Page Turners

This Saturday, September 30, writers, poets, and book lovers from near and far will gather at the downtown public library and the S.B. Museum of Art to take part in the Santa Barbara Book and Author Festival. This one-day written word extravaganza will feature panels, award presentations, poetry readings, author booths, and much more for everyone who loves a good page turner. Here’s a look at the fun to come.

The Ross Macdonald Award: Robert Crais

By Matt Kettmann

Crais.jpgAn L.A.-based TV screenwriter who turned to crime novel writing after his father died in 1985, Robert Crais (pictured) is listed in the company of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as a top mystery author. He invented the popular Elvis Cole series with his first book, The Monkey’s Raincoat, and in the 20 years since has been both prolific and poignant, returning class and craft to a genre full of hacks. Often compared to Ross Macdonald, one of his heroes, it’s only fitting that Crais receives this award, which is given each year to “a writer whose work raises the standard of literary excellence.” He spent a few minutes last Thursday chatting with The Independent.

How’s it feel to get this award? It’s thrilling. I grew up on crime fiction, I’ve loved it since I was 15 years old, and Ross Macdonald has probably influenced almost everything I’ve read. To receive this award is, for me, a wonderful capping moment that just celebrates the type of fiction that I love.

Do you try to write like him? No. I never tried to target Mr. Macdonald’s style, but the way he wrote families and family relationships and how those affect us clearly impressed me. So it’s only natural that those resonances would carry over into what I write.

You’re originally from Louisiana. Did Katrina affect you? My mother is still there, my family and friends are there. Actually, I was in New Orleans [on vacation with a boyhood friend] when Katrina was bearing down. I was part of the Sunday exodus; we headed north to Baton Rouge. My friend’s home, where we had spent the night, ended up with three feet of water in it. Two of my cousins lost their homes, and several friends had to rebuild. So, yeah, it struck very close.

Will it inspire any stories? I think it will — it’s too personal for it not to. I’m mostly known for my detective series, but I have one ongoing character in the Elvis Cole series, his lady friend Lucy Chenier, who is from Louisiana. Because she’s a part of my series and because this thing happened to Louisiana, I don’t see how I could not write about it.

How does TV writing inform novel writing? Television is where I learned to write. Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues — they were character-oriented, they were very complex shows. The lessons I learned there about dialogue, scene construction, plotting, and pacing are things I hopefully brought to my novels.

Your new book is called The Two Minute Rule, a reference to the bank robber rule-of-thumb. Do you know any bank robbers? No. (Laughs.) What I do know is an enormous amount of police officers. I come from a family of police officers — four generations of cops, so I grew up in that environment. Now I live in Los Angeles, and during the course of the Elvis Cole novels, I’ve developed quite a few relationships among the LAPD and the local FBI, so when it comes time to research these books, I can fairly readily get access to people who know the true score.

For The Two Minute Rule, I spent time with the FBI bank squad in L.A. They’re legendary because L.A. is the bank robbery capital of the world. The agents were very helpful, very informative — they answered my questions and gave me videos to watch and, I think, I hope, they helped to make [main character] Max Holman more interesting.

Is it fun to write about a bank robber? Yeah; his world is totally unlike my world. To learn about that world and to transport myself into the reality of bank robbers and cops who track them down is a vicarious pleasure.

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