Skip to main content

Interview: December 3, 2004

December 3, 2004 co-Founder Carol Fitzgerald and senior writer Joe Hartlaub interviewed Jonathan Kellerman, who has written numerous bestselling tales of suspense. His latest novel, TWISTED, features Hollywood homicide detective Petra Connor and characters from some of his previous books. In this interview Kellerman talks about his writing process and how he is able to be such a prolific author while maintaining the standards he sets for himself. He also talks about DOUBLE HOMICIDE --- his first collaborative work with wife Faye --- and what readers can expect from him in the future. TWISTED puts a new and different spin on the serial killer. What jump-started this novel for you? Did you read an account of a real-world killer with similar methodology?

Jonathan Kellerman: The story sprang from my rather warped imagination, not from a real-world case. I can never answer the question of jump-starting in a simple manner because my novels tend not to be high-concept, summable in one sentence. For me, a novel takes months, even years, to materialize. It's the product of thought-fragments, dreams and daydreams, conversations, and other bits of mental flotsam that one picks up over time. Writers are basically psychological vacuum cleaners. The good ones know what choice tidbits to pick out of the bag.

BRC: Late in the book Isaac Gomez discovers some research that turns the tide on the investigation. This story within the book is complex and explores another case in great detail. Did you write that section before you wrote the rest of TWISTED?

JK: No, I always write in chronological order, starting with chapter one --- proceeding in a rather obsessive-compulsive manner that matches my general approach to life. I do prepare by outlining in detail, because I'm not smart enough to keep multiple plotlines in my head. The outlining process takes months as well.

BRC: Eric Stahl, Petra Connor's enigmatic love interest, is one of our favorite characters. He makes a number of important but all-too-brief appearances in TWISTED. Do you have any plans to feature him more extensively in future novels?

JK: Thanks. I've become rather fond of Eric myself, so I would like to give him a bit more attention. Sometimes characters begin as relatively minor players (though I always like to imbue all characters with a sense of humanity). Petra, herself, first appeared as a side-character in the Alex Delaware novel, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. I found myself wanting to know more about her and I was challenged by the notion of writing from a female perspective. That sense of challenge was heightened by the fact that my gifted wife, Faye, has always excelled at writing from a male point of view. So the next novel after SURVIVAL was BILLY STRAIGHT, which starred Petra. Then she teamed up with Alex and Milo in A COLD HEART, in which Eric debuted. Now, three years later, I've developed another story that suits her. The story always dictates the form.

BRC: Isaac Gomez, a character who debuts in TWISTED, possesses genius-level intelligence, yet he is in many ways unsure of himself, still finding his way along. What plans do you have for Gomez in future novels?

JK: Once again, I'm very fond of him and would love to bring him back. That's what's so great about my job. I get paid to do what got me in trouble in grade school: space out and play with my imaginary friends. In terms of Isaac, when the time's right...

BRC: In novels, we often read of female officers feeling that they are treated like second-class citizens. Petra seems to carry none of that baggage with her. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

JK: Petra's from the post-feminist generation that has reaped the benefits of her predecessor's hard work. She assumes the best until proven otherwise. The truth is that the LAPD and other police departments employ many female detectives and though I'm not naive, my impression is that, for the most part, whoever does the job well earns respect. The police chief of Santa Fe is a very popular woman and I just got back from a research trip to Nashville where the lieutenant of the murders squad is a woman. In general, I've always worked hard at playing against stereotype, e.g. a hard-bitten but gay detective who'd hardly qualify for "Queer Eye" (except as a recipient), a couple where the male (Alex) deals with human emotions while the female (Robin) works with power tools. The fact that Petra is a woman but isn't preoccupied with that seems much fresher to me than mining the same old same old.

BRC: TWISTED is a great title for this book since it works with the story on so many levels. Did you conceive of the title before you started, or did you come up with it once you started writing?

JK: I conceived it before I started writing. It also describes the way my mind works.

BRC: Though TWISTED is primarily a Petra Connor novel, you tie a number of your other characters and novels into TWISTED, including Darryl Two Moons and Steve Katz from DOUBLE HOMICIDE and Billy from BILLY STRAIGHT. Since so much of a character can be shared from his or her backstory, do you plan this in advance or do you include these descriptive segments as you write? How do you keep track of backstories?

JK: That kind of thing is generally spontaneous during the writing process, rather than pre-plotted. These people are real to me, and situations keep coming up where their emergence feels natural. It's like meeting old friends. I hope readers feel the same way.

BRC: In October DOUBLE HOMICIDE, your first collaborative work with your wife, Faye, was released. How did you collaborate?

JK: Faye and I will leave a little mystery to the process, but basically one of us did an initial draft of one novella and vice versa. We then e-mailed it to the other, and the manuscript got passed back and forth electronically until both of us were satisfied. It was a true collaboration: both of us had input on both novellas and I believe the voice we created is neither Faye's, nor mine, but Faye-and-Jon.

BRC: Many readers thought that a collaborative effort between the two of you might include Alex Delaware collaborating with Peter Decker or Rina Lazarus on a case. Why did you choose not to go this route?

JK: The key to this collaboration --- which we undertook after much deliberation --- was to stretch creatively. New characters, new locales, new form (the novella).

BRC: What are your ongoing plans for the DOUBLE HOMICIDE books? Do you plan to confine those books to their current Boston and Santa Fe locations, or do you plan to introduce other locales, with other characters?

JK: The key to DOUBLE HOMICIDE is exploring the regionalism of the USA. Therefore we'll set each novella in a different city. Our goal is to make the city a third partner (along with the team of homicide detectives). Volume Two will cover Nashville and San Francisco, and we hope to do many, many more --- theoretically twenty-five, in total, to cover all fifty states of the Union.

BRC: You have been especially prolific of late, while maintaining, even exceeding, the quality of your past work. What do you do to maintain your standards while increasing your productivity?

JK: My perfectionistic personality and compulsive nature don't allow me to send a manuscript in until I'm relatively happy with it. I say relatively because I'm rewriting constantly and there are always changes one can make. But at some point one needs to put the book aside and move on. I have been prolific --- DOUBLE HOMICIDE, TWISTED and the Delaware novel, RAGE, due out this spring. It's not because I'm hacking it out. It's because I worked like a demon. This may have arisen from the fact that Faye and I married off two of our children this past summer --- twenty-eight days apart. As anyone who's done a wedding knows, the role of father of the bride/groom is to write checks and have no opinion. So I was doubly mandated to have no opinion. I escaped the process by hiding in my office and typing away. Faye's the hero. She did the wedding work and still managed to get some writing done.

BRC: We read recently that you have outlines ready for several --- actually for dozens --- of additional novels. Do these deal with characters you have created already? Or do you have some new protagonists waiting in the wings?

JK: Since I'm in the throes of advanced middle age, I've learned to write everything down. This has resulted in a surprising number of plotlines in my hard copy files. If God grants me continued good health and if the reading public persists in digging my stuff, I'd love to keep writing for a long time. Some of the books will be Delawares --- unlike some authors I don't despise my main character, I like him. And some will feature other protagonists. As I said, it all depends on the story.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when will readers see it?

JK: I'm working on a Delaware novel, titled GONE, which will come out in the spring of 2006, and DOUBLE HOMICIDE II, which will be published in the fall of 2005. Best to all, and thanks to my readers. Because of you, I get to do this job.