort it was called.

"You ask that like you think they all want to be living under an overpass," Ballard said, "like they have a lot of choices. Where are they going to go? The government gives them toilets. It takes their shit away, but not much else." "Whatever," Moore said. "It's such a blight, every overpass in the fucking city is so third world. People are going to start leaving the city because of this." "They already have," Ballard said.

That's the start of it, and I think you got a couple of looks at what's going on in the city. The book's set in, obviously New Year's Eve of between 2020 and 2021. You get the homeless issue, you get some pandemic, you kind of get a contemporary feel for the ills and frustrations of the city at that moment.

Freeman: Yeah. Christine in the chat just said the city is an essential character. I would say the city is one of the main characters, if not the main character of all of your books. I'm in Venice, so I'm near where Renee slept on the beach until quite recently when she got her own apartment and a dog and a defender, but it's impossible to be anywhere in LA without noticing people living on the streets. Your book is one of the only books I've read recently set in LA, which acknowledges that. As I was preparing for this conversation, it wasn't simply crime writing that your book's called to mind for me, but I was thinking of [inaudible] and the comedy humane, the sort of sprawling project to try to capture a time and a place in all of its warts and glories. I wonder if you could think, or talk a little bit about why it's difficult to write about poverty, and in the indent, because it seems like it's one thing that the culture really doesn't want to look at.

Connelly: It reflects your real life. I live in a neighborhood where they're not homeless people because of geography. You can tell. I live up in the Hills, and so homeless people don't climb the Hills, I guess. I don't really know, but when I descend into the city, it's inescapable and what's particularly difficult is that there's no clear answer to it. How do you fix this? We got like a mayoral election coming up this year, and it seems to be the number one item or ill of the city that's being debated, but no one really has an answer to it. When you see something like that, it's not like on a street with a pothole and you know they'll come and fix that. It's like, is this the way our city is for now on?

I've been lucky that because of my career, I've been able to travel around the world and I've seen places that are awful, that have these aspects. You never think you'd see it in American society, but it's here and it feels like it's here to stay. Then when you write about it, you do face a question, are people going to want to read about this? Are they going to want to read about the pandemic? Are they going to want to read about George Floyd? Stuff that they already have when they turn on the TV or when they take a drive through the city.

So it is a question. I don't spend a lot of time on that question, because from the start 30 years ago, I started doing this from being a reporter. I always said that if I'm lucky enough, that this can be my full-time advocation that I don't work for a newspaper anymore. I will continue to do what I did at a newspaper, and that's observe real life and try to capture it accurately, or as accurately as I can can in the books.

Freeman: There's a lot of complexity in Ballard's character, and that just beyond the moment that you read from, someone who doesn't have a home, comes up to the car asking for help. They shut the doors and close the windows, because he's not wearing a mask. In some ways both people are right that situation, because they want to protect themselves inside the car to keep doing their job, and yet this absurd situation has made it impossible to talk to the guy on the outside of the car. Later in the novel, Ballard makes a quick comment, a kind of joke in a situation where they're talking in front of another person who's been killed, and they're looking at a dead body. The person who's, he actually has overdosed, other homeless people are watching and Ballard notices them. She notices them see her make the joke and she instantly regrets it.

I guess what I'm bringing up is that you allow Ballard to have regret, to have qualities that she regrets. I wonder if you can talk about building durable characters within a crime series, because it seems like one of the instincts, or one of the perhaps easy way outs would be to make someone completely virtuous or completely fallen. Do you find as you write these novels that you think ah, she's becoming too holy, I have to bring her down as a notch, or Bosch is sounding too good here. I've got to really, you know...

Connelly: I don't look at it that way, but I do know that I like writing about characters that are normal. Everybody has flaws and very front of mind when you're writing these books is that most people would read my books, 99.9% of them haven't solved any murders. But they make mistakes in what they do do. They have flaws, and I think that's the connecting point. I don't think people are reading these books because they want to figure out who did it ahead of Harry Bosch or Renee, or they're trying to learn how to solve a murder. That's window dressing on what is a character study and a character connection, and that empathic zone where a reader connects with someone who does something completely out of their understanding for a job or a career, is in the flaws. It is in the dealing with other people, because that's where, from traffic to bureaucracy, to politics, that's something we are all on the same plane with. That's where you try to people within a framework of an investigation.

