As did his fictional alter ego, the mercurial Alex Delaware, mega-selling American novelist Jonathan Kellerman nailed a Ph.D. in psychology at the ripe old age of 24. This is hardly a coincidence.
With a propensity and passion for treating sick kids, Kellerman served internships in clinical psychology and pediatric psychology at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and was a post-doctoral HEW Fellow in Psychology and Human Development at the same post.
He was born in New York City in 1949 and grew up in Los Angeles. Working his way through UCLA as an editorial cartoonist, columnist, editor and freelance musician, he won, as a senior, at the age of 22, the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award for fiction.
In 75, he was asked by the CHLA to conduct research into the psychological effects of extreme isolation (plastic bubble units) on children with cancer, and to coordinate care for these kids and their families. The success of that venture led to the establishment, in 77, of the Psychosocial Program, Division of Oncology, the first comprehensive approach to the emotional aspects of pediatric cancer anywhere in the world.
So it shouldn't be surprising, though it is, that Kellerman's first published book was a medical text, Psychological Aspects Of Childhood Cancer, followed by a book for parents, Helping The Fearful Child.
Then, in 85 Kellerman's When The Bough Breaks was published to enormous critical and commercial success and became a New York Times bestseller, was produced as a made-for-TV movie. Bough also won the Edgar Allan Poe and Anthony Boucher Awards for best first novel.
Ever since, Kellerman has published a best-selling crime novel every year, sometimes two. Though no longer active as a psychotherapist, he is a clinical professor of pediatrics and psychology at University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.
He was kind enough to do the IN e-interview.
IN: As one of the world's most popular authors, how and why did you change careers from a psychologist to a writer, and when did you first start writing?
Jonathan Kellerman: I've been writing since the age of nine — rather compulsively. I never saw it as a job and since I was always attracted to science, decided to become a psychologist. I won a literary prize in college and started to believe I might actually be able to publish something. Some 13 years later my first novel came out; I was, essentially, a failed writer with an excellent day job (med school professor, psychologist, director of a program at a pediatric hospital). I continued to practice psychology during the publication of six bestsellers and gave it up with some reluctance. I've been writing full time since 1990.
IN: When did you become interested specifically in mystery? How did you come up with the ongoing characters, Dr. Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis, in your Delaware book series?
J.K.: The hard-boiled California novels — most prominently those of Ross McDonald — helped give me my voice. Family psychopathology in Southern California felt like something I could write about. I like the structure of crime novels and the fact that they deal with issues of substance. A.D. and M.S. popped into my head — that's all I can say about that. All of my characters introduce themselves to me.
IN: What inspires you most to write and who have been the most influential people during your writing career?
J.K.: As Robert B. Parker said, "I'm inspired by the fact that I have a contract." And he was only half-kidding. This is a great job, but it's a job and to succeed one has to be professional. I don't wait for inspiration. I sit down and type and, luckily, the sentences flow. I have never been mentored by anyone. I have mentored lots of people. Needless to say my wife, Faye, has been my spine. Without her I'd collapse into a pool of hapless protoplasm.
IN: What approach(es) or methods do you use when writing? When researching for a new book how do you keep the scenes, characters, plot, etc. organized?
J.K.: Live life, observe, listen. Write. Rewrite. I make lists, create files, jot notes on restaurant napkins. No set system, whatever works at the moment. You can't cookie cutter this job.
IN: In your new Delaware novel, Gone, expected to be released March, 2006, why did you decide to write about this specific crime of two missing acting students who return, revealing their abduction as a hoax, and then one is murdered and the other disappears again?
J.K.: I don't talk about my books. I prefer to have them speak for themselves.
IN: With Gone being your 20th Alex Delaware book how do you keep track of the reoccurring character's habits, eccentricities, quirks, personal history, etc., within the Delaware series?
J.K.: I go back and re-read the old ones. Being eminently fallible, I screw up from time to time and there's always someone to remind me.
IN: What would you tell new writers about your personal writing process(es) that might help them to establish their own successful writing careers, other than "keep writing" or "write what you know."
J.K.: Nothing other than what's in my answer to your fourth question. Real writers cannot be discouraged — they are driven to write.
IN: When dealing with publishers, agents and publicists are there any special insights and/or pitfalls you can pass along to our readers?
J.K.: Watch your back.
IN: What are the greatest challenges facing new writers on the path to becoming successful authors?
J.K.: The business has become corporate, with all the horrors that implies.
IN: Any advice for writers about the merits or pitfalls of taking writing classes, attending conferences, etc.?
J.K.: Don't believe in them. Then again, maybe if I'd had some training I might've gotten published sooner.
IN: When one of your new books is launched how important is touring, readings and book signings to help ensure success and book sales?
J.K.: Most writers feel touring has few benefits. The exception would be a celebrity with a built-in audience and a new writer, where any attention helps.
IN: You have also written non-fiction, as well as children's literature. What significant differences do you find in writing between fiction and fact? Which is more difficult?
J.K.: Fiction's more fun and harder.
IN: You have your own, dedicated web site at http://www.jonathankellerman.com How important is it for writers/authors to have a web site presence in this day and age?
J.K.: Since I just started mine, I can't tell you. Let's see in a year or so.
IN: Gone is your 31st book, what's next for you?
J.K.: I'm about 3/4 through my next one, Obsession, and plan to keep writing until they tell me I'm no longer welcome.
Alex Delaware Novels
A Cold Heart (2003)
The Murder Book (2002)
Flesh And Blood (2001)
Dr. Death (2000)
Survival Of The Fittest (1997)
The Clinic (1997)
The Web (1996)
Bad Love (1994)
Devil's Waltz (1994)
Private Eyes (1992)
Time Bomb (1990)
Silent Partner (1989)
Over The Edge (1987)
Blood Test (1986)
When The Bough Breaks (1985)
Double Homicide (with Faye Kellerman 2004)
The Conspiracy Club (2003)
Billy Straight (1998)
The Butcher's Theater (1988)
Savage Spawn: Reflections On Violent Children (1999)
Helping The Fearful Child (1981)
Psychological Aspects Of Childhood Cancer (1980)
Jonathan Kellerman's ABC Of Weird Creatures (1995)
Daddy, Daddy, Can You Touch The Sky? (1994)
See excerpt from Jonathan Kellerman's novel Rage.
Diego X. Jesus is a Dominican-born American freelance journalist and associate editor of IN who makes Toronto his home approximately half the time. Otherwise, we don't know where he might be. Email : Diego X Jesus
Mark London is a Toronto-based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email : Mark London