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Robert Crais: On Uncovering Secrets in Crime Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Robert Crais discusses how he started from scratch with his new crime novel, Racing the Light.

Robert Crais is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 20 novels, 16 of them featuring private investigator Elvis Cole and his laconic ex-cop partner, Joe Pike. Before writing his first novel, Crais spent several years writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice, Quincy, Baretta, and L.A. Law.

He received an Emmy nomination for his work on Hill Street Blues, and one of his standalone novels, Hostage, was made into a movie starring Bruce Willis. His novels have been translated into 42 languages and are bestsellers around the world. A native of Louisiana, he lives in Los Angeles. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Robert Crais: On Uncovering Secrets in Crime Fiction

Robert Crais

In this post, Robert discusses how he started from scratch with his new crime novel, Racing the Light, his advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Robert Crais
Literary agent: Aaron Priest
Book title: Racing the Light
Publisher: Putnam
Release date: November 1, 2022
Genre/category: Crime Fiction
Previous titles: 22 previous titles, including Hostage, Demolition Angel, L.A. Requiem, A Dangerous Man, Stalking the Angel, and more
Elevator pitch for the book: Private investigator Elvis Cole learns that the City of Angels is also a city of secrets in this blazing new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Robert Crais.

Robert Crais: On Uncovering Secrets in Crime Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

These are crazy times. The pandemic has people reeling, we're completely divided politically, and trust is at an all-time low. And is there any wonder, especially here in LA? Three city councilmen have been indicted on corruption charges in the past two years.

People don't trust the government, the news media, elections, the CDC, or each other. The truth is out there, and people want the truth. I very much wanted to write about someone who is driven to expose the corruption—the real-time underbelly of the City of Angels is a City of Slime.

How long from idea to publication? Did the idea change during the process?

I had begun writing a completely different book—different characters, different story, everything. But I got derailed along the way and couldn't pick it up again. Maybe the pandemic had something to do with this, but my connection to the material vanished.

Then the idea for Josh Shoe and Racing the Light appeared, and I knew I had a red-hot Elvis Cole novel. It was fire. Don't get me wrong—writing an entirely new novel was difficult at first, but my commitment to the characters and story grew firmer each day, and I was slamming out 12-hour days.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

How can I answer this without spoilers? Look, I'm an outliner. I think through the characters and the story before I begin drafting scenes, and I try to know as much as I possibly can, but even with this, there are always surprises.

I will give you one example. What happens between Elvis and Lucy in the finished novel is much different from what I envisioned as I wrote the first draft. Once I put them together in a scene, and the two of them were alive and interacting on the page, I realized I had to dig even more deeply into their frustrations and longing and history.

In a way, I had to let them deal with each other more honestly. This led to a much different story. That's the thing about surprises. They can be frightening, but they can lead to something wonderful.

Robert Crais: On Uncovering Secrets in Crime Fiction

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

People are so much more than they seem. This is one of my recurring themes, and what appealed to me about Josh. To the outside world, at first glance, Josh Schumacher is nobody's idea of a hero; he's a kinda weird inept with nothing going for himself.

But this is only what a casual glance reveals. There is so much more beneath the skin, so many depths and facets and dimensions. Everyone has a story if you take the time to look.

Elvis Cole takes the time. Elvis sees what other people don't. We should all be a little more like Elvis. Judge less, see more. The world would be a better place.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Consider the subtext. Subtext is what the characters know or feel but do not necessarily voice. They often avoid it and even repress it, which can add enormously to the truth and drama of a scene. And every scene, every moment between characters has a subtext. Subtext is gold.

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