Freeman: I'm going to bring on Mitzi here in just a moment, but I wanted to come, because we were talking about character and complexity, Brendan McDermot wrote in about Mickey Haller and he was just fascinated by his character arc from sort of high profile defense attorney to DA candidate to father who has to kind of reconnect with his daughter. It reads kind of like a fall from grace and he was curious about that character arc. Could you talk a little bit about it? Do you think about character arc when you are introducing someone at the level that Renee is? I mean, do you have in your mind where she could possibly go in the next five books?

Connelly: I don't think too far ahead because my books are very contemporary and LA changes very quickly. So who knows what's going to be happening here in five years? So I don't think about that. Right now, I'm a month away from finishing a book that will be published in November of this year. I have a little more than an inkling. I have a good sense of what I'm going to write next and that's it. It will be a Mickey Haller story. But yeah, I mean, another thing is that I'm very lucky. I'm really fortunate that a long time ago, more than 20 years ago, I came to the realization that I'm going to be able to do this till I die. I'm not going to have to go back and find a job as a reporter or something. I'm going to be self sustained as a novelist for as long as I want to do it.

That is an amazing moment of freedom when you realize that. So that tells you, if you're a series guy like me, that you come back to characters, you can drop them into the abyss because you're going to get a chance to redeem them later. That freedom gives you kind of the runway to take off and be really realistic with people, that people do fall sometimes, but they also can rise. So there's been some in the Bosch books. I remember a book I wrote shortly after I came to this realization was a book called A Darkness More Than Night where Bosch lets something happen that he'll regret the rest of his life. So that was a fall from grace novel, but I knew there would be many more Bosch novels because I had come to this that I can do this. So not many writers get to that point, but when you do, it really changes your attitude towards your characters and what you're doing with them and what you can do with them.

Freeman: Well, I have a follow up question to this, but I think I'm going to save it for later because I really love would love to bring in Mitzi Roberts, who I mentioned earlier, was the inspiration for Renee Ballard. She's a 25 year LAPD vet, worked her way up to robbery homicide and now she's in charge of the LAPD cold case unit and, as a result of her work on that, was able to catch Sam Little. Mitzi Roberts, it's a pleasure to have you here. I think I'm going to leave it for you two now to take it away for [inaudible].

Mitzi Roberts: Oh, thank you.

Connelly: Hey, Mitzi.

Roberts: Hey, Mike, how are you?

Connelly: I'm good. Thanks for joining us.

Roberts: Thank you for having me.

Connelly: We're supposed to have a conversation where we ask each other some questions and I was just looking at the Q&A and it's funny. The first one I saw from Cameron says, "I always wondered why you had Renee have a dog in The Late Show. It seemed to me to put unneeded constraints on the character, even though I loved that dog." I don't know if you remember this, but do you know why Renee has a dog in the first book?

Roberts: Yeah, I think actually Michael had sent me as he sometimes does, or most of, at least, Ballard books, he'll call me about two or three months before the book's going to come out and, "Hey, I'm going to send you the first 7,500 pages. See if I get this right," and this was the first, this was The Late Show. I'm reading about Ballard sleeping on the beach in a tent and I started to think, "Wow, would I do that? Could I do that? Could I live on the beach and sleep on the beach?" I thought I could, but only if I had my dog to watch over me. Oftentimes when I would surf, I would have my dog there and he would wait for me and kind of guard my stuff.

Roberts: So one of the notes that I wrote to Michael was I can only see Ballard sleeping on the beach if she has a dog to watch over her stuff and to watch over her while she's sleeping, otherwise it just feels way too vulnerable for a female in general, but I think for any cop it would be disconcerting.

Connelly: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a good insight to how I do this, that you ... I said earlier, I don't know if you were on then, but I said earlier that I'm not the creative genius some people give me credit for. I'm just someone who throws out a good net, big wide net, gather stuff from people like you and then can figure out how to do it. But yeah, you read the unedited manuscript and I just remember you said something like, "Someone's going to steal all her shit while she's surfing. You need to have a dog." I thought, "That's right. This is Venice beach. I mean, you can't leave stuff alone on Venice beach." So the dog was born and then getting back to Cameron's question, I did add a constraint because I want Ballard to be, and the reader wants Ballard to be, a good pet owner.

So with homicide work, sometimes you catch a case and you just keep working hours after hours. Where's the dog getting food? Who's watching the dog? So I had to create a whole network of where the dog is at any time. It might not be on the page, but as I'm writing I have to think that. Back then it was Lola and she's got a new dog in the new book, but who's watching the dog? Has the dog been fed? All that kind of stuff. So it's not a burden, like, "Oh, crap. I wish I didn't add this dog." It's just one of the moving pieces I have to always deal with.

