Jonathan Kellerman – DeceptionOctober 30th, 2010 by Anthony CW Morgan
Born in New York City in 1949 though having grown up in Los Angeles, California, Jonathan Kellerman won a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award for fiction at the age of twenty-two. A BA in psychology was earnt at the University of Los Angeles, California (UCLA), this being augmented by a Ph.D. in the field by the age of twenty-four, that Ph.D. having a specialty in the treatment of children.
As well as serving internships in clinical psychology and paediatric psychology at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, he was also a post-doctoral HEW Fellow in Psychology and Human Development at CHLA. Kellerman published the medical text Psychological Aspects of Cancer in 1980 with Helping the Fearful Child arriving the following year in 1981. Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children would surface almost two decades later in 1999, his other nonfiction works including 2008’s With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars.
When The Bough Breaks 1985 issue through Random House marked the release of Kellerman’s debut full-length, earning the man an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and an Anthony Boucher Award for Best First Novel. Its principal characters, psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis, became a staple, appearing in a wealth of books over a twenty-five year period. March 2010’s Deception is the twenty-fifth instalment in the Alex Delaware series. To discuss Deception, Jonathan Kellerman was interviewed via email.
In talking about Deception, you said on your official website the following: “this one couldn’t have been written until my last kid finished the college application process”. Is there a reason why you feel you couldn’t have written Deception prior to then?
That was a bit tongue in cheek, but the book deals with the pressures that seem to have accrued, here in the States, when students are pressured to apply to the most elite universities, places where positions are outstripped exponentially by applicants. So rejection is inevitable. I took it to the extreme of worst-case scenario, which is, of course, what crime novels are all about.
Elise Freeman, a victim featured in Deception, chronicles a year-and-a-half-long ordeal of abuse at the hands of three tormentors on a DVD found near her body. In giving a realistic picture of such torment, how much did having a Ph.D. in psychology help?
While I’d never write about an actual patient due to ethical concerns, I’d like to think that the years I spent as a psychologist help lend authenticity to my novels.
Milo Sturgis’ investigations lead him to Windsor Prep Academy, a place for the wealthy. How much does wealth and social standing factor into Deception?
Those factors are obviously relevant when we’re talking about the highest echelons of academia but the book is less about class conflict than it is about the corruption that results from slavish adherence to foolish and often arbitrary social norms. By that I mean the notion that only a handful of schools produce successful people. Rubbish.
In writing about occurrences at Windsor Prep Academy, did the experiences of your children help somewhat?
We sent our four to religious school in the hope that they’d experience more diversity than if they’d gone to prep school. That turned out to be the case and all four ended up being accepted to Ivy League and other elite universities – places they chose on their own, not due to any pressure from Faye and myself. I’m particularly proud that my four chose four different schools. To me that says Faye and I have raised individuals.
In exploring the lengths to which some wealthy people will go to protect their power and social standing in Deception, and how their private lives might be at odd with their public profiles, was there anything you particularly learnt on a personal level? Or perhaps it reinforced certain opinions you have? After all, you’re arguably someone with social standing since you’re a successful author.
Let’s face it, crime among the rich is a good deal more interesting than the same felonies committed by “regular folk.” Your question is an interesting one and it has occurred to me that while the role of the novelist is often that of the outsider looking in, when one is fortunate to earn a nice living as a writer, one is at risk of losing some of that alienating edge. All I can say is that despite the nice life my readers have graciously afforded me, I try to keep my outsider’s perspective. It’s not that difficult, because I labour in isolation and my personality seems to be that of the reflexive questioner.
Twenty-five years have passed since the publication of When the Bough Breaks, which was originally released in 1985. How do you feel Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis have developed as characters in that time, through the various books they’ve featured in?
Since I rarely go back to read my books, except to fact-check, I’m probably not the best person to answer that. I’d be interested in anything readers have to say about that. My guess would be that they’ve both probably mellowed a bit. But, hopefully, not too much.
And as well, how do you feel you’ve developed as a writer in that time? How would you compare your writing skills in 1985 to your writing skills in 2010?
I’d like to think I’m better but, once again, the judgement isn’t mine. I do know that after thirty-plus bestsellers, I approach writing a book in exactly the same way I did back when I began When the Bough Breaks in 1981. I never “phone it in”, nor do I take shortcuts. If the book isn’t keeping me up at night, it probably won’t pass muster with my readers.
Much has been made of the fact that you chose to make Milo Sturgis a homosexual detective, something not really heard of in 1985. What are your thoughts on people focusing on that? Is Sturgis’ homosexuality an important plot device, or does it generate more discussion than it merits?
It’s never really generated too much focus though in the early days I used to get nice letters from gay people thanking me for creating a three-dimensional, interesting gay character. Now, of course, gay characters are anything but unusual, so I’d like to believe that Milo is simply viewed as an interesting fellow who happens to be gay. Which was the point; what we do in bed is rarely relevant to our jobs.
Having lived with these characters for about quarter of a century, have you seriously contemplated bringing their adventures to a conclusion? After all, it must become more and more difficult to add fresh dimensions to each Delaware novel as time wears on.
I’m extremely fond of Alex and Milo and intend to stay in touch with them. They allow me to tell a certain type of story. I’ve got plot outlines for sixty or so books in my files – probably more novels than I’ll ever get a chance to write. So far, so good.
On your official website, you’ve talked about being a grandfather. Has that influenced your writing in any way, whether it be subtly or greatly?
Not that I can tell. The other day my granddaughter, who’s three, gave me a long look, then said, “Grandpa, you’re interesting”. I was, of course, flattered and would like to think I’ll be able to continue to generate interest as a novelist.
You collect vintage guitars, even going so far as to write the book With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. What attracts you to collecting vintage guitars, and inspired you to write a book on the subject?
Can’t explain it, really. I’ve been playing for over fifty years and collecting for thirty. It seemed the right to time to stretch a bit and do something different. Response to the book has been terrific and I’m grateful, once again, to my readers.
You’ve written two books with your wife Faye, namely 2004’s Double Homicide and Capital Crimes. Is there the possibility that you might collaborate on a novel with one of your children in future? What are your thoughts on such an idea?
Anything’s possible but right now I’m concentrating on writing one good novel per year and that seems to be occupying most of my “writing neurons”.