“I’ve created a world, and these characters all exist in that world. There’s a lot to explore, and I enjoy bringing older characters back as part of a new novel as rich guest characters.”
Talking with George Pelecanos
George Pelecanos knows the seamy streets of Washington, D.C., far from the government and legal offices of K Street, and he feels the rest of the world should know them as well.
That’s why all 19 of his novels, including his latest, THE DOUBLE, take place in the nation’s capital.
“I’m not a guy with a tremendous amount of imagination,” he says modestly, though his body of work certainly belies that notion. “I have to see it, feel it, breathe the same air, really know it before I write about it. I know this city, and I saw that there was a hole in Washington literature. No one was writing about working-class people. The city had a huge crime problem, but no one was writing about that side of Washington.”
So, back in 1992, Pelecanos wrote his first novel featuring Nick Stefanos, a tough private investigator with a flair for the dramatic. Stefanos would be featured as the lead character in a series of novels and would become a background character in others, as Pelecanos created a new universe.
“I feel like I’ve created a world, and these characters all exist in that world,” he says. “There’s a lot to explore, and I enjoy being able to bring older characters back as part of a new novel as rich guest characters.”
Pelecanos also writes a lot about war veterans, a subject he knows well.
“I see them every day,” he says. “They’re all over the city. Many veterans, fresh from the War in Iraq, take jobs as investigators for defense attorneys. I wondered why they do it and learned they want to replicate their life in the military. They like to wake up every day and go on a mission. They have no fear going into the city; the danger is nothing to them. This is how they cope.”
His latest hero, Spero Lucas, fits the bill, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan whose character is further examined in THE DOUBLE.
“We go deeper into his psyche,” Pelecanos says. “The first novel hinted at what he went through in Iraq; in this book we see more of that. This is more of a violent book. Spero returns home to Washington feeling like he’s lost his youth. So he wants to experience everything he can; that means being with a lot of women. He falls in love with one woman he shouldn’t, a married woman.”
The Double is performed by Dion Graham, “the best audio talent I’ve worked with.” Graham helps make Pelecanos’s audiobooks an important part of his literary world.
“Dion is an actor I worked with on “The Wire,” Pelecanos says. “Before he goes into the studio, he calls me and asks me questions about the backstory, theme, pronunciation, and plot after he takes extensive notes. Not only is he a good actor, but he’s prepared. If I had my way, he’d be the talent on all my audiobooks.”
When he’s not turning out novels, Pelecanos is writing or producing television shows like “The Wire” and “Treme” for HBO, both with the prolific David Simon.
“David read my work and saw that I was doing the same kind of writing about Washington that he was about Baltimore. He invited me over, and I began to work on “The Wire” with him. Now I spend half the year writing novels and the other half working for television. It’s very different. I write novels locked away in my house, but when I work for television, either writing or producing, I’m surrounded by 100 people.”
He just finished the final season of the post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans series, “Treme,” and is working with Simon on pitching a new series to HBO about Times Square in 1970.
What would Pelecanos like to write someday? “A Western,” he says. “Many of my novels are essentially modern-day urban Westerns. I would love to write a Western television series someday.”--Michael Sangiacomo