Hard-boiled Heaven
Bob Cornwell in conversation with
George P. Pelecanos

George Pelecanos is worried. His wife and three adopted children live in downtown Washington, and this morning, six weeks after the catastrophic events of September 11, the newspaper headlines say it all: "2 More Die of Anthrax." This time the deaths are of post-office workers, from the same blue collar environment as Pelecanos himself, people whose lives and day-to-day experiences are reflected and celebrated in his novels. Always uncomfortable with interviews, he'd rather not be in the coffee shop of the Edwardian Radisson Hotel in Covent Garden talking to me: understandably he'd rather be on a plane back to his people and the family that he loves.
George Pelecanos was born to second generation Greek parents in 1957 in Washington DC, the city that has formed the background to all of his fiction. He had been a delivery boy, shoe salesman, film student and retail chain manager. Then came the call. In 1989 he chucked in that last job and wrote his first book A Firing Offense whilst supporting himself and his young family tending bar. Later he would work for the Washington-based Circle Films that distributed John Woo's US breakthrough film The Killer and produced three of the early films of Joel and Ethan Coen, one of which, Barton Fink, won the Best Film award at the 1991 Cannes film festival.
A Firing Offense (1992) introduces Nick Stefanos, ad man for Nutty Nathan's chain store and reluctant private eye. Clearly autobiographical (as Pelecanos readily admits), he is a figure that haunts all of the nine books that follow, whether centre stage, as in the early books, or, as in the later books, sometimes out on the periphery or even absent altogether. In A Firing Offense and the second book Nick's Trip (1993), as well as in his standalone, unabashed noir novel Shoedog (1994), Pelecanos was finding his feet as a writer. But there was enough clear-eyed compassion alongside the crisply written action to impress both Barry Gifford and James Sallis.
Pelecanos hit his stride with Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go (1995). Then came the stunning The Big Blowdown (1996) in which Pelecanos extended his backdrop to take in the Greek immigrant experience in Washington from 1933 through to the 50s. Then came King Suckerman (1997) followed by The Sweet Forever (1998) and Shame the Devil (1999). Together they form the Washington Quartet, one of the most memorable sequences in American crime fiction of the 90s.
Recently he has taken on the conservatism of American publishing with a new series featuring the flawed private investigator Derek Strange, Pelecanos's first lead black character. There are two books so far: Right as Rain (2001) and his new one Hell to Pay (2002), both of which show a new and overt willingness to tackle some of the more intractable problems of inner city life.
In Britain however, the progress of Pelecanos has been less straightforward. In 1996 Serpent's Tail (the publisher of his American paperbacks) tested the UK waters with Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go. Trading on the hippest set of musical references since Mark Timlin's Nick Sharman series - a feature of all the books - its cover endorsement by Charlie Gillett, author of The Sound of the City ( in GP's words the "kind of seminal" history of rock'n'roll) and the presenter of Honky Tonk, the legendary 70s Radio London music show) was the reason I first read Pelecanos. The book was well received but sadly its dark appropriation of Chandleresque nobility did not do enough for me (and for some others) to justify Gillett's description of Pelecanos as "your first turn-of-the-century crime writer" with all that that implied.
But Serpent's Tail persisted, gradually publishing the back catalogue, and in 1998, bringing out as a taster for the Quartet, King Suckerman, the second book in the sequence. At least partly inspired by the so-called blaxploitation films of the 70s, a period when Hollywood at last realised the importance of the black audience, the book may have benefited from the advance publicity given to blaxploitation queen Pam Grier, shortly to take the key role in Tarantino's long-awaited Jackie Brown. The book went on to earn Pelecanos the sobriquet of "the coolest writer in America" from GQ magazine, a description he has been trying to live down ever since. A perhaps unlikely nomination for the CWA's Gold Dagger in 1998 King Suckerman finally lost out to James Lee Burke's Sunset Limited.
The rest of the Washington Quartet would follow, though we would wait until 2000 for The Big Blowdown. In fact Pelecanos switched to Orion for Shame the Devil, the last volume of the Quartet and for Right as Rain. Serpent's Tail, however, had one more trick up its sleeve. It finally published Shoedog in October 2001.
When we meet Pelecanos is conservatively dressed in dark suit, crisp white open-necked shirt, clean-shaven, the facial hair of recent publicity photos long-gone. Despite his reluctance, there is no sign of impatience as I ask my questions, and he is ready to wander off down any avenues that I might un-wittingly present him with. A mention of Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen, for example, leads us on to Christopher Frayling's superb biography of Sergio Leone, another admired film director, and an anecdote about the time Aldrich fired Leone from Aldrich's Sodom & Gomorrah.
We kick off talking music. Charlie Gillett, it transpires, is now a personal friend. Currently Gillett presents a world music show on BBC London and Pelecanos has featured in the show's Radio Ping Pong slot where the presenter and his guest play off the other's musical selections, thus exploring some of music's lesser-known byways.
"Is this a symptom of disaffection with the current music scene?" I ask. He agrees: "Yeah. Right now I'm into a Doors jag, because I never got into the Doors when they were out." But he still gets all the magazines and "a lot of people send me music now. Then my sons listen to a lot of hip-hop and that is playing in the house." Whilst writing he listens to film soundtracks - Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schiffrin and Elmer Bernstein, for example.

