By Jesse Kellerman
For more than three decades, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman have frequented the bestsellers lists, creating some of the most successful works of contemporary American crime fiction. Their respective series protagonists—psychologist Alex Delaware and detective Milo Sturgis; husband-and-wife investigative team Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus—are among the most indelible and beloved in the genre. Between them they’ve won countless awards, enlisted legions of devoted fans, and given numerous interviews, together and individually.
To which I say: Tell me something I don’t know.
Growing up, I was certainly aware, in a literal sense, of what my folks did for a living. I had a vague notion of their professional standing. Like most children, however, I was intensely self-involved. And as I became an adolescent and began to write for myself, I grew righteously indifferent to their opinions on writing (or anything else).
Only in recent years—when I’ve been blessed with children and a writing career of my own—have I come to appreciate them not just as authority figures but as the first and most potent molders of my authorial voice. And I wonder how much I missed out on in my egocentricity.
In some ways, though, it’s a gift, arriving at this insight now. I’m much better positioned at 38 than at 18 to ask questions that matter. My dad puts it like this: “Once you think you understand everything about a person, it gets a little boring, doesn’t it?”
I agree. So when I sat down to talk to them about the writing life (on the eve of their February new releases—my mother’s Bone Box and my father’s Heartbreak Hotel—scheduled just two weeks apart), I tried to bear in mind how many things about them remain mysterious to me. I suppose most people feel that way about their parents.
The March/April 2016 Writer’s Digest features an in-depth discussion between Jonathan, Faye and Jesse Kellerman on growing into the craft, standing out in a crowded genre, and allowing characters to keep surprising you. Here, in these outtakes we didn’t have space to print, they talk more about the writing passions that go back in their family for generations.
JESSE: Do you think it ever would have occurred to your own parents to write a novel? I know that Grandpa wrote short stories—I have some of them. But do you think they had books in them somewhere?
Faye: Our parents’ generation was very different. World War II was still fresh. They were the walking wounded. Their aspirations were different. “Hey, I’m still in one piece, let’s breed, and have a family, and that’s it.”
Jonathan: I think my dad was certainly a good writer. He published poetry. He played with it, but he was involved in so many other things. We do have relatives who were journalists, quite a few of them. We had a great-great-uncle who wrote for The Forward when it was a Yiddish paper.
Faye: My second cousin on my mom’s side—or my third cousin?—is the poet laureate of Massachusetts. But I dare say if you take any family and go back for generations and generations you might find a writer in there somewhere.
Jonathan: We had a big generation gap between us and our parents. But my mom told me: “You think you had a gap, you should see the gap I had with my parents.”
I think there’s a much smaller gap—I could be wrong—between my generation and your generation, for a variety of reasons.
I was kind of an art prodigy, and I remember telling my parents, “Maybe I’ll be an artist.” As cosmopolitan as my parents were, it was like, “Well, if you want to starve …” It was not encouraging.
JESSE: I’m often asked what it’s like to be the child of writers. What it’s like for you, being the parents of writers, with some of us having both collaborated with you and published separately?
Jonathan: Tremendous satisfaction. I want my kids to be happy and to do what they want to do, and there’s no competitive element. I’ve really enjoyed writing books with you, now that you’ve established yourself independently.
Faye: It’s also fun because now, as an adult, you understand what we did while you were growing up. You understand on an experiential level.
Jonathan: Now I look at your son, and he clearly is really good at it, too. It’s not something we planned. We just encouraged you to do what you enjoy. To me, that’s the key to a happy life. I never set out to create a dynasty—but if we do, that’s great.
To read the full fascinating discussion from this talented family of writers, don’t miss the full-length interview in the March/April 2017 Writer’s Digest.