Friday | June 27, 2008 | Volume 1 | Issue 705

Book Brahmin: Robert Crais

Robert Crais is the author of the Elvis Cole novels, beginning with The Monkey's Raincoat, and continuing with his July 1 release from S&S, Chasing Darkness, 12th in the series. He has also written two non-series novels, Demolition Angels and Hostage, and one book featuring Cole's friend, Joe Pike. A native of Louisiana, he grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River in a blue-collar family of oil refinery workers and police officers. He purchased a secondhand paperback of Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister when he was 15, which inspired his lifelong love of writing, Los Angeles and the literature of crime fiction. After years of amateur filmmaking and writing short fiction, in 1976 he journeyed to Hollywood, where he quickly found work writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey and Miami Vice. He received an Emmy nomination for his work on Hill Street Blues, but is most proud of his four-hour NBC miniseries, Cross of Fire, which the New York Times called "a searing and powerful documentation of the Ku Klux Klan's rise to national prominence in the '20s." Crais lives in the Santa Monica mountains with his wife, three cats and many thousands of books. Here he answers a few questions we put to him:

On your nightstand now:

The books I'm currently reading are manuscripts for possible blurbs, so I shouldn't name them. But the books I'm looking forward to reading soon are Shadow Bridge by Gregory Frost, At the City's Edge by Marcus Sakey and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
Favorite book when you were a child:

I remember the story, but not the title. Maybe a Shelf Awareness reader can help. It's an adventure story about three children marooned on a desert island, a la Robinson Crusoe, and how they survive. It held amazing, adventurous factoids like "banking the fire." These kids kept a fire going for weeks by "banking the fire" every night. I never understood what "banking the fire" was, but it seemed magical. I read that book again and again, and wish I recalled the title. We're talking the early '60s. If you have any ideas what this book might be, please write to me through my website,

Your top five authors:

Robert Heinlein, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, Harlan Ellison, Mark Twain.

Book you've faked reading:

Pretty much everything assigned by my 10th grade English teacher. I got a "D" for the year. We were supposed to read all manner of ponderous, uninspiring tomes, but I was hiding in back of the class, reading Mailer and Ellison and Truman Capote. I was a terrible student. I chased work that inspired me.
Book you are an evangelist for:

I like helping newer writers, so if I find something special I spread the word. I felt this way about Ace Atkins' book, White Shadow, and The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz, which held some of the best passages about Los Angeles I've read in years. When Joseph Wambaugh returned with Hollywood Station, I couldn't stop talking about it, though Wambaugh hardly needed my help.
Book you've bought for the cover:

That's easy. Paperback covers were once painted by fabulous painters like Frank Frazetta, James Bama and Jim Steranko. I used to collect those guys. I bought anything with a Frazetta cover. Didn't matter what the book was--I bought it for Frazetta's art.
Book that changed your life:

Harlan Ellison's book of essays, The Glass Teat, which chronicles his views about the television industry. Here I was, this totally out-of-the-loop kid in Louisiana, with no real belief or expectation that someone like me could be a writer--"writing" was something larger-than-life people did, like becoming astronauts or actors or president. But The Glass Teat demystified the working world of television, and convinced me that if "they" could be a writer, I could be a writer. So I came out to Hollywood and did it. Every good thing in my life began when I moved to Los Angeles. The Glass Teat, like any meaningful book, opened the door to possibilities.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Old Man and the Sea. I've read it several times, and each time it leaves me awed.


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