* * * * * * *

Bob Cornwell:
One of the things I find most intriguing about you is the fact that when you wrote your first book you had no literary background whatsoever. None whatsoever? Were there books around the house for instance?

George Pelecanos:
Not particularly. Very early in life my mother would always take me to the library. But by the time I reached my teens I went, Wow...I didn't touch a book for ten years. It was more about driving fast cars, playing basketball, chasing girls, getting high, drinking beer, whatever. But I always loved movies and I was still watching movies and, if I had a dream, it was to make movies. Then, as has been documented before, I took a class at the University of Maryland, when I was at college, a state school.

That was the film studies course..?
Yes. I was a film major. But I took this class in hardboiled fiction and this guy turned me on to books, through Chandler and Hammett, John D.MacDonald, Ross Macdonald. He was teaching several literary forms, a ghettoised thing, but because he was so enthusiastic, I got psyched. When I got out of college I just kept on reading, reading, reading, whenever I could. Within the crime genre mainly, moving on to guys like James Crumley and Elmore Leonard.

So you had one of those inspirational teachers. They crop up quite a bit when I talk to writers. But at college rather than earlier?
I went to what we call public school and I can't remember anyone really taking an interest in me. I never even saw a school counsellor. I went to the state college because it was the cheapest thing I could do and because my parents just wanted me to go to college. With second generation immigrants, just as it is today, they wanted me to go to college. It didn't matter what I did after that. You just had to go to college. So I did it.
So, not to get too corny about it, this one teacher changed my life.

You had some sort of church background, Greek Orthodox I guess...
And I went to Greek schools after that.

What kind of influence was that?
Culturally a big influence. Because in DC there is no Greektown, Italiantown or Chinatown really, anymore. Every-body is all spread out. So the way to meet new people is at church every Sunday. And Sunday was a ritual day. Afterwards we'd go to my grandparents. Food all day, the television was on, playing movies all day, mostly Westerns. My grandfather loved Westerns, my dad loved Westerns. So the sense of community was real strong.
But the main thing I got out of that, was the Greek work ethic. That, and seeing what my dad did every day, which was get up at four every morning and work twelve hours on his feet. That's the way you learn what a man's supposed to do.
So even when I was in my teen years, when I was kind of running wild, I always had a job. I was always responsible in that way. And, all these jobs that I've had, whether it was working on the sales floor or in a kitchen or in a bar or whatever, even though they are not very glamourous jobs, they're considered blue-collar jobs in the States, I really enjoyed work, you know, I always wanted to work, I loved going to work. There was another family waiting there for me all the time, in the kitchen or where-ever I was. You know, I didn't plan to write about all this stuff, but I keep returning to it because it's very important to me and I think it's important to working class people. It's a safe harbour. As the church is. The church is very strong in the inner cities, at least in Washington.

Even now?
Yes, it's a place you can always go to. But also they have programmes for children. They adopt children through the church, they help junkies...

Like the support group in Shame the Devil, for example. There is, of course, a very strong moral base to your fiction. Did that come from the church mainly, or your parents?
Mainly my parents, I think.

What was the first book of any type to make a strong impression on you?
It has to be Chandler, The Lady in the Lake. That was the one that this teacher taught. No book had ever made any impression on me until I found Chandler. And it blew my doors off, man. It's very few times in your life after that, that you get this shock of recognition.

A movie?
The Magnificent Seven.That was television. In theatres, my dad took me to see The Dirty Dozen in 1967 and that was the big turning point. That was when I wanted to make movies.

Not my favourite Aldrich film...
Me neither. Kiss Me Deadly.

