Interview with Robert Crais - RACING THE LIGHT

Interview with Robert Crais - RACING THE LIGHT

In this interview, Robert and I discuss Racing the Light, how Elvis and Joe have evolved over time, incorporating current events into his novels, creating new storylines over a 19-book series, whether he is a plotter or a pantser, and much more.

In this interview, Robert and I discuss Racing the Light, how Elvis and Joe have evolved over time, incorporating current events into his novels, creating new storylines over a 19-book series, whether he is a plotter or a pantser, and much more.

Robert’s recommended read is What Happened to the Bennetts by Lisa Scottoline.

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Racing the Light can be purchased at my Bookshop storefront.       

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[00:12] Cindy: You are listening to the Thoughts From a Page podcast, which is a member of the Evergreen Podcasts Network. My name is Cindy Burnett, and I love to talk about books with anyone and everyone. While listening to my podcast, you will hear author interviews behind-the-scenes conversations about various aspects of the publishing world, themed discussions with other book lovers, and more. For more book recommendations and a complete list of all of my interviews, check out my website, Thoughts from and follow me on Facebook and Instagram at Thoughts from a Page in 2022. I would love for you to join my Patreon group. I offer at least two bonus episodes a month and a monthly advanced read and pre-publication author chat. For those on Facebook, I host a special patreon Facebook group where we all chat books. Thanks so much to those who already participate, and I hope you will consider joining us. Today I am speaking with Robert Crais about racing the light. Robert is the author of 21 previous novels. Before writing his first novel, Crais spent several years writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice and LA Law. He was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and has received multiple awards for his work. A native of Louisiana, he lives in Los Angeles. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Welcome, Robert. How are you today, sleepy?

[01:34] Robert: Cindy it's early for me, but I'm great. It's terrific to be launching a new book.

[01:39] Cindy: I'm impressed that you got up as early as you did to do all of these interviews. So I'm glad you're here.

[01:44] Robert: I am nothing if not rugged.

[01:47] Cindy: Well, I always ask authors to start out with a quick synopsis of their book. So can you talk a little bit about racing the light? For those that won't have read it.

[01:54] Robert: Raising the Light is the 19th Elvis Cole novel in which a woman hires Elvis Cole to find her son, who she believes has been kidnapped. So Elvis Cole gets involved in this case, but what he soon learns is that the son hasn't been kidnapped, but is on the run and is being pursued by some very dangerous people. And the reason that the son is being pursued may in fact, have to do with what the mother used to do in a formal life, but we're not quite sure.

[02:29] Cindy: Well, did you ever envision when you started this series several decades ago with The Monkeys Raincoat that you would still be writing about Elvis and Joe?

[02:37] Robert: Cindy, you're making me feel old.

[02:40] Cindy: No, no, that question is not meant old. It's more meant impressive that you've been able to write it over this period of time. You're quite young.

[02:48] Robert: Oh, bless you. When I wrote the very first Elvis Cole novel, which was The Monkeys Raincoat, which was, let's see, published in 1987 oh, so almost.

[02:58] Cindy: Yeah. It has been a while.

[02:59] Robert: A long time. No, ma'am. I never anticipated that the books first of all, I never anticipated that there would be more than one book, but I certainly didn't anticipate that the series would become as popular and successful as it has. That simply never seem real to me.

[03:24] Cindy: Well, it's so interesting to think about creating a character like that for a book or hoping maybe there'll be a couple of them, and then 19 books later, you're still writing about him. And I will say I have been reading them almost since they first came out. So talk about no old as well. So I have read every single one of them, and I started, I think, in the early 90s. So pretty soon after you started writing the series?

[03:46] Robert: Yeah. You know what? One of the great things that I've learned about my career is the loyalty of my readers. Yes, I get new readers now. There'll be people who read Racing the Light who've never heard of me before, and that's fabulous great. But I over these 19 novels. Readers who discovered me early, the first book, 2nd, 3rd book, who loved the series have stayed with me. And it's like a feeling of family. I do tours like I'll Be a Murder By the Book and other bookstores around the country, and I'll recognize a lot of my readers. I've seen them for years. It really is like a homecoming in that way. And I think that's a wonderful, wonderful reality to what I do for a living.

