En español | Michael Connelly’s debut novel, The Black Echo, was published in 1992 and won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel. It also marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership between the Philadelphia-born Connelly and his most famous creation, hard-boiled Los Angeles homicide detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch. Over the ensuing two decades, Connelly has published 25 books, including 16 Harry Bosch mysteries.
Five of his novels have reached the top position on The New York Times Best Seller list — one of which, The Lincoln Lawyer, has now been adapted into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. The story of L.A. defense attorney Mickey Haller, whose Lincoln Town Car doubles as his office, is the second of Connelly’s books to get the Hollywood treatment, after 2002’s Blood Work. Curiously, none of the Harry Bosch books have yet made it to the multiplexes, though it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
We recently sat down with the 54-year-old author and talked about the process of turning a book into a movie, the struggle to get Bosch to the big screen and how he (and Harry and Mickey) have changed as they’ve gotten older.
The Lincoln Lawyer opens in theaters on March 18. Connelly’s fourth Mickey Haller novel, The Fifth Witness, hits bookstores on April 5.
Q: How much involvement did you have in making this movie?
A: They sent me some scripts over the years. When it got closer to filming and Matthew McConaughey was cast, I met with him and we talked about the character of Mickey. That was pretty much it.
Q: Given your popularity, I think it would surprise most people that this is only the second of your books to be turned into a movie.
A: I’ve sold 11 of my books to Hollywood. There are all kinds of my books on shelves in Hollywood because the scripts didn’t capture the characters. Nothing is easy about [adaptation], but I think you can get a plot down to 120 pages for a film script. But can you capture a character? The characters I write about are very internal. It’s what’s going on inside their head that attracts readers to them, and you can’t really ever go inside someone’s head in a script. It’s a real iffy process. The best thing I can do is pick the best people to give it to. I haven’t done that from the beginning. It has been a learning process. The Lincoln Lawyer was the last book I’ve sold to Hollywood. Since then I’ve stopped selling them.
A: Well, first I have to admit that it was money from Hollywood that got me out of my day job as a journalist. So I’m very thankful for that because as soon as I became a full-time writer my writing really improved. I’m respectful of that, but now I don’t need any money from Hollywood, so I’m not going to just blindly sell stuff. I’m going to have to be impressed and feel confident in the people I’m handing a book to — or I’m not going to do it. Once you hand it to them, you’re out. You have no control over it.
Q: Is that part of the reason we haven’t seen any Harry Bosch movies?
A: Harry is definitely a difficult character to translate. There were several efforts, through the 1990s, and up to about eight years ago, to write scripts. I was involved in some of them — I did some rewriting — and they never, including my own work, really captured the essence of Harry Bosch. So they have languished. The good news is that the option is up, and I am getting Harry Bosch back. He will be back in my control. And so if this movie is well received, I’ll go through that process again, making sure I put him into safe hands.
Q: So we can expect to see a Harry Bosch movie at some point?
A: I hope so. I love movies. Movies have influenced me as a writer. So I’m predisposed to want to take the shot.
Q: You came up with the character of Mickey Haller at a baseball game?
A: Dodgers Opening Day, 2001. I was sitting next to a friend of a friend and just talking to him over the course of the game, being cordial. He said he was a lawyer, and I had been a journalist in LA for a number of years — including three years on the court beat — so I knew something about that world. I knew that there were literally dozens of courthouses in LA County. Turns out there are 40. I knew that lawyers would situate their offices in proximity to two or three courthouses, and that would be their region that they would work. So I asked him where his office was, and he told me it was his car. He was very quick to add that it wasn’t because he’s a failure or a bad lawyer. It’s actually the best way to do what he does.
Q: Did he call himself “The Lincoln Lawyer”?
A: No, he didn’t have a Lincoln. That was me using the old alliteration. I think he had a Toyota. “The Toyota Lawyer” didn’t sound as good.
Q: How has your writing changed as you’ve gotten older?
A: I think whatever we do, we get better at it the more we do it. I feel like I’m much more confident about myself as a writer, and that gets into the work I’m doing. I chose deliberately for Harry Bosch to age chronologically with the books. The first one came out in 1992, when he was 40, and now he’s approaching 60. With age comes a greater understanding, and a greater worldview. Hopefully, that’s what I’ve given Harry Bosch. You see some of that in Mickey as well — these are not just straight mysteries or crime stories. There’s a family component in these books. Harry didn’t have that in the beginning; now he’s raising a daughter. These are things that come out of me aging, learning more about the world and about life.
Q: Do you own an e-reader? If so, is that how you read now?
A: Well, this is my business so I own them all. I read sparingly on them. It’s more that I want to know what’s going on in my business. I’m still reading the traditional way.
Q: Is the proliferation of e-readers a good thing for the book industry?
A: It’s a positive for the publishing industry if it brings more readers in. But I’m not sure that’s happening. My real-book sales — I hate calling them real books, my physical book sales — are down, but my e-book sales are through the roof. So it comes out almost even. Now if it starts being more than that, and you end up seeing real growth in sales, then you have to attribute some of that to the e-readers. So we’ll see.
Q: You’re now active in books, movies and TV. What’s next?
A: I’m just going to write the best books I can. Right now, this is like winning the lottery, to write a book and have it made into a film that you really appreciate and love — I’m really happy. That doesn’t happen too often.