And as a result of The Dirty Dozen, you wanted to get into films...
That was the idea. But it was about as remote to me as becoming a novelist. And never having met anybody in the film industry, or a novelist, it was just something that I was dreaming.

An English crime novelist ,Stephen Booth, told me recently, that at school, his mates would give him a first line and he would invent plot lines to fill out the story. Anything like that?
No. But they did the hardest part. That first line. That's the hardest part. (Laughter) No, I never took a writing class, never took my pages into the group to be critiqued, all that stuff, couldn't handle that.

So you just sat down and wrote what became A Firing Offense..?
I wrote in longhand, in a note book. I wrote three drafts I guess. And then I sent it away. I waited a year, and then they called me back. And it was the only publisher I sent it to. I just waited. Very naive.

Which is the greater influence on the way you write? Is it books or film?
Oh no, it's books. My sense of story I think comes from films. I'm not that interested in plot, and I think it shows. I'm much more interested in character, in people. It's been that way my whole life. When I was working for my dad in the 60s (I was a food runner for him, I delivered food all over the city) I was taking buses. And I was just fascinated looking at people, trying to figure out where they were going and where they'd come from.

Listening too, I guess. Your dialogue is a major strength...
Yeah. It's having an ear for it. But when I was starting out, I didn't really have my own voice. It's most obvious with my first novel, which is clearly an attempt to write a hard-boiled detective novel. I don't really like that book that much any more. I can't read it. I'm a much better writer now that I have developed my own thing. I'd say that what I have taken is from books like 50s pulps and that kind of thing, I just wanted to keep writing about the everyday person and celebrate their lives if I can.

How did A Firing Offense come together?
That book is very autobiographical obviously. That book was in my head for ten years. That's what I was doing in that period. I was working sales floors. And I was dreaming. you know, all the time. I was probably smoking a lot of pot too, which makes you dream even more...
(Laughter)...you know, like my life would make a great book!

At what point did you start to plot?
Oh I just wrote it as I went along, as I have with all my books.

What kind of an audience did you have in mind? Did you tailor the book in any way, for that audience or to make it more commercially successful, for example?
No. not commercially. You've got to remember that it was 1989 when I wrote this book. I was 31 years old, so I was still relatively young in terms of what I was doing. I was going out and seeing a lot of punk bands, music and stuff. And one thing that struck me when I was taking this class was that a lot of these books, especially Ross Macdonald, John D.MacDonald, the protagonists of these books at one point always seemed to like, look at a kid, say like a young teenager or something, or someone in their 20s and shake his head and say "Man I just don't get it." And I felt like there just weren't any books in the genre that were written for younger people, and for the post-Vietnam punk rock generation. So that was what I was specifically trying to do. And I didn't realise then that those people didn't read a lot of books. (Laughter) Seriously, that's who I thought I was writing for and I thought I was going to be this huge sensation. Because nobody had ever really addressed that generation. And it sank like a stone. A stone at least makes ripples in a pond - this didn't even make ripples.

Do you get that kind of audience now?
Yes. I do. I get a lot of people my own age that look just like me. The one thing that I have learned from that whole thing is that books are around for long time. Which is another reason to be much more careful when you're writing them, because you can't take anything back. People are still reading that book. They're reading it now more than they were then.

When St.Martins Press [Pelecanos's original American publisher] eventually published that book, was there any editorial contribution?
Very little.

I think it's encouraging to would-be writers when they hear that someone can sit down, draw on their experience and knock out something as good as A Firing Offense.
That's why I like talking about it. You do need, for lack of a better expression, a God-given talent. But then you've got to do the work. You can't just dream about it. And then you've got to keep working, because the only way you get better is to keep writing. I always want to write a book better than the one I've just written.

A case in point is the next book, Nick's Trip, more complex, more ambitious...
Yeah.

And then you wrote Shoedog, which you refer to as your 'pulp' novel...
Yes. That was what I was consciously trying to do.

But I would say that your books, generally speaking, are in the pulp tradition of say, Harry Whittington, Charles Williams, David Goodis and so on. Is that too glib?
No, I don't think so. I don't have a problem with that at all.