[04:38] Cindy: Before we started recording, I was telling you that I used to work at Murder By the Book, and that was one of my favorite aspects of the job, was attending or working these author events and seeing the same people show up each time and then having authors recognize them. Like you were just saying, oh, I know you've been coming for years upon years every time I have a new book. And it's just wonderful to realize how much those books resonate with people.

[05:00] Robert: Yes, it is. I mean, what could be more rewarding than that? In a very personal way, I look at the books as collaborations with my readers. I mean, yes, I'm making up the words and I'm ordering the words on the page and telling a story, but it doesn't really come the story doesn't come to life. The book doesn't come to life until a person reads it. And everyone who's read and enjoyed one of the novels has brought their hearts to the process, their experiences to the process. Every reader I have has his or her own Elvis Cole. And the fact that people have invested in them in that way, it's just simply the largest compliment I can imagine for a writer, certainly for me.

[05:55] Cindy: And it has to be interesting when you're touring and talking to readers, the things that they point out to you or the things that stay with them.

[06:02] Robert: Well, for one thing, I'll tell you. After 19 books in this particular series, the one thing I know for sure is that my readers know more about my books than I do. I've forgotten what's in the earlier books. I go back and I reread them sometimes as research, and I think, man, did I write that. So I lose it. But yes, readers, they'll glom onto things in the books and ask me questions that I have no idea, like, oh, Mr. Crais, your novel freefall when character X does Y, and I'm lost. I have no idea what they're talking about.

[06:40] Cindy: You're like, can you give me a little more context, please?

[06:43] Robert: Yeah. Let me reread the book before you ask the question.

[06:47] Cindy: Well, how about how you deal with time? Because if you started in 1987 with Elvis and Joe and we're in 2022, I'm assuming they're not aging like we're aging at the same pace.

[06:59] Robert: No. When I started writing these books, Elvis and Joe were a few years older than me. Now, today, in 2022, they are many years younger than me. And I decided as the series grew and grew, that I simply couldn't have them age in the same way that I age. So in my head, the way I look at it is that Elvis Cole doesn't really live in Los Angeles. He lives in a parallel Los Angeles that I think of as Elvis Cole's Los Angeles. So time moves differently there. He's always going to be to me, he's always going to be somewhere in his early mid 40s, because that simply seems to be the vibe for him that I enjoy the most. Hopefully readers do, too.

[07:59] Cindy: Absolutely. Because you started out writing the series when he was that age, and you're not really wanting to write one of these now newly popular in a retirement home series, solving crimes. You're like, I want to keep him the age that he's at because that's what makes sense.

[08:13] Robert: Yeah. One of the aspects I enjoy about the books are the guys, meaning Elvis and Joe. The guy's physicality, especially Joe Pike, who's, for whatever else he is Elvis Cole's most trusted friend and support unit. Joe is Elvis Cole's personal terminator. That physicality. If I had to have Joe hobbling around and complaining about bad news, back pain, he's talking about the fusion he's got to have, it just wouldn't ring the same, would it, Cindy? I didn't want to do that. I know some writers do, and that's fabulous. But in Elvis calls Los Angeles and no, it just doesn't play.

[09:04] Cindy: No, I think that makes perfect sense. I think definitely Joe would lose a little bit of his allure if he's walking around with a cane and waving it at people instead of doing what he does.

[09:14] Robert: Exactly.

[09:15] Cindy: Well, Lucy is back, which will make longtime readers, including me, happy. Why did you decide to have her return?

[09:22] Robert: Actually, for a variety of reasons, but mostly it's because I wanted to give Elvis Cole that gift. And the gift is in having Lucy and his life so that the two of them could chart a course forward. In other words, they've been estranged for many years. They met, they fell in love, then they became estranged. That was her choice, not Elvis. Elvis would have stayed with her. But Lucy felt that for the sake of her son and other reasons, that she just didn't want Elvis Cole in her life. Yet over the course of many books, sort of like the middle era of the series, Elvis Cole did stay in her life. You know, never more than like phone calls, the occasional visit with Ben, who he dearly loves like a son. And I reached a point with this book in Elvis Cole's development where I felt, no, I think he needs to have this chemistry in his life. He needs some resolution with Lucy, and she needs some resolution with her own feelings. It's very complex because I see their lives, Elvis life, Lucy's life, Ben's life, as having, like, parallel storylines, most of which we never see in the books. But they exist and they're real in my fantasy world of Elvis Cole’s Los Angeles. And it became time for these characters to come together and see what happens. And I just from the first scene in the book where she calls him through the ending, for me, writing it, it was just a marvelous, also frightening experience because to have them back together again and to have them deal with the feelings that they're dealing with was electrifying.

