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Interview With George Pelecanos
George P. Pelecanos was born in Washington, D.C. in 1957. He worked as a line
cook, dishwasher, bartender, shoe salesman, electronics salesman, and construction
worker before publishing his first novel in 1992.
Pelecanos is the author of twelve crime/noir novels set in and around Washington,
D.C.: A Firing Offense, Nick's Trip, Shoedog, Down By the River Where the Dead Men
Go, The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever, Shame the Devil, Right as
Rain, Hell to Pay, Soul Circus, and Hard Revolution.
Hell to Pay was the recipient
of the 2003 Los Angeles Times Book Award. The Big Blowdown won the International
Crime Novel of the Year award in France, Germany, and Japan. His short fiction
has appeared in Esquire and the collections Unusual Suspects, Best American Mystery
Stories of 1997, Measure of Poison, and Best American Mystery Stories of 2002. He
is an award-winning journalist and essayist who has written for The New York Times,
The Washington Post, GQ, Uncut, Mojo, and numerous other publications. Esquire
magazine called Pelecanos "the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world."
Pelecanos served as producer on the feature films Caught (1996), Whatever (1998)
and Blackmale (1999), and was the U.S. distributor of John Woo's cult classic, The
Killer. Most recently, he has written a script based on a team in the American
Basketball Association, The Spirits of St. Louis, for HBO Films, and is a staff
writer and story editor for the acclaimed HBO dramatic series, The Wire. His novel
Right as Rain is currently in development with director Curtis Hanson (LA
Confidential, Wonder Boys) and Warner Brothers.
Pelecanos lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and three children. He
is at work on his next novel.
In this interview, the author talks about Hard Revolution and his
career as a novelist and screenwriter.
You have indicated that Hard Revolution
may be the best book you have ever written. Why do you think this is true?
I'm certainly pleased with it. Hard Revolution is
big in terms of scope and ambition but doesn't lose sight of its characters. It's the
book I've always wanted to write.
Journalists have commented that crime fiction is one of the only genres
that provides a setting in which writers can deal with social issues.
Hard Revolution is set during one of the most difficult times in the history
of Washington D.C. Why was it so important for you to write this particular novel
and what are the issues you hope will come across to readers?
I was eleven years old in 1968. Two months after the riots, I took a bus every day
down to my father's lunch counter, where I worked as a delivery boy. The D.C.
Transit passed through parts of town that had been completely destroyed. Some
of the people on the bus had lost entire neighborhoods, but clearly they had won
something too. I could see it in their posture, style of dress, and attitude. But
it registered with me on a gut rather than an intellectual level. Since then, I
have always wanted to find out "what happened." Writing a novel set during the
riots afforded me the opportunity. Know the past and maybe the present starts to
make some sense, right? I hope readers will find some interesting parallels
between our country in '68 and America today.
For the past three years you have worked your way up from writer to
story editor and now producer on the hit HBO series "The Wire." "The Wire"
seems to be more like a novel made for TV than most episodic television -- what
are your thoughts about how "The Wire" stands out from most shows on television?
We are, in fact, taking a novelistic approach to a television series. The episodes
are chapters. We can stretch out in terms of detail and character. We are very
interested in presenting a true, full-bodied world, rather than a television world.
And each season is "about" something. It's really exciting to be a part of it.
In a Newsweek interview you talked about how you have reached a point in your
career as a novelist and as a screenwriter/producer where you have "access" to people
and places you never had before. How has this affected your work?
Many doors have opened for me as my career has progressed. To put it another way,
my phone calls are returned more often these days. That means access. In the
research phases of my books, I routinely ride with police, private investigators,
humane society officers, and parole officers. For Hard Revolution, people who had participated in the riots, both police and rioters
alike, were eager to speak with me. On The Wire, we have shot on the docks, in
prison, and in the projects in the middle of the night. I recently went out with
the undercover narcotics squad to do jump-out busts. These experiences are essential
to my writing, given the subject matter and milieu I am attempting to describe. It's
part of the job. Also, undeniably, I'm having fun.
Many reviewers and interviewers have remarked on your uncanny ability to create
atmosphere with musical references in your books. How do you do it? And, if you could
choose which decade or genre you would live in musically, which would it be and
Each period novel I write affords me the opportunity to explore that era's music. It
is one of the perks of my job. With Hard Revolution,
for example, I immersed myself in Deep Soul of the Stax/Volt variety. I discovered a
bounty of beautiful, passionate music.
I would of course live in the music of the 1970s if I had to make a choice. The
rock, soul and funk movement of the '70s will never be duplicated and never be equaled.
And don't even talk to me about disco or ELP. There was so much more to that decade.
We had big fun. Why the '70s? I was a teenager, and music has meaning when the
hormones start to rage. I remember watching the older sister of a friend dancing
in her lingerie at the top of the stairs to "Whole Lotta Love." She was dancing
with abandon, and the music was turned up loud. At that moment, my life changed.
Posted with permission of the publisher.