Roberts: Well, it's funny, Michael, because those are the burdens that a real life detective ... there's not too many female detectives I know, single, that don't have a pet as a family member, a dog. So it is a burden and the same things that Ballard would have to worry about and you had to worry about capturing on the page, I have to worry about in real life for callouts and those cases where where they're 48 hours and I can't go home and to have those systems in place for my animals, because I have two dogs and two horses and so where my animals are taken care of.

Connelly: Yeah, I guess you have a network of people you can call to say, "Will check on ..." you have a horse, right? And dogs, all that stuff. So you need someone to manage your menagerie. So I don't know if you have questions for me, I was going to ask you, you're active, full-time detective working in cold cases, but you're also a very close inspiration to a character in fiction. Does that ever come up on your job or do very few people know about the secret life of yours?

Roberts: Those closest to me do know about it, and then I think people recognize the name, but not necessarily put a face to it until they meet me. But occasionally I'll get ribbed, a matter of fact today, about doing this because it came up on Facebook. A couple of my girlfriends that are both detectives were teasing me a little bit about it, but in a fun way and what was really funny, about two weeks ago I was sitting in my office and one of my friends came over from another of the squads and she said, "Hey, we have some couple homicide detectives here from ..." God. I want to say it was Newport Beach Police Department or something, Costa Mesa Police Department, and when they came over, they said, "Hey, do you know that Detective Mitzi Roberts ... I was listening to some podcast and I want to meet her," and they're like, "Oh, yeah, she sits right over here," and they brought me over and it was slightly embarrassing, but also kind of funny when that fiction meets reality. So it does happen.

Connelly: You don't just help me, but you're also an advisor on the TV shows based on Bosch.

Roberts: Right.

Connelly: How's that feel? What do you get out of that? I think that's more involved. Sometimes you're on set. I know in the new Bosch show, his daughter is a rookie cop and you coached her up that you even taught her how to run like a cop, that kind of stuff.

Roberts: Yeah. We had her hauling out of the police squad car in full vest and I put her in my weighted workout vest and poor Maddie had to run about two miles that day. But I think when the viewers see the finished product, she's going to look like a kickass cop. So I was proud of that. But I'm blessed to know you and to have an opportunity to do this for a couple of reasons. Number one, although it's part of my profession in that I can advise on what I do, it's a way for me to get away from real cop life and to feel valuable doing something else, something different and something really fun. I always feel very appreciated on the sets. So that's really cool, but one of the best compliments obviously is at work when I'll be approached by other coppers and they're like, "Hey, I love that show. That's the only cop show I can really watch because you guys really get it right. They really get it right. It really feels like how things are done here."

That's at LAPD or just really police entities throughout the United States. So that's a huge compliment that we're adding something good. I owe a lot of that to Michael, because when Bosch first was bought by Amazon we had a few rules. I think one of them was we're going to have to film a certain amount of days outside. I want people to see what I see LA looks like. Number two, like it's got to be realistic without being boring. It's got to be realistic because that was important in Michael's books and it's important in the show. So I think we do a pretty good balance of that, which brings up a question that I have for you, Michael, in that ... and I know this happens in both the writer's room on Bosch, but in your books is how do you find that balance of police work is 98% boring and 2% exciting car pursuits and busting down doors of catching people. So how do you reach that middle ground in your books and in Bosch in keeping things exciting, but also keeping them technically correct?

Connelly: Well, I just do the 2%. No, I mean, you want the 2% obviously, but there's good stuff in the 98% that might be called boring or routine, especially when you add in the entropy in a giant bureaucracy, the politics and so forth. So I think you connect stories to your reader or your viewer, if you're talking TV, by how your characters overcome the obstacles in front of them. That's where I get the obstacles, I think. I mean, you obviously have the obstacle of there's a homicide and Ballard has to solve it or Bosch has to solve it. But I like how to create a situation that I think it's close to accurate that sometimes you got so many obstacles within your own department before you can even get out the door to go get the bad guys.

That actually, like I said earlier, most people who read my books or watch the show haven't solved murders like you have, but they do know the bureaucracy and the dealings and the frustrations of that. So that's where you you can really use that stuff to connect your readers to the story and to your characters. So I agree. One of the things I have to do is just kind of wade through the stuff that ... El ore Leonard used to say, "I just don't write the stuff people don't want to read." It's a little bit more difficult and complicated than that, but that's along the same lines.