[11:22] Cindy: Well, I was so happy to see her and glad she was still there as the book was progressing.

[11:27] Robert: Good. I'm glad. That, in and of itself, is a reward.

[11:31] Cindy: Well, how is your view of Elvis and of Joe changed over the years?

[11:35] Robert: Well, it has changed. Robert Crais today, now, speaking with you is not the same. I'm not the same person I was in 1985 when I wrote the manuscript for The Monkeys Raincoat. I've changed. So consequently, the guys have had to change. But in a way, that's what's made the series maintain its freshness for me, because of the constant evolution, because Elvis Cole sees things a little, perhaps more differently now than he did then. This past couple of years, I reread three or four of my earlier books. Actually, I was curious. I wanted to reread them because, as I mentioned, I forget what's in them and also for research. Same reason. And what I noticed is Elvis was I, the author, was writing Elvis in a much more jokey fashion than I do now. Some of the books, there's a steady onslaught of humor. Almost every paragraph has some jokey commentary in it. And I think a big change that began in the middle era is my recognition that some topics require more serious treatment than other topics. And because of Elvis own personal experience, he would react accordingly. And that's something that I think is ongoing with me. It's an ongoing development of the character and me as a writer.

[13:17] Cindy: I love that you talk about the books and eras, like the early era, the middle era.

[13:22] Robert: Right. Well, now there's so many of them. What's next? The chart of my it's going to be like a five action play. But I do because I see turns and changes in the books and the development of the characters. So I need to be cognizant of that so that I don't repeat myself. And also because I enjoy the shifts, I enjoy broadening the scope of the book. So that's sort of like my own personal writer adventure.

[13:57] Cindy: Is it strange to go back and read things you wrote a while ago?

[14:01] Robert: Yes. I tell you, it's surprising because I'll read things and actually quite a few of these things, I don't remember having written them. So I'll read a paragraph and I'll think, ****, I was good.

[14:15] Cindy: That's what I was just going to say. You're like, I really like this mystery.

[14:18] Robert: Yeah. But I tell you, here's the downside. I want to rewrite everything.

[14:23] Cindy: Yeah.

[14:24] Robert: Literally. I can't have a pen nearby if I'm re reading any of the books because, oh, my gosh, here's a word I would cut. I'm sort of like an obsessive reviser. I have to control that. It's also an educational experience for me to reread those things.

[14:44] Cindy: Well, I'm sure, as you mentioned earlier, just trying to keep up with it all. It's been a number of books over a period of time, and of course, it's not going to all stay fresh in your brain.

[14:52] Robert: No, this is me and my dotage, Cindy.

[14:56] Cindy: No, I did not say that. Just so we're all clear, is it hard to come up with new stories for them? Are you a plotter? Are you a panther? It sounds like you don't necessarily have it all mapped out, but do you kind of keep a running list? How does that process look for you?

