New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is best-selling author George Pelecanos.
The Greek-American crime writer has penned eighteen novels and received a plethora of awards for his work, including the 2003 and 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the Raymond Chandler Award in Italy, the Grand Prix Du Roman Noir in France, Japan's Falcon Award, and the Writers Guild of America Award. In addition to his books, Pelecanos has been commemorated for his writings in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and GQ, among others.
Pelecanos also served as a writer, producer, and story editor for the award-winning HBO series, The Wire, along with other series and feature films. Stephen King described Pelecanos as "perhaps the greatest living American crime writer" in Entertainment Weekly, while Esquire magazine labeled him "the poet laureate of the D.C. crime world." In our interview below, Pelecanos offers insight into his experiences, inspirations, Hellenic upbringing, upcoming projects and more.
Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your background before penning your first novel A Firing Offense?
George Pelecanos: I was a working class young man who labored in kitchens, bars, and on retail floors, the most memorable being a long stint as a salesman of ladies' shoes (the best job I ever had). I had a lot of fun. I liked those jobs and I liked to work. I was just out there, living a full life. I didn't know it at the time, but it was good fodder for an aspiring writer.
Maria Athens: What was the inspiration behind Greek-American characters, Nick Stefanos and Dimitri Karras?
George Pelecanos: Nick Stefanos was a semi-autobiographical character. The Big Blowdown was the first in a series of generational novels that have since been called The D.C. Quartet. Blowdown was an epic gangster novel, set between the years of 1929 and 1958, that featured Peter Karras, a character loosely based on my father.
The next novel, King Suckerman, centered on Pete's son, Dimitri Karras, a weed dealer on the streets of D.C. during the Bicentennial of 1976. There weren't a whole lot of Greek protagonists in American fiction. I was looking to humanize us and include us in the canon.
Maria Athens: Where and how did you conduct the background research for your crime novels that give them their realistic flare?
George Pelecanos: I do the usual things you'd expect. I ride with police, sit in on trials, make contact with ex-criminals and people who are currently incarcerated. Most importantly, I'm out there in the city, riding my bike, walking the alleys, taking photos, talking to people. Listening to people. Part of my job is sitting in a bar, having a quiet beer, listening to people talk.
Maria Athens: Where did you grow up in America and where are your roots from in Greece?
George Pelecanos: I was born and raised in and around Washington, D.C. Occasionally, I've lived part-time in places like New Orleans for television shoots, but D.C. has been my home for my entire life. My dad was born in Vorthonia, a village in Sparti. My mom's people are Spartan, as well. My company is called Spartan Productions. Etc.
Maria Athens: Why did you choose Washington, D.C. as the location for many of your books?
George Pelecanos: My city had been underrepresented and misrepresented. I don't write novels about politicians or power-mad generals roaming the halls of the Pentagon. The Federal City is only a very small part of this town. We have our own culture, our own music, our own language. I was just trying to shine a light on it and the people.
Maria Athens: How were you selected to write and produce HBO's hit series The Wire?
George Pelecanos: David Simon read one of my deep-urban novels and thought I'd be a good fit. He felt that what I was doing in D.C., examining the social side of crime, was very similar to what he was doing in Baltimore. I wrote an episode for the first season, liked the experience, and stayed on The Wire for the full five years. I became a producer on that show, and then an Executive Producer of Treme, also for HBO. So now I know how to do something else. It's good to have different guns in your arsenal.
Maria Athens: What sparks you to write books and television series including the HBO World War II miniseries The Pacific, with a Hellenic twist?
George Pelecanos: I got involved in The Pacific specifically to honor my father, who fought as a Marine in the Philippines. I asked to write the episode set in Melbourne, because I knew of the relationships formed between the Marines on leave and the Greek families who lived there. My dad passed before the series aired, but he knew I was working on it, and he approved.
Maria Athens: What are you most proud of both personally and professionally?
George Pelecanos: Personally, the raising of my family. Professionally: I tried to do good work, always.
Maria Athens: How Greek do you feel? Do you travel regularly to the homeland?
George Pelecanos: I'm not one to wear it on my sleeve, but it's in you. Here in D.C. there has never been a Greektown per se, so the Greek community has always been centered around the church. I was baptized and raised in St. Sophia, as were my kids. My mom taught Sunday School there for twenty five years. I played Goya ball. My lifelong friendships were formed there. So, yes, it's always in you.
I'm going to Greece this December to do an event at the Onassis Center in Athens, and to do some press for my publisher there. But I certainly don't go to Greece as often as I'd like to. I'm always working. The hands on the clock are spinning faster, and I'm trying to accomplish as much as I can, while I can. I'd like to say that I'll travel more when I retire, but I don't think I'll ever retire.
Maria Athens: What intriguing projects are you currently working on?
George Pelecanos: I have a novella and short story collection, The Martini Shot, coming out in January. David Simon and I have just sold a pilot to HBO that we hope to shoot in the spring, and I have another I'm hoping to sell soon. The movie version of my novel Shoedog is scheduled to shoot early in 2015, and I'm currently researching my next novel. Thankfully, I'm busy.