RARA-AVIS: River, 19th centruy Washington, etc.

From: George Pelecanos ( shoedog1@erols.com)
Date: 21 Dec 2001

Bill Denton asked:
>How much of Stefanos's life and history did you have in mind when you
>started writing about him, and when did the rest fall into place? In DOWN
>BY THE RIVER (1995) he sees his Uncle Costa, who tells him about the
>shootout in Big Nick's cafe that we read about in THE BIG BLOWDOWN (1996).
>In NICK'S TRIP, I think it is, he tells about the time he and his friend
>went on a road trip in 1976, and that's where we leave him in KING
>SUCKERMAN. You've got early books that flash back to events described in
>later books and later books that draw on the earlier books. I'd love to
>hear how much you knew about Stefanos (I know you've said he's an
>autobiographical character) when you started writing and how much of his
>life, and how it ties in to everything else, came as you wrote.
Bill, I've never had a master plan, and I don't outline my novels. It doesn't work for many writers, but it works for me, and finding out what is going happen as I write it is the major source of pleasure in all of this. When the scene with Uncle Costa "came up" in DOWN BY THE RIVER, I knew I'd use that event he describes in a prequel book (THE BIG BLOWDOWN) that at that point was only beginning to take shape in my head. It was just too good to throw away.

Obviously, the thread that connects the novels in the D.C Quartet is Nick Stefanos. When he "showed up" as a toddler at the end of BLOWDOWN the whole idea of doing a series of period novels spanning the second half of the century became clear to me. Stefanos is a ghost who haunts all of the books. At the end of SUCKERMAN he embarks on the "trip" of NICK'S TRIP
(with his friend Billy Goodrich, who will eventually betray him) with all of the optimism and enthusiasm of a young man, thinking (wrongly) that he'll never turn out like the depleted Dimitri Karras. In THE SWEET FOREVER we see the roots of Nick's career path (and the beginning of his addictions), as he and stoner pal/mentor Johnny McGinnes "find people" for pocket money and kicks. All of this was a way of saying thanks to the (few thousand or so) readers who had come along for the ride with the earlier, first-person novels. Hopefully the later books have more resonance, too, because the reader already knows the fate of Nick Stefanos, even though he does not. Consequently, I've learned over time that no character detail in a book is trivial. Those small details might shape or influence entire novels later on.

George Pelecanos

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