Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Thursday, January 16, 2014
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Transformation from reporter to novelist

More than two decades ago, fresh out of college, Michael Connelly was sent to cover his first murder scene as a rookie police reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The police had found the body of a young woman in a field in Deltona in western Volusia County, murdered with few clues left behind on who did it.

It was a decision which led him from an engineering major to a journalism major at the University of Florida.

"I loved reading crime novels," Connelly, author of more than a dozen award-winning mystery thrillers, said last week. "I went home to Fort Lauderdale one weekend and told my parents I was changing my mind. I didn't want to study engineering, English literature or become a teacher. I wanted to write novels."

Not only did he go on to write best-selling novels, but his mystery thriller "Lincoln Lawyer" made it to the big screen. The novels feature main character Mickey Haller, a Los Angeles defense attorney who worked out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car (played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie).

Connelly is scheduled to be a speaker at the Key West Literary Seminar "The Dark Side, Mystery, Crime and The Literary Thriller, Final Chapter" starting today through Sunday at the San Carlos Institute on 516 Duval St. He appears at 2:50 p.m. Friday in a panel discussion on "Before a Word is Written: The Creative Process Revealed," along with Alafair Burke and Michael Koryta. Connelly makes two other appearances at 9:55 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

All three of those sessions are closed to the public; however, from 2 to 4:35 p.m. Sunday, the doors open to the public free of charge in a first-come, first-seated event.

Like Connelly, who also worked as a crime reporter for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and the Los Angeles Times, many authors in print and on e-book readers started out as journalists.

Last week during the "Chapter One" session of the 32nd Key West Literary Seminar, former Miami Herald reporters John Sandford and John Katzenbach, and Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Lippman shared their experiences about how -- for good or bad -- on-the-job reporting experiences factor into their novel writing. Reporters are a different breed, they told the audience.

"There are wonderful stories, scenes, incidents and personalities (that come from your job) which you can weave into your stories," Sandford told the packed house on Saturday. "Bits and pieces of it can be found in my books."

All of the novelists agreed that not all of the stories they covered during their careers were good. In fact, their journalism experiences have left them a bit cynical.

"It profoundly affects how your soul works and how you write a novel," Sandford said.

Still, Katzenbach said he doesn't regret a moment he spent in the newspaper world.

"You learn so much," he shared. "As a novelist, you are constantly acquiring new information for pivotal little moments in the book. There is no better education than from a newspaper career."

Connelly said he too takes many of those life experiences to the written page.

"When I was working in Fort Lauderdale, I covered a story about a big portly guy who had fallen inside an oil tanker container on a ship," he explained. "He broke his neck and he was laying in an unnatural angle. I was horrified, and I still have that image today. There are things you just don't forget."

sfrederick@keysnews.com

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