But speaking of difficulties, one of the big things in The Dark Hours is I was trying to capture how policing has changed in the last two years between the pandemic and cases like George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests, all that. On one hand, from the standpoint of me in my writing room and looking at these stories, I'm thinking this is great. There's been now even more obstacles that are in front of Ballard or Bosch and so I can use this. But at the same time, I get reports from the network of people that are police officers that help me with my books, that kind of a malaise has been dropped over policing, not just in Los Angeles, but everywhere, kind of an attitude change. Again, I think I'm going to write about someone who's not letting that attitude change take her. So I turned it into a positive for me because it's another obstacle. But what's it really like these days to be a police officer in a world where I would say conservatively people are looking at cops with a very jaundiced eye?

Roberts: Yeah. It's tough. I think that I have it a little better because I work cold case homicides. So what's really to hate about that? When I do interact with people, they're generally happy that I'm there and finally taking an interest in these cases. So I'm unique in that, but in a whole, in law enforcement, yeah, we see it in just the numbers. We can't recruit. People don't want to be police officers anymore, which is really a scary thing when you see that crimes going up. The morale is low and I can't imagine like if they wanted me to go back and work a black and white right now, there was no way I could do it.

I mean, there's just so much pressure on those young cops, from just the second guessing and the body [inaudible] and all these great tools in police work. But there's just so much for them to remember and so many things now that can get them in trouble. There's really no leeway and then the feeling that there's no appreciation for that. So a lot of people are looking to do other things besides police work, which is really kind of sad, but within where I work, I work with a great bunch of people and you just have to try to remember why you're doing this. For me, I mean, it's a great living and I happen to be able to do things that I like to do and have a job, a career that I like, but really when you came on this job, everybody sat in front of that interview board and said, "I want to have impact on the city I live in. I want to make a difference."

So you kind of have to come back to that occasionally and say, "Okay, yeah, it's really bad, but nothing last forever and it's got to get better, and just remember, I'm do this for the victims. I work for the victims." So if I keep my focus on that and try not to let all that external stuff affect me too much. Then a couple cocktails at night helps. My animals. You can do stuff outside of work, try not to get pulled too deep into that funk that you just can't get out.

Connelly: So, I mean, maybe this is a moment I can talk about the book I'm writing now, because you've been very much helpful and helped me strategize it. You recently were put in charge of the cold case unit.

Roberts: Yeah.

Connelly: It is not the cold case unit ... It's not like your father's cold case unit. It's not like cold case units of even 10 years because of budget crisis and most law enforcement agencies, they've moved towards adapting a volunteer core of detectives and you're a full-time sworn officer detective, but you recruit. I've been working with retired cops and citizens and so forth that review these cases and hopefully bring some to conclusion, and that's what I'm doing in the book I'm writing. It's called Desert Star, and by the way, the title comes from a flower out in the Mojave that is resilient, and undaunted, and relentless, and staying alive in 120 degree heat. So it's a metaphor for Renee Ballard/Mitzi Roberts.

Roberts: Oh, wow. Thank you. Wow.

Connelly: What are the challenges in that, where you're not taking seasoned homicide detectives into your squad?

Roberts: Yeah, I'm lucky. I mean, there's a learning curve, so it took a while to really get going and it's hard to not make comparisons because when I came up in the cold case unit, we had at the height of the unit, 28 full-time sworn detectives working that unit. We went to zero where we no longer had a cold case unit, and now luckily my new captain thought these cases were important and gave me the full-time position back in cold case. We have about 12 reserve police officers, so they have police officer powers, they just volunteer their time to be police officers. Most of these people have full-time jobs on the side, but still volunteer their time to come in and work these cases, and the challenges were really training street cops basically to be detectives.

Some of them had a little bit of investigative background, but not a lot, and certainly not working homicide and especially at robbery-homicide division, which is reserved for the best to the best. So, before we even got them up and running on cases, we just deep dived into training for these guys and trying to get them up to speed with at least some background knowledge on the new technology, and investigative genetic genealogy, and DNA, and [inaudible] operations. All these new tools that we have in 2022 that are investigative tools that are helping us to solve these unsolvable crimes. Just to get them up to speed and luckily have, I mean, successful businessmen running multimillion dollar companies for the most part. So, you're not a dummy. Luckily I have really smart people doing that, and dedicated, and they like it, and we have a real bond, and they work super hard.

