Hy Conrad is the author of ‘Mr Monk helps himself’ which I reviewed just yesterday. As part of this book tour, Hy was kind enough to give his time to be interviewed.
PB: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you please share your journey into writing with our readers?
HY: I’ve never had a regular job. I began my professional life as an actor. I did my first national tour at thirteen, which might have been the highlight of my stage career. From then on, it was off-Broadway and summer stock and pilot productions that went nowhere. Then one summer, while performing in the musical “Plain and Fancy” in Pittsburgh, I came up with the idea for a musical of my own.
I’ll skip the grisly details, except to say that I wrote the book, music and lyrics and shouldn’t have. But the play did get a producer and an off-Broadway run.
From then on it was mostly chance. One of the backers of my musical, the backer who was still speaking to me, asked if I had any ideas for an interactive project that could work on Laserdisc, one of the first interactive technologies. I thought for a minute and said, “What about an interactive mystery?” That was over thirty years ago and I’m still writing mysteries, with probably the same plots.
PB: Have you always wanted to write mysteries and whodunits? What drew you to them?
HY: As a kid in the 1960s, I read Sherlock Holmes and the Hardy Boys and always enjoyed them. Then in college, I picked up a copy of “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” by Agatha Christie. It was the second Hercule Poirot novel and was quite a sensation when it was first published. I won’t spoil the big twist, but the book was a revelation to me. The author plays fair with all the clues but still manages to shock you with a surprise ending. I can still feel the thrill.
PB: How did you come up with the character Adrian Monk?
HY: I wish I could claim credit for inventing Monk.
The idea came from the film producer David Hoberman who had just seen “As Good as it Gets” in which Jack Nicholson plays an unpleasant – some might say nasty – author dealing with his OCD. David’s thought on exiting the theater was, “What if this character were a police detective? Would that make a good TV show?”
He handed that simple notion to Andy Breckman, who proceeded to create Adrian Monk in all his complexity and humor. When Andy heard the show was being picked up, he suddenly realized he needed more stories. This sent him to a bookstore – remember bookstores? – where he found my collections of short mysteries. He must have liked them, because he spent several days tracking me down, then called me up and offered me a job.
PB: How much research was involved in developing Monk’s anxieties?
HY: I can’t speak for Andy. I’m sure he did some research while writing the pilot. You can see in that first episode some classic OCD symptoms – the need to repeatedly touch things, his obsession with the stove and making sure it was turned off.
By the time I came to the party in episode two, our mandate was clear. Keep it touching and funny and make it seem real. A lot of the credit for making it real goes to Tony Shalhoub. In the early days, we would watch all the takes and see the energy it took for him to work himself into that state. This transformation became easier as the years went on. Tony had a great memory for all of the OCD bits and would call us if the scripts repeated them too often. “Monk tried to avoid sidewalk cracks in an episode last season. Can we give him something else this time?” We would try pointing out that part of OCD was repeating one’s behavior over and over. But Tony insisted that we come up with new stuff. And he was right. A real depiction of OCD probably would have been boring.
PB: What was it like moving from writing for the screen to writing a book about Monk?
HY: Part of the difference between screen and page is point of view. Lee Goldberg, who did the first 15 Monk books, established the format of writing in Natalie’s voice. It was the prefect choice, but it does affect how the story unfolds. Monk can no longer have emotional scenes alone or enjoy a private therapy session with Dr. Bell. And although I can structure a scene without Natalie around, it’s never as strong as when she’s there to take part and to comment.
Another difference is the amount of story I have to tell. The scripts averaged about 54 pages; the books go on for nearly 300. My rule of thumb is that I use up three good Monk storylines per book.
PB: Which episode of Monk did you enjoy the most?
HY: My favorite was probably “Mr. Monk and the Other Detective” which guest-starred Jason Alexander. It was written for a younger actor – a boastful, clueless mama’s boy. But Jason brought so much character to the role that it worked out perfectly. Better than originally conceived. We all wished that Jason could have become a recurring character. But it’s always hard to write a role for a star when you don’t know if he’ll be available next time. That’s the dilemma we had with John Turturro as Monk’s brother. We would have gladly built more episodes around Ambrose if John had been available.
PB: Can we expect more books in the Monk series?
HY: My second book is coming out in December. “Mr. Monk Gets On Board” will be based on the one Monk story that we never got to film. It puts Monk on a cruise ship and is a lot of fun. The reason why it never made it to the screen was that we couldn’t find a cruise line that would let us film a murder on board on of their vessels.
As for future novels, I would love to continue the series, but nothing has been settled for sure.
PB: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
HY: I love to travel. We like to take three foreign trips a year, which entails a great amount of planning. Not long ago, I came up with the idea of a mystery series featuring a tour guide, with each novel taking you to a different part of the world. The series is called “Abel Adventures”, after the tour guide Amy Abel. The first book was “Rally “Round the Corpse”, which will be renamed and reissued under the much better title, “It’s All Fun and Games…” But if any of your readers want a copy of the original version, it’s available on Amazon.
PB: Who are your favourite authors?
HY: This is a bad thing for a mystery series author to admit, but I’m a fickle reader and rarely stick with a series after the first two books. Then I start to recognize all the writer’s tricks and it stops feeling new. For example, I loved “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” by Laurie R. King. I was so looking forward to the rest of the books but stopped reading after book two. I still read Carl Hiaasen, but more from habit than love.
As for the classics, I’ve probably read all of Agatha Christie throughout my lifetime. And in the non-mystery vein, I’m always up for P.G. Wodehouse, one of the funniest writers ever.
Thanks to Hy, we have a copy of Mr Monk helps himself to giveaway. The giveaway is open internationally. Residents of U.S and Canada have a choice between a hard copy or an e-book. For the rest of you, the only option is an e-book. To be in the running for this, please answer this question in the comments:
“What is your strangest phobia?”
The most interesting answer will be chosen by me and details will be forwarded to the author upon the completion of the giveaway. The last day is the 22nd of September 2013 at 2000 hours AEST.
So get cracking!
Until next time,