So how does Shoedog differ from the rest?
I don't think it really differs that much. In terms of theme, it doesn't really differ. The only thing it does is that it updates [the tradition] in period. But it's about a guy, Constantine, who returns to DC after seventeen years. He thought he was running away but the world is just upside down, and he winds up where he started from. So there's that fatalism in there. It also incorporated two of my obsessions, American muscle cars and shoes, women's shoes. (Laughter)
I'd love to keep writing books like that, and I might do it under a different name. But publishers don't want me to do it, they're small books. But the good thing about those books is that anything can happen. You've got a protagonist, and you can do anything with this guy. In fact with anybody in the book, and you never know what's going to happen, because it's not a series. You can't even get comfortable.

Very much in the true noir tradition...

But even in the darkest books I've written, like The Sweet Forever, a very dark book, there is always hope. The point of that is that I grew up, and then I had children and my world view changed. Then came Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go... In its own way it's even darker [than Shoedog] And that was kind of a result of...I went to Brazil to adopt my second son and I was stuck down there for three months. My wife and I couldn't get out of the country, we had the baby and we couldn't leave. And it was a very trying experience. My first son was in the States and thought we had abandoned him, but the worst thing was that, for the first time in my life, I saw kids who were hungry for real. We have welfare, and there's a lot of hungry kids but it's behind closed doors. In Brazil you see kids lying down in the street, dying. For example, soldiers in Afghanistan are seeing this sort of thing, but I had never seen it before. So I came back, and I could see where the Stefanos thing was going, and I knew that I wanted to write a book about him hitting the bottom. I think I was really influenced by what I had just been through. And I ended writing this really really dark book. I really hammered it out. I wrote the book very quickly. I didn't know that it was going to be like that. I like the book quite a bit, but it's almost like a horror novel.

It's a book that reaches some pretty deep dark places. I read it and it took The Sweet Forever to bring me back!
It's a good example of what we were talking about earlier. I definitely don't write for an audience. That book, look what it did to you. (Laughter) When you think about it, who wants to read a book about a fall-down drunk? But why isn't that guy's life valid enough to write about?
But I knew when I wrote it that people were going to be turned off by it. Like Right as Rain. I figured that was going to piss off a lot of people. And it has. But, Down by the River ,I've seen horrible things written about it, on Amazon and that. Not about the writing, but that it is patently absurd that he could take a waitress home with him and have sex with her when he's that drunk. And I know what it is. It's people that have either been affected by alcohol, like abusive husbands and fathers or something or they're ex-drinkers or something like that. And it did really upset a lot of people. I never figured on that.

Something that crops up in Down by the River is vigilante justice. Is that something you approve of? It actually comes up in a lot of the books. I understand it, let's put it that way. What I don't understand is when I'm watching people in a court-room, someone's loved one has been murdered and they are sitting there solemnly, the verdict gets read and they just go home. Where's the justice in that? So I'm talking about, like, personal retribution, that's something I can very much understand. I don't condone it, though I can understand it. It's so natural. Now what's unnatural is that the State should put people to death.

Next comes the magnificent Big Blowdown. Once again you racked up the level of ambition...
Oh yeah. I was swinging for the bleachers on that one. It was almost like a desperation thing too because no-one was reading my books. My advances were like $2500 for the first book, $3000 for the next one, $3500 for the next one. And now I had kids, I'm sitting in a dark room for nine months a year when I could be playing with them, or watching football on TV, and what for, you know? So I decided, I'm going to try, I'm going to go for it. Because if I'm going to write one more book, this should be the one I write anyway, even if I stop.
And when I was done, nobody wanted the book. Except for St. Martin's again and they gave me $7500 for it. And I knew from my experience at that point that that one was not going to do any business either. Because it is all tied to the advance.
But needless to say I'm real happy with the book. I just thought that that was the best I could do.

It's a complex book. Did you plot that as you went along?
Yes I did. But I did a whole lot of research before I started. It's like juggling a whole lot of balls. It freaks you out. In the first couple of months it's horrible because you don't know where it is going, you think you're just a fraud and all that stuff. But then it starts to come together when you find your characters.

I wondered when reading it whether there was an element there of trying to tell your kids who you are and where you came from?
Yeah. I think I'm trying to leave something. But also the flip of that is that I was doing it for my parents and my grandparents. Nobody knows this, but in that book, my parents and my grandparents are all interspersed throughout the book, by name. In little asides like where Big Nick Stefanos's grill is one block up from my grandfather's grill. Or they mention "We're going over to play cards at Pete Frank's house", and that's my grandfather, Pete Frank. And they talk about my grandmother, how she dresses nice and looks sharp, and when my mother was a little girl.
And Peter Karras was my father. My father was very poor, grew up in Chinatown. He had a father who he clashed with quite a bit. And my father enlisted in the Marine Corps and fought in the Philippines.