So even though they only come in maybe once, twice a week, they get it. They get a lot done because when they're there, they give me 100%, and we've solved. We've been up and running about a year and a half full-time, and we've solved four murders, which is pretty good on a quarter time team, 25% time there. We got a lot of other things going right now, so I'm pretty excited about it and I'm thinking we're going to do good things.

Connelly: That's great. I see John popped up here, so I want to thank you for joining us here today.

Freeman: Oh, please stay with us, Mitzi. I think we're just running low on time and I want to bring us to a sad, unfortunate ending here, but there is some questions from the audience about whether Ballard will ever be brought in to the Bosch series or brought into her own series. I know Mitzi Roberts, you've been an advisor on the Bosch series. You've appeared in cameo rolls twice, and there's been some speculation in the sidelines here about how Amy Aquino has studied some of your mannerisms maybe to create Billets in the show. Michael, is there anything you could say about whether Ballard will emerge onto the screen now or later?

Connelly: Well, I'll start by saying I certainly hope so, and it's not that much of a fantasy. We have the new Bosch show, which is switching to an app called [inaudible], and if that is successful there, I think we'll be trying to spin off other shows and that's my last Hollywood dream, is to see Harry Bosch and Ballard in a TV show together.

Freeman: I have a question for both of you since we have four minutes left, and it's the biggest question yet, which is after all your years, Michael, of writing books and Detective Roberts, all of your years of trying to solve cases, I wonder if your work has changed your feeling about whether evil exists or doesn't, and how that feeling has changed your work.

Connelly: There's the big question. So I'm going to let Mitzi answer first.

Roberts: Well, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Evil exists. I've looked it straight in the eyes. Sam Little would be one of the most evil men I've ever come across and he is evil incarnate. So, yes. I mean, I think I was aware of that when I came on this job and somebody told me early on in my career, people will tell you this job's going to change you. They said, "The job won't change you, but it'll definitely change the way you see things." That is 100% correct. So yeah, the job has changed the way I see things for sure.

Connelly: Yeah. I think I'm one step removed from that because I hear the stories. Even as a reporter, with rare exception I wasn't at crime scenes and the kind of things that people like Mitzi Roberts deal with every day on the job. I think you do get up close to evil, but maybe your question is more about, where does it come from? Is it nurtured? Like Sam Little, the Sam Little that Mitzi just mentioned, is a serial killer who confessed in 93 murders of women. Man, Mitzi was the one who caught him. He's dead now, but he had a really horrific upbringing and so you then step back and say, "Is that where this came from or is evil incarnate in his genetic makeup from the minute he was born?" I don't have an answer for that. My answer is the same as Mitzi's that yes, there is evil out there. There's definitely evil people out there.

Freeman: One more question that comes up through the chat relating to some degree to evil, but also looking at the future of these novels and the show is the cast of Bosch did such a great job across all the different roles. Titus Welliver was a brilliant Bosch, Maddie's character, Mimi Rogers, there was so many great performances across it. What do you think brought that out of them? Obviously there's lots and lots of TV shows about police procedurals, but was there some aspect of the show that drew those performances forth? Is it something that you think about when you start writing novels, as in, "How can I get the best out of the characters I'm assembling on the page?"

Connelly: Well in Bosch, I think it starts with the people you surround yourself with. It all started with me having breakfast with a Swedish producer who loved my books to the point that he named his son Harry. I really took a flyer with him because he had moved to LA from Sweden to make TV, and made TV in Sweden. Now he's going to a bigger stage and something about him I trusted. Then from there, we added people. The show runner, Eric Overmyer, I had met him a couple times before and I knew he read my books, and because there's two ways of going in Hollywood, one is you stick to the original material or you think you could do it better and you change it. I was looking for people who wanted to stick to it.

The other thing is that producer, the Swedish guy, Henrik, Henrik Bastin, he probably made a mistake but he signed a contract with me where he guaranteed that every shot of any show that I made would be shot in LA. We wouldn't be going to Canada or someplace where we could get a tax credit because as someone has said, and you said earlier, the main character of my stuff is Los Angeles. I just wasn't going to be involved or give this person that, who at that time, this character I'd spent more than 20 years with, who wasn't going to give it to anybody if I couldn't get those kind of guarantees. When you're shooting in LA, you get a much bigger group of actors that you can pick from because actors that live here want to work here.

