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Robert Crais unlocks the mystery behind writing crime novels

click to enlarge Doesnt he just look like a heavy-hitter?
  • Doesnt he just look like a heavy-hitter?

Crime author Robert Crais has built a career that most writers couldn't dream up in their wildest flights of fiction. He has just returned from an international tour to promote his latest book, The Watchman, which debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Though he admits the schedule is exhausting, he's genuinely appreciative of the chance to meet the people who buy his books.

"It allows me to see how the end result of my work touches readers," says Crais, speaking by phone from his Southern California home. "The other 11 months out of the year, I sit in a small, white room staring at a computer."

Since the mid-'80s, Crais has cranked out 14 novels, starting with The Monkey's Raincoat, which brought to life two of the most popular characters in modern crime fiction, detectives Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.

Before that, Crais worked in Hollywood as a TV writer on some of the biggest shows of the day. His credits include work on Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice and Quincy, M.E., along with an Emmy nomination for his writing on Hill Street Blues. His books have won coveted awards as well, and his 2001 thriller, Hostage, was made into a film starring Bruce Willis.

This weekend Crais will visit Colorado Springs, not to meet readers, but to share the secrets of his success with hundreds at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Sunday, he'll give a keynote speech titled, "How to Become Rich and Famous Writing the Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time."

He explains: "Every step along the way ... when I've made decisions to do this or do that in my career, someone around me has said, "Don't do that. That doesn't make sense. You're an idiot.' ... But I got here wherever here is by trusting my instincts and passions."

Crais has been a guest speaker at several Pikes Peak Writers conferences, including the first in 1993.

"We've watched him grow from "just' a mystery writer with a neat set of characters to a real heavy-hitter in the publishing industry," conference director Laura Hayden says.

The conference has grown, too. This year, in celebrating its 15th anniversary, it features 37 speakers, 45 workshops, a writing contest and opportunities to meet agents and editors. The conference and its contest have served to launch the careers of more than 34 now-published novelists.

"There is a mystique surrounding writing," says Crais, "so aspiring writers want to hear that this is a real, concrete thing that you do ... just like working for Exxon, or IBM or the newspaper. My people were cops or people who worked in the refinery. I didn't know any writers, and that's the case with a lot of people."

He prefers to cut the mystique with a no-nonsense approach to success: "The true reality is that you just roll up your sleeves and start doing it. If I waited for my muse to show up, I'd be waiting a long time, because I'm pretty sure she's on a beach in Maui."

Sunday with Bob, includes "How to Become Rich and Famous Writing the Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time" at the

Pikes Peak Writers Conference

Colorado Springs Marriott, 5580 Tech Center Drive

Sunday, April 22, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunday only with lunch, $35-$40; full conference (Friday-Sunday), $360-$415.

Visit ppwc.net or robertcrais.com.

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