Did your publishers realise that they had here a work of real worth?
My editor loved it, but the publisher, no, they didn't. They just put it out just like they did everything else.

When were you conscious that this would be a series of four books?
Only when I came to the end [of The Big Blowdown] and I had this baby sitting there. That's Nick Stefanos as a baby and Dmitri Karras as a youngster, and I wanted to find out what happened to Karras.

How did King Suckerman come about?
Well, the biggest contrast in my life was when I was a teenager in the 70s. I had this long hair and my father was this ex-Marine and I always thought, like man, if you had dropped a guy like my dad or Karras into the 70s after being in the war and that sort of thing and they saw what was going on, it'd be like they landed on another planet. The culture had shifted so radically in those years. So that was what I wanted to explore. I had written this stately, kind of big novel and I wanted to do a real loose, like Elmore Leonard style novel, set in the 70s.

So King Suckerman was really a reaction to The Big Blowdown...
Oh yeah. And at that point I knew I was going to bring it forward to four books.

Was King Suckerman more commercial?
Well, I got a lot more money. But I think they were disappointed, it didn't do that well. But it kind of got me this cult following.

King Suckerman introduces Vietnam veteran Marcus Clay, your first major black character. What were you trying to do with him?
He's a role model. Bubbling underneath all the politically correct stuff you hear at parties, conversations with your friends and so on, is that black guys can't keep it together, they don't take care of their kids, they can't keep a job. Of course, it's not true. [In fiction] you've either got the Superspade guy or you got the other side, the very pious family man. I just wanted to write a man, a guy who has a business. But he certainly has his faults, it's just a guy. It didn't really matter what colour he was. But I've known a lot of guys like that.

Another great book is The Sweet Forever. I think it's the book with the clearest picture of what it is like to live in the inner city and the moral choices that must be made to survive there.
My writer friends tell me that it's my best book.

It has a feel-good coda however, that I find a little jarring.
Yeah? But the end of the book is the death of Len Bias.

Ah yes, that final frisson! Tell me about Len Bias. Clearly he was a great local hero...
He played for the University of Maryland, he was going to be the next Michael Jordan. He was that good, believe me. And also he came out of a local high school, so in Washington he was this god-like figure. He got signed by the Boston Celtics, which is the iconic team in the ABA [The American Basketball Association]. And he went up there to get the jersey, and he's wearing a green suit, beautiful green suit. He's holding the jersey up, everybody's watching. That night he goes to party with his friends to celebrate. He's not a drug user. Somebody, to celebrate, which in the 80s you did, somebody put a bunch of coke out for him, a gram in fact, which is a lot to do, especially if you're not used to doin' it. And he had a heart attack right away and he died. The next morning when it came on the news, the city was like, it was like when John Lennon died.

That comes over...
But I knew it wouldn't have any kind of impact on anybody outside of Washington. But it's just the image of Karras standing out there on the street, watching Stefanos with the kid next to him on the street crying, and his jeans are falling off...It's pretty bleak.

In Shame the Devil, the final book in the Quartet, religion plays a much larger part. Why was that?
I wanted to look at the aftermath of violence. All of my books up until then had ended in a big violent act. I wanted to start a book with that, and find out what happens afterwards, spiritually. And again, my world view was changing. I had now three kids and I was kind of questioning what I was doing. In other words it was a comment on the genre.
It was based on a real high profile murder, which was horrible. For many months afterwards, the Washington Post was doing a lot of features on these kids who were killed at the back of this Starbuck's. They outed one of the girls, she was gay, and they did a huge thing about how she was dealing with coming out. And I kept thinking, you know, that's nice but she didn't have a say in this. She's dead. And how does her family feel about this? So there were a lot of things that I thought would be interesting to write about.
I sort of like that book. It's a quiet book. I was in, I guess a Waterstone's or something doing a stock signing, and they had one of those cards, 'staff recommends' card for Right as Rain, and it said "Pelecanos is back after the formulaic Shame the Devil."(Laughter)
I think it's real interesting, a pretty good book. Because you put different things in each book. I actually thought, you don't get much religion in hard-boiled novels. I thought it was kinda different.