[15:12] Robert: It's not difficult to come up with new ideas. I think that's one of the advantages of paying attention to my own developments, my own changes, rather not developments, my own changes. And having those changes reflected in Elvis, for example, in this very book, Racing the Light. A lot of probably the engine for this novel came about because of the craziness that we've all had to live with for the past three years. You know, the Pandemic and all that. And when the Pandemic broke wide in January of 2020, all the conflicting news reports. You watch the news about this new thing, the COVID right? And somebody be saying this, somebody be saying that, oh, where did it come? Did it come from the lab? Did it not come from the lab? Was it natural? Is this thing going to kill us all? How are we going to treat it? Masks don't mass lockdowns. And there are so many conflicting and contrary reports on all the major news outlets that, you know, you're left with a sense of who do you believe? Who do you trust? And trust became a very big issue because it becomes life and death important at some point to know what's real and what isn't real here in Los Angeles. In the past two and a half years, we've had three city councilmen indicted on corruption charges, two for accepting bribes from foreign entities for huge mega million dollar real estate development deals. And so you have city councilman, these are people running the city, lying to everybody while they're being paid off to front these jobs for criminals. And all this permeation in our lives of who's believable? Who's lying to us? What is the truth behind what they're telling us? All of that is what gave rise to the creation of Josh Schumacher, the young podcaster in the book whose mother hires Elvis to find because she believes he's kidnapped Josh himself. I fell in love with he's, this fringy podcaster that everyone dismisses because he has a penchant for conspiracy theories and fringe ideas like Area 51 and UFOs and things. But he discovers finally a very real crime happening, a very terrible crime happening in the city, and Josh becomes a warrior for truth and justice. And that's what Elvis Cole has to uncover and doesn't cover in the novel. What is Josh really doing? But he also uncovers that Josh is also being pursued by some very dangerous people. When I created Josh, it's a direct reflection coming out of the pandemic and the corruption here in Los Angeles and other things. And it seemed like a natural, perfect pairing with Elvis Cole, because that's what Elvis Cole has always done with the guest characters in my books. He not only saves them, but he helps them become the people they need to be. And that, I think, is his role. And I believe it made for a really exciting book for me to write and hopefully for people to read.

[18:49] Cindy: It definitely was very exciting. I actually read it months ago, like when it first showed up on Net Galley, probably a solid six months ago. And I just thought it was so good. So today I was going back through it again, and I'm like, this is such a great story and very timely, as you're talking about.

[19:02] Robert: Thank you. I appreciate that. It's a story that I was compelled to write because of what's happening in the world and because of my feelings about it. Hopefully other people share your enthusiasm.

[19:14] Cindy: I'm sure they will. You have quite a fan base. So I always enjoy talking about covers. And I was noticing on your website how different the UK and the US cover are. Do you have a preference?

[19:25] Robert: No, I have no preference. I think they're both beautiful. They're beautiful in different ways. I'm in a lot of countries and every region, the publisher has their own completely different cover. You know, something tailored to whatever the tastes of the locals are. My British publishers, Simon Schuster, UK I just think they've taken a very gritty, hot colored approach to the novel, which is lovely. By hot colored I mean yellows and oranges and whites. I love that look, almost. The flip side is the US take Putnam Stake on the COVID which is very cold colors, blues and purples. But they're both spectacular, I think really well executed.

[20:20] Cindy: I always think it's fascinating to see how a cover designer has interpreted a book and made a cover that will go with that book, and it really seems to vary country to country. And before we wrap up, I would love to hear, Robert, what you have read lately that you really liked.

[20:34] Robert: Lisa Scottolini’s new book, What Happened to the Bennetts? I really enjoyed that. I love Lisa's work. This particular novel, I think, is the next level. Nobody blends moving characterization with whip smart plot twists better than Lisa. I really enjoyed the book.

[20:55] Cindy: I've heard great things about that one. I've only ever read her book Eternal, but I've heard wonderful things about some of her mysteries and I need to go back and pick them up.

[21:04] Robert: I recommend it.

[21:05] Cindy: Good. Well, Robert, thank you so much for joining me today and the Thoughts From a Page podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you, Cindy.

[21:12] Robert: I had a really good time. Thank you so much. This was fun.

[21:16] Cindy: Thank you so much for listening to my podcast. If you liked this episode, and I hope you did, please follow me on Instagram at @thoughtsfromapage, consider joining my Patreon group to access bonus content and support the podcast, tell all of your friends about the show and rate it or subscribe to it wherever you listen to your podcasts. I would really appreciate it. The book discussed in this episode can be purchased at my Bookshop storefront and the link is in the show notes. I hope you'll tune in next time you.

Robert CraisProfile Photo

Robert Crais


Robert Crais is the author of twenty-one previous novels, sixteen 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, and L.A. Law. He was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and has received multiple awards for his work. His novels have been translated into forty-two languages and are bestsellers around the world. A native of Louisiana, he lives in Los Angeles.