Festival of Books: Crime novelists discuss writing about cops

For Rachel Howzell Hall, the titular female character of her detective Elouise Norton novels is the epitome of a good cop.

In Hall’s series of mystery novels, down-to-earth Norton is a Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective who uncovers mysteries in Los Angeles while battling her own hardships. As a black woman living and working in a city, “she knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the badge, and she didn’t like it, but yet there she is,” said Hall said. Its approach is rather community policing.

“I think for the most part, people of color, writers of color who write mysteries and crimes, wrote the good cop,” Hall said Friday night during a Los Angeles Times Book Festival Event. “There are these cops who don’t do the right thing and we reflect that in our novels because we’ve lived through that.”

Hall’s last novel, “And Now She’s Gone” released last month, is a story about secrets, violence and fear featuring two women in a dangerous pursuit of cat and mouse.

Hall’s response came from a question from Times reporter James Queally, author of the novel “Line of sight,” who asked panelists how they write about law enforcement during a national toll on police brutality.

Hall and Queally were joined by fellow Los Angeles-based mystery writers Attica Locke and Ivy Pochoda for a wide-ranging conversation about character voice, eschewing tropes, what they read, the process of writing – before and during a pandemic – and more.

For Locke, the answer to Queally’s question was simple: “It’s not up to us to solve this problem. Yes, it doesn’t matter what we put in these books, but I want all of this attention to be focused on the police and the people who can actually make a real difference. I feel like it’s a bit navel-gazing to suggest that what we put in these books can really change what happens to real people in the hands of the police.

Locke, whose latest novel, “Heaven, My Home” came out last year, said she never wanted to write about the police; it was an institution she did not understand and a perspective she did not share. But when the idea arose to write a series about murders in small towns in Texas, she thought of the Texas Rangers.

“[They] were the most interesting law enforcement agency” to bring readers into the story, she said.

“Heaven, My Home”, the second part of Locke’s Highway 59 series, tells the story of a Black Texas Ranger struggling with loyalties when he investigates the disappearance of a white supremacist’s son.

Pochoda also said she had sworn never to write to a cop. “When I decided to include a detective in my novel, I realized I couldn’t find a better manifestation of what it’s like to be a woman in a job where you’re not believed. not.

“…So when I realized I could have a female cop who tries to do good but is always guessed as the person who connects my story, I thought, ‘I better put a cop in the story because it’s a perfect way to express this anger that I have about our place in society,” she said.

Pochoda’s latest novel, ‘These Women’, which was a finalist for this year’s Los Angeles Times Book Prize, is a story of loss, power and hope told through the lens of five very different women who are united by a man and his deadly obsession.

Before the end of the hour-long interview, Queally asked the authors about their writing process: “Music or no music? Caffeine? Booze? Tea? What is your ideal writing situation and circumstance? »

For Hall, it’s coffee and a routine: she gets up at 5 a.m. every day and writes until 7 a.m. But working from home because of the pandemic has stripped her of an important step in her writing process: travel.

“To work, from work to my daughter’s soccer practice, I’ve spent this liminal space, this time, thinking about what I’m supposed to write when I get to that end point, and I don’t. have more.” said Hall.

An empty house is the perfect writing environment for Locke and Pochoda.

“I like to write alone in the house because it’s energetically different when people are there,” Locke said, “and the people you care about are there.” Windows and music are also important. “I create a playlist for each book, each project.”

Pochoda, who lives with her daughter and husband, said she struggled with the idea of ​​applying for a writing residency.

“The truth is, it seems silly to have to do this when I can do it at home if everyone’s out of the house,” she laughed. “I can have my own writing residency here.

“The problem is that they don’t comply.”