So we really got some high level people and it helped that Eric Overmyer had worked on a show called the Wire, and we took a lot of the talented actors that had been on the Wire, because he knew them and he could bring them in and convince them that we were going to make something good. So a lot of it was luck, a lot of it was the people that I surrounded myself with early on in this process. Then I have to say, very few shows would have someone like Mitzi Roberts and her partner at the time, Tim Marcia, coming to set, coming to the writing room, saying like, "No, we don't do that. That's TV." So we had these two veteran homicide detectives running roughshod on writers who may have worked for shows that weren't really realistic, but they turned into realistic writers on our show.

Roberts: If I could just add what is so funny that, well, this question is great, but earlier John, you had mentioned that something about Amy Aquino's mannerisms, but I was at a meeting once. It was a police commission meeting and there was a bunch of cops there and I was standing up against the wall, and some Lieutenant looked at me. He goes, "Hey, you remind me of that character on Bosch of that lieutenant." I was like, " You've got to be kidding me. I reminded him of Amy Aquino." So I thought that was funny. I thought, "Well, I'll take that as a compliment that I'm doing a good job."

Connelly: Yeah, definitely.

Freeman: Fully through the looking glass and out the other side. My last question, since we're talking about California and writing, I want to come back to you, Detective Rogers, and then finish with Michael. There's been a lot of fans of the Poet in the chat here. I won't restrict your answer, Mitzi, to Michael Connelly books, but are you a fan of crime fiction or of fiction in general? I wonder if you have a favorite California book, excluding perhaps Michael Connelly's 37, plus the story collections, is there a book that you grew up reading that you thought, "Man, that gets it?"

Roberts: Shocking. I grew up reading true crime and there I am about serial killers, like Helter Skelter and stuff. Everybody was doing book reports on the Grapes of Wrath and I was coming in with Helter Skelter, but I do like fiction crime stories. I like John Sandford. I like them all. Honestly I kind of like, because I work so much in California, LA, I like to get away from there. So I like stories that take place in Boston, and I can imagine I'm there in New York. So when it comes to California, I don't think anybody does it, or LA specifically, better than Michael. So I have to stick with Michael on the California connection.

Freeman: Mike, thank you. Michael, you've got a shout out to Alafair Burke and Steph Cha on this novel. There's a younger generation of crime writers coming up. Is there anyone that you want to shine a light on before we depart this wonderful chat, that you're reading now or someone that you just really love reading in general?

Connelly: Yeah, and I don't know, I have this problem where things blow out of my head. What's the name of Susan Straight's new book?

Freeman: Oh god.

Connelly: Begins with an M.

Roberts: Mecca.

Connelly: Mecca, yeah. Okay. That is a beautiful book, and I write about LA. This is the far stretches of suburbia into the desert, and it's just a real beautiful book. That, I don't know, I think I read that about three months ago and it sticks with me, and I highly recommend that book. I wouldn't call it a crime novel, it's very literary, but it's got crime in it and there's a highway patrolman, and things like that in it. So there's a little bit of our circles connecting on that, and we're going to talk about that at the LA Times Book Festival.

Freeman: Well, I welcome all of you to come to the Times Book Festival and get in. Michael Connelly will be signing books tomorrow, which I think you can probably find out about when Blaise comes back. Mitzi Roberts, Michael Connelly, this was enormously fun and it's been so great talking to you, hearing about the work that you do, Detective Roberts and Michael, the work you do. We're really looking forward to the next book. Please, everyone in the chat room is just saying, "Please keep writing them." From Cochabamba to Sacramento, we've had some great listeners tonight. Thank you very much, and I guess Blaise, come and walk us out and tell people where they need to go this weekend if they want to get a book signed by Michael Connelly.

Zerega: Right, wow. That was great. Big, big, thank you, Michael and Mitzi and John, that was just an extraordinary hour, and for those who want to come to the LA Times Book Festival taking place Saturday and Sunday, Michael will be there at Alta booth 111. Remember one 111, very easy. Come say hello and Michael would be happy to sign books. Tonight's program was recorded and it will be up on CaliforniaBookClub.com tomorrow. Be sure to join us next month for Maggie Nelson and the Argonauts, and don't forget the tote bag offer. This beautiful tote bag offer right here. It's at altaonline.com/cbcoffer, or again, there's also that $3 digital membership. Visit altaonline.com, and finally, we'd be grateful if you would participate in a one minute survey that will pop up on your screens as soon as we end the event. Thank you all so much for tuning in tonight. Stay safe and remember, everybody counts or nobody counts. See you next month.•

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