With her latest novel, Gun Games, coming out this month, we at the Jewish Voice thought that now would be the perfect time to get to know Mrs. Kellerman better, and find out what makes her tick. We were curious as to how her background as an orthodox Jew influences the plots of her immensely popular detective novels, and her writing in general. Mrs. Kellerman was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule and answer a few questions for the Jewish Voice.
Interestingly enough, not only is Faye a famous mystery writer, but so is her husband, Jonathan Kellerman. The Kellermans are the only couple to ever appear on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously (for two different novels). Faye Kellerman is best known for her crime novels featuring the husband-and-wife team of Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus. Her exciting new book Gun Games is the latest installment in that series.
In Gun Games, LAPD Lieutenant Detective Peter Decker and his wife Rina have unofficially adopted teenaged piano prodigy Gabe Whitman, who was left in their care by the boy’s parents, an absentee mother and a mafioso father. Gabe is brilliant, but very secretive. As the publisher explains, “Decker knows only too well the secrets adolescents keep—witnessed by the tragic suicide of another teen, Gregory Hesse,” a student at Bell & Wakefield, one of the city’s most exclusive prep schools. Gregory’s mother suspects foul play, and implores Detective Decker to investigate further. With the suicide of a second student at the same school, Decker and his fellow cops uncover a hidden dark side to life at Bell & Wakefield, in which Gabe Whitman ultimately finds himself entangled, leading to a heart-pounding climax.
Personally, I found that reading Gun Games re-kindled my interest in the Decker/Lazarus story, and I have since started again from the beginning. I would highly recommend the same for readers of the Jewish Voice. The story of Detective Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus begins in the 1986 novel The Ritual Bath, which is itself reminiscent of the movie A Stranger Among Us, but with what I would deem a more accurate depiction of Orthodox Jews (also, her book came out some six years before the movie). So, for our interview, The Ritual Bath seemed a logical place to start.
Jewish Voice: Tell us a little bit about Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus. How did they meet? How did they fall in love?
Faye Kellerman: The two of them met on a case (The Ritual Bath). At that time, Rina was a widow living on an isolated Kollel somewhere in the east San Fernando Valley and Decker was a detective that serviced the area. When I set out to write The Ritual Bath, I was primarily interested in writing a mystery with an exotic background. I love learning about other cultures and I thought that maybe there’d be people who’d want to learn a fact or two about traditional Judaism. A crime on the premises brought Decker there to investigate. And one thing led to another. But it didn’t start out as a romance. I’m firmly rooted in the tradition of the California hard-boiled novelists, except I’m probably soft-boiled.
JV: Reading your book, I was rather taken aback by its secular quality. I mean this in two ways. First of all, there exists a whole genre (and anyone who’s been to a large Judaica store has probably seen this) of “frum” novels. They tend to be very clean, and nice, but objectively speaking, they aren’t necessarily of the highest literary caliber. Your novels are “secular” in the sense of being well-written, but also in terms of their content (let this be a warning to our readers that Gun Games, in case the title doesn’t give it away, is not G-rated, and we don’t recommend it for the little ones). Yet they feature Torah-observant Jewish characters, who are portrayed in a sympathetic, positive light. So I guess my question is: For whom are you writing, exactly?
FK: That’s an easy one. I write for myself and I’m always so grateful to my fans for allowing me to continue on this journey. I write about what I love – families, my religion, my city – but I can’t feel constrained. Otherwise, as you say, the writing turns out sanitized and artificial. I am writing crime novels. Bad guys don’t say “hecky darn.”
JV: Absolutely. Tell us, do you feel that you instill Jewish ideas and/or values into your work?
FK: Honestly, I write to entertain. And if the reader finds my religion interesting, that’s a bonus. I want to write crime stories people with honest characters. That’s my goal.
JV: You’ve certainly managed that here. There is something very authentic and engaging about your characters. As a reader, it really makes me care about what happens to them. That’s how it should be.
So, from where do you derive your literary inspiration? Why crime novels?
FK: Inspiration is all around, but I must tell you that a lot of my material comes from having a warped imagination. I start thinking about scary things and just run with it. Inspiration, by the way, is just a small part of it. All the hard work comes from fleshing out your ideas and trying to make each word count. I really do try to imbue my books with a little bit of style. Crime novels are the perfect vehicle to propel the plot. They usually have beginnings, middles and ends and a tremendous sense of satisfaction. I like seeing justice done. I can’t fix real life but if I choose, I can do it in fiction.
JV: Being an editor, I can certainly empathize with your sentiment.
It must be great being married to a fellow best-selling author. Do you and Mr. Kellerman have a friendly competitive thing going on? Are you always bouncing ideas off of each other?
FK: When Jonathan and I first got married, it wasn’t our intent to be co-novelists. Jon has a PhD in clinical psychology, has published numerous books, papers and articles on his chosen field and is a clinical professor at USC medical school. I have a BA in Math and a DDS from UCLA. How we both got to be writers is a long, long story. But we don’t compete in our writing. I’m his biggest fan, and we don’t bounce ideas off each other. Our writing time is private time. Furthermore, I find I need to take a lot of long, silent walks and think. My best ideas happen without conversation.
All that being said, when I’m struggling with something and have to get up out of bed at two in the morning to write something down, Jon knows the feeling. We do tend to talk about the business aspects of the publishing industry, but not about the creative process.
JV: Interesting. Having discussed already the origins of the Decker/Lazarus storyline, perhaps you could help bring our readers up to speed. Without revealing too much, what is happening in Gun Games? How has Gabe’s father, the dangerous Chris Donatti, crossed paths with Lt. Decker previously in the series?
FK: Christopher Donatti (né Chris Whitman), and Teresa McLaughlin first met in Justice. Of all the side characters I’ve ever written, Chris has been the most popular. I brought him— and a little of Terry—back in Stone Kiss. They both were major players in my last novel, Hangman. They’ve grown from teenagers to adults and parents of a son, Gabriel. In Hangman, through a series of hapless circumstances, Gabe is abandoned and picked up as a foster child by the Deckers. Gun Games is more or less a continuation of Gabe’s story along with a very twisted tale involving prep school teens. I love writing about adolescents. It’s such a pivotal period in life. Gun Games is all about what happens when teenagers go right and when teens go terribly wrong.
JV: That is. Well, if I may say so, it was a thrilling read. I certainly look forward to the next Decker/Lazarus mystery, and wish you and your husband continued success. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
Gun Games, published by William Morrow, was released earlier this week is available for just $25.99. To learn more about the author, visit her website at www.fayekellerman.net.
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