And it closes, elegiacally, in another of your feel-good endings, back at Hains Point, the place where, in 1933, Steve Mamakos teaches Peter Karras to swim by pushing him in the water. Would you say that your books get progressively more hopeful?
There's less nihilism in the books, and more a pointing out of social problems. Asking - what are we going to do about it? Not that I'm solving anything. But, I'm saying to the reader, let's do something about it. Things can get better if we do something about it.

Another, perhaps more recent aspect of your books, is a kind of despairing romanticism. Where does that come from?
Me hitting middle age?
(Laughter)
. Plus a few Westerns perhaps...
Yeah. They came too late and stayed too long, The Wild Bunch. But it's true. They're changing my neighbourhood. Quinn talks about this in Right as Rain. That neighbourhood, by the way, is where I live, and where he walks at night, down by the rail-road track, is where I walk at night. More and more Starbucks, just like here. You know, you hate to see it. It doesn't even matter if it's going to look nice, or be more safe or whatever, they're like taking away your past.

At the end of the Quartet you have left this rather intriguing hanging plot-line. Nick Stefanos's son by Jackie Kahn. Do you think you might bring Stefanos back at some stage?
Well actually I have.

In the new one?
No, not in Hell to Pay. I've just finished a book and he's back in the mix. I think I'm going to bring him back. People like the character so much. People want to know what happened to him. And of course it's me. I'll age him as I keep writing.

But first a new series, starting with Right as Rain. Less autobiographical, I think...
Yeah. I took it from the ground up. I tried to leave anything personal about myself out of the book.

Was this much more difficult to write?
No. Because it was all new, it was difficult in the beginning. But once it caught fire, it went along pretty well.

Was it the idea of tackling the theme of racism or the character of Derek Strange that took your fancy?
No, it was the incidents. These are all based on some real things that were happening in Washington, with cops shooting cops. And I just thought this was the time to write a book about racism, because I'd always wanted to do it. But Strange was the engine. As soon as I found him, in the first chapter, the book started writing itself.

He's your first lead black character. Was that difficult?
I've never had a problem with that.

But I think you've said that you expected some adverse reactions...
As usual when you are writing about racism, I thought white people were going to be upset. Like, [Strange] is left-wing, he thinks all white people are racist. But people when they're reading these books, they never think you are talking about them. They think you are talking about Klan members or something. But I wasn't, you know.

That theme is clearly implicit, I think, in the character of Terry Quinn. I recognise myself in Quinn, someone however liberal who, put in an extreme situation, reacts instinctively. It's at least partly, a generational thing...
It can't be helped man, It's where we came from. And I've been very clear in interviews to point a finger at myself too, you know. And even with me having these children, you know my sons they call them black in America. You can't be mixed in America, you can only be one or the other. Even with that, if I'm out on the street at night, I move over the other side of the sidewalk too. I've got this fucked up problem also. So that's what I was trying to say, we all have this problem, let's recognise it and deal with it. But people didn't read it like that.

Do you think that might change as a result of September 11? A more reflective America might, as a result, be more receptive to more thoughtful fiction, like your own...
It could go the other way too, which is what I am afraid of. Not because of my books. But I'm afraid that the issues that I write about are going to be put on the back-burner for a long time. We were at a point where we had the wealth and we had the money to take care of a lot of these things. But before September 11, Bush did this trillion dollar tax refund. We had the money to put it into schools, helping to pay teachers and into job programmes for people who wanted to go to college and that sort of thing, like the WPA in the Depression. And we didn't do it.
I certainly hope you are right. But I have my doubts about that. But look at the mood of our country. I'm here watching the BBC and I'm seeing different things from what I'm seeing at home. Different images. Those images aren't even coming back to the States.

What's happening with your film projects, King Suckerman for example?
I'll give you a scoop. They just dropped it. Two days ago my agent called me. They were getting ready to buy it again, renew the option and they decided not to. Which is kind of a relief. I got paid, a lot of money, and now the book is coming back to me. I just wrote the basketball film for HBO. The guy from HBO called me this morning and the head guy really loved it. So there may be a movie. And then I was a writer on a picture for Miramax, which is coming out next year. My name's not on it, they arbitrated me off.

A few words on Hell to Pay?
It goes deeper into the inner city. Strange and Quinn are involved with an inner city football team and something happens. It's about what happens to kids. It's a direct book about that. Again you've got this cliché about black men don't help these kids, they don't have any sense of responsibility. And that's not what I see. I'm happy with the book.

George Pelecanos, thanks very much.

Bob Cornwell - Review - The Big Blowdown

Bob Cornwell - Review - Hell to Pay

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