Novelist Michael Connelly: Journalism gave me a great work ethic and a front row seat to the world of crime.

From a post about writing thrillers by Michael Connelly on

On dollar movie night at the Student Union [at the University of Florida], he watched Robert Altman’s film, The Long Goodbye, based on Chandler’s novel and instantly became a fan. He read all of Chandler’s books in just a few weeks and it changed his life. “With his books I saw the next degree of artistry and that really affected me. That’s where I got the desire to not just read these types of books; I wanted to write them.”. . .

He and his dad talked about the family construction business and the long odds of Michael making a living as a novelist.

“You might want to supplement that if you can’t make a living at it,” his dad advised. So, Connelly says, “we hit upon the idea that to get into the world of crime I needed to be a lawyer, a cop or a reporter.” The reporter’s role, obviously, seemed ideal. It would immerse him in the midst of his chosen pursuit while allowing him to hone his craft. Or so he hoped.

“What I didn’t realize,” he says, is that journalism, “would give you a great work ethic.” So he changed his plans, majored in journalism and minored in creative writing. “I wasn’t writing a lot of fiction at all, even though that was my goal.” But he was writing. Always writing.

After graduation in 1980 he moved to Daytona Beach and started as a police reporter at the small newspaper, Daytona Beach News Journal. . . Nearly two years later he moved south to the larger Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, where he spent six years covering Florida’s drug wars and honing his craft. During that time, he wrote two private eye novels based on stories from his youth working at several beachfront hotels. Many of the staff he worked with were young runaways and he used their stories as their basis. Still, he knew his manuscripts weren’t good enough and he struggled to figure out what was missing. What he later came to realize was the writing axiom that made his Harry Bosch detective series a huge success. “You get into a situation where plot is king and you really should know character is king.”

He never submitted them. “It was part of the learning process,” he says. He soon became a feature writer for the newspaper’s Sunday magazine, Sunshine, which gave more latitude to his non-fiction writing. His press card, he says, “gave me an unfair advantage. It gave me entrée into writing fiction.” He had a front row seat to the underworld and how the police struggled daily to keep the lid on crime and on their own lives. . . .

He worked homicide cases with a squad of six detectives. “That was one of the luckiest breaks I ever had,” he says. And yet, he admits, “I went through about a year where I did not write any fiction. I concentrated on magazine stories and credible clips. I was really missing it.”

Then, working with two other reporters at the paper, he wrote the human story of the 1985 crash of Delta Airlines Flight 191, which originated in Fort Lauderdale and crashed in bad weather on approach to Dallas-Fort Worth International. A year later Connelly interviewed Gilbert Greene, a Florida State University college student who walked away from the tragedy with no visible scars. Like many of the Flight 191 survivors, Greene struggled with survivor’s guilt and told Connelly, “Nobody walks away.” The story affected Connelly more than any other he had ever written as a journalist.

It was reprinted around the nation, won numerous awards and made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and that immediately earned him a job offer from The Los Angeles Times.

By then, he had married his girlfriend, Linda McCaleb, and together they moved cross country to the City of Angels, the home of his inspiration, Raymond Chandler.

“Finally when I got to LA I positioned myself the way I wanted to. So there was no reason to wait.” He began to write fiction, even as he worked long days as a police reporter. . . .

For the next three years, he toiled in the stress-laden world of detectives, cops and crime—absorbing all he could and honing his writing skills. Yet one Times editor told him his writing wasn’t good enough and he would never make it from his suburban bureau to the newspaper’s main newsroom in downtown Los Angeles. That inspired him to work even harder.

“I did a lot of shoe leather. I talked to about 100 detectives a week. In the initial year I was trying to get inside police stations, inside detective stations. When I did that, they would leave an impression. I would get to know some and observe things about others, and a lot of those were used in building a character known as Harry Bosch. . . .

So he hit the precincts by day covering criminal investigations and drove himself to write his fictional version four evenings a week sitting at his home computer. He completed his novel, Black Echo, in two years—the longest he has ever taken from start to finish on a manuscript. Today, he completes a novel in about a year.

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