George Pelecanos : I just read a book by Kathy Unsworth and it’s published by Serpent’s Tail and I think it’s a great book and she’s really ambitious and this is her best novel.
anna : This title sounds amazing – I am hoping that if I buy it for my son he may read it and that it could have some impact on his his cannabis habit.
George Pelecanos : Hello everyone.
Holly : For all the many fans of The Wire out there – which of your novels would you particularly recommend as likely to appeal to them?
George Pelecanos : Probably Drama City was the most Wire-esque book I wrote and it was influenced by that show and you can see the direct influence on it and the character of Lorenzo Brown was a direct imprint of the character of Cutty in season 3.
Emma : Hi George
Sara : And has writing for screen influenced the way you write ficiton?
Maria : You’ve written about your admiration for John Steinbeck. How has he influenced your fiction?
Mel : If you have questions for George please start posting them.
Sara : Were there echoes of your own family background in the relationship between Thomas and Chris?
George Pelecanos : Yes I’ve been a father for 18 years and I have 2 teenage sons and a teenage daughter so I finally felt I was qualified to write this and I’m not too old to not remember how to be a teenager and who was confused all that time and not know how to spend that energy. And I very much understand why boys do what they do and there’s a science to this. The brain doesn’t mature for a young man until he gets into his 20s. Until then his actions are all taken up by impulse rather than action and boy.
Lindsay : You obviously like writing about Washington DC and building up a portrait of a city. What makes Washington particularly interesting to write about and are you tempted to travel somewhere completely different in your fiction?
George Pelecanos : Washington is the most powerful nation in the free world, arguably and we have many problems here, if you parked your street on North Capital street, just a few streets away from Capital Dome, you can be right near poverty, with that dome looming over you. And it is a predominantly black city, there’s only a few of those states in America and the racial divides make for an interesting dynamic and I find it a really fascinating place to live. I don’t ever see myself writing outside of it as it’s a symbol of our national issues.
George Pelecanos : Book rather than the father, the father has the major problem.
mhp : Yiasou, george. I just caught the programme and you… I think this is totally your best novel to date. The characters are deep and real, and their pain and their struggle to become mature men is heart full and moving.
Mel : Is the way young people are treated by the justice system of great interest to you? What is the main thing goverments should be doing to improve situations for young offenders?
George Pelecanos : The major issue is that in many areas these kids are locked up and they’re punished, they’re not nurtured at all, they don’t prepare them for life on the outside. They don’t educate them. And I think that’s the most important thing, these programmes have been put in place and here in Washington the director of the judicial justice system spent the last 4 years bringing a new model to the new justice system and there has been a 19% reduction rate in kids committing crimes when they come out of jail. I want to stress that I’m not being soft on crime or kids but when you help these kids you help their families and entire neighbourhoods and this drug war needs changing for the good of all of us.
Emma : What kind of research did you have to do before starting the novel?
George Pelecanos : I’ve been working in prisons for a while, both adult and juvenile and I continued to work in the juvenile prison so I had a lot of material to work from and when he goes to work for his father as a carpenter I went to work for my friend for a couple of weeks. I try to get as much information as possible before I write a book because you’re trying to be realistic and take the reader somewhere they haven’t been before so you owe it to the reader to make it true.
Sara : With The Way Home did you delibrately set out to write a character study rather than a convential thriller?
George Pelecanos : Yes I just felt that I was writing a book and I don’t have much of a plan when I start out. I start writing and discover who the characters are and the rest of it falls together. My books aren’t plot heavy but hopefully you stay interested in it because of the characters. I’m proudly a crime writer as the crime narrative drives the story forward.
anna : I plan to write about my travels in the future, plus publish the poetry I now write, what would you say is the best way to research for fiction and bring that and personal experience altogether?
George Pelecanos : Don’t be in a hurry, writing is a long thing. My personal philosophy was I was going to live a full life before I even tried to start writing a book. I didn’t even try writing until I was 30 years old and up until then I worked blue collar jobs, I drove a truck, sold shoes. And I was out there in the work place, soaking everything up. So I wrote with a lot of material so I’m mining that to this day. Also I read a lot of books. While I was working I read 2 or 3 books a week for 10 years.
Mel : Where did you get your inspiration from?
George Pelecanos : I don’t have a very vivid imagination so I have to find the stories. It might come from every day life so it might just be a newspaper article or an obituary, just a paragraph about somebody’s life. And that may make me want to expand on that person’s life, so it’s all about what makes me angry and jacked up to write. The story is a big investment in time so I want to feel I’ve done something that has weight to it when I’m finished.
Emma : Are you working onanything now George?
George Pelecanos : I hope to be, that lightning bolt of inspiration hasn’t hit me yet. I’m open to suggestions. i’m working on a new tv show – Treme, set in New Orleans post Katrina and it’s about musicians who either stayed there or came back to the city to rebuild their lives. You will know it’s from the people who made The Wire but it’s not a crime show.
Sara : What message did you want the readers to take away from this book?
George Pelecanos : I think that if you’re a parent, just, lighten up a bit, what your kids are going through is very natural and more often than not, your kids will come back to you. And if you’re a teenager reading the book, just remember that your parents love you. The title of the book is a very stark image, kids trying to find their parents house amongst the trees and they’re lost in the forest.
Dan : What’s your work ethic like?
George Pelecanos : When I’m writing a book I work two shifts a day. In the morning I write for 5 hours and then I do something physical in the afternoon, lift weights or go out on the bike. And then I come back in the night and do another 3 hour shift, re-working what I did earlier. I write 7 days a week when I am writing, I write a book in 5 months usually which sounds short but it’s actually very intense.
Holly : Can I just say your book is brilliantly written, have you ever had writing classes?
George Pelecanos : No, I never had any writing classes, I’m self taught and I willed myself to become a writer. When I got on The Wire, that was like going to grad school for me and I think I got better as a writer just hanging around those people.