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
An 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
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
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
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.