HBO’s award winning The Wire had a little help from a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, and shoe salesman it hired as producer, writer and story editor. Since his humble beginnings George Pelecanos has chalked up literary awards as a crime novelist—15 to date including The Turnaround published this month—and for his essays in many reputable publications, too. Deemed “the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world” by Esquire, you’ll be seeing more of Pelecanos’ work in the upcoming World War II miniseries The Pacific (with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg). He takes a little time from his prolific career to contemplate with PopMatters the temptation to try out a silencer and laser sight.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Flags of Our Fathers. My dad was a Marine in WWII and fought in the Pacific, so this one hit me pretty hard. The last scene, a long take of young soldiers jumping into the island surf as the beautiful theme (composed by director Clint Eastwood) plays over the end credits, is devastating, given that we have already witnessed their fates. Another great work from Mr. Eastwood, who has become one of our finest directors.
(Little, Brown & Company)
The Night Gardener
(Little, Brown & Company)
(Little, Brown & Company)
2. The fictional character most like you?
I don’t know that he’s most like me, but I identified very strongly with Arturo Bandini, the immigrant’s son struggling with writing and love, from John Fante’s Ask the Dust. No one I know who has read this novel can put it out of mind. Bandini appears in several of the author’s books, but I suspect Ask the Dust will be the one for which Fante is remembered.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Superfly, by Curtis Mayfield. It’s Mayfield at the peak of his powers, a symphonic funk masterpiece, with Curtis’s signature guitar and street-angel falsetto in full force. “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” is the opener and in Washington, D.C. kids were singing it on corners like they were in church. I had it on 8-track for my car, had the album (with gatefold sleeve) for home listening, and own the CD today. And I never get tired of it.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. I was kid when it first aired and there was something off-kilter about it that was interesting, the sense that anything could happen. Plus, Kirk had a near uncontrollable libido and got dopey around beautiful women. Fortunately the planets were stocked with them, for his pleasure. In space no one could hear them scream.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Avgolemono soup. It is the Greek chicken soup, a simple mix of beaten eggs, chicken, lemon and orzo. You always feel better and more alert after you’ve had a bowl. Molyvos in New York and Mouraye in D.C. are the best places to get it when you’re out. For head music I like top-shelf bourbon, too. Blanton’s is nice.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
When I was 19 my dad got sick and I quit college to take over his business, a coffee shop on 19th Street, below Dupont Circle in D.C. I had been working there since I was 11-years-old so it was not a stretch to think that I could do it, but my record as a teenager, in many respects, was less than stellar.
At the time I had a very active social life and many mornings I went straight from the bars, various dens of iniquity, or my girlfriend’s apartment to the coffee shop, often with little or no sleep. But I always opened up on time.
I managed to do a decent job, maintain the family business, and, six months later, hand the keys back to my father and return to school. It was a lot of fun, and thereafter my dad looked at me as a man and not some wild-ass kid, even when, on occasion, I continued to stumble.
It’s more accurate to say that I’m grateful, rather than proud, to have had the opportunity to prove myself. Not many sons are lucky enough to get that chance.
7. You want to be remembered for …?
Husband, father, friend, writer.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
My mom and dad.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The novel True Grit, written by Charles Portis. It is an American classic.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
I am pretty comfortable behind the wheel of a fast car. I make a good spaghetti sauce and can mix a nice drink.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
My longtime literary agent advised me against becoming obsessed with the business aspect of publishing and told me early on to put my head down and keep working. That the road was littered with the corpses of writers who had taken unrealistically high advances, had not earned out, and whose careers had ended prematurely and permanently.
I took the opportunity to work on my craft and try things that I otherwise could not have tried had I been more closely monitored, and good things eventually began to happen. It’s the best way for an author to build a career, slowly and patiently.
Why am I so sure about this? I make a good living, I love my job, and I’m still here.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Every young man’s best purchase is his first car, which spells freedom. My first one was a ‘70 Camaro, springtime gold-over-saddle, a 307 with Hi-jackers and chrome reverse mags. I come out of the era of American musclecars and I guess that doesn’t leave your blood.
My current ride is an ‘08 Mustang, limited edition GT that is faster than a standard GT, primarily because of its cold-air intake. It and has extended chrome tips, racing suspension, and a five speed on the floor. When you cook the engine you can feel the rumble of the twin pipes under your seat.
You can’t get that from a rice burner, no matter how fast. Ford only made 7,000 of this particular car. Mine is #28.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or …?
Levi’s 501s. I have been wearing them since high school and the 501’s have a good lean fit. There is nothing more comfortable than putting on a pair of Levis right out of the dryer. For dress I like Corneliani suits.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be
My wife, Emily Pelecanos.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Jimi Hendrix at the Ambassador Theater, Washington, D.C., August, 1967.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Hit man, I suppose. I don’t do pills and a spa vacation wouldn’t relax me and in fact would probably make me nervous.
I was in a gun store a few weeks ago with a friend of mine, just looking around. You know, research. They had suppressors on display and my friend and I agreed that we would never buy one, because if you owned a silencer you would have to just go ahead and try it out.
Same with a laser sight. I’m just being honest. Hey, you asked.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or …?
Good food and drink, friends and family, music, Redskins on Sundays … all of the things that remind you how great it is to be alive.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Washington, D.C., with trips to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I like the city and the water. We have the best of both here.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
What can I do? I’m ready, man.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m always working on my next novel, even when I’m not.