LIANE HANSEN, host:
Now, straight from the co-creator of TV's "Cold Case Files," a crime novel called "The Chicago Way" is Michael Harvey's first novel, a modern high-tech story about a private eye who investigates an eight-year-old case. The plot written in classic noir-prose style leads to murder and the mob.
Rick Kleffel from member station KUSP spoke with the author who, as a young man at a Chicago law firm, decided to change the direction of his career.
RICK KLEFFEL: Michael Harvey had enjoyed studying law. But after a couple of years at a law firm in Chicago, he found he didn't have a passion for it. He wanted to write fiction but decided to hedge his bets.
Mr. MICHAEL HARVEY (Author, "The Chicago Way"): I didn't feel at that point that, you know, 26 years old that I was just ready to write the great American novel and I'm probably still not ready to write the great American novel. But I felt like I wanted to write but I wanted to see more of the world as well. And the thought of being a journalist seem like a really great combination.
KLEFFEL: Harvey went back to school for a master's degree in journalism and landed a job working for CBS in Chicago. He went on to co-create "Cold Case Files," a crime documentary show for the Arts and Entertainment Network. But his success in the world of non-fiction television didn't stop him from writing fiction.
Mr. HARVEY: I had, well, 50 pages of - just like a lot of people, I had about 50 pages of this sitting in a drawer for about two years, the first six pages of "Chicago Way," roughly. And it was just sitting there. And I'd written it - I don't know why I wrote it. I just kind of wrote it on a whim. It was in my head and I just started writing it. I thought it would be kind of fun with this - I love this style and I was just kind of messing around, really.
KLEFFEL: His novel might have remained unfinished if he hadn't asked others to read those pages.
Mr. HARVEY: My mom was actually giving me a hard time. You know how moms could be. She's like, you know, what are you going to do with that thing? You know, you have 50 pages. Because she'd read it - you know, she was, like, it's good, so why don't you just go ahead and do it?
KLEFFEL: Harvey had similar response from Chicago-based writer and professor, Garnett Kilberg Cohen.
Mr. HARVEY: I sat down with her and she read the 50 pages and she's like, this is pretty good. Where is the rest? And I said, well, there is no rest. So she gave me two things. She gave me sort of an editorial focus. And she opened up her calendar book and gave me a deadline.
KLEFFEL: The deadline proved to be a helpful motivator.
Mr. HARVEY: And she said, okay, by the end of the summer, your book is going to be done. And that was a big moment because I was like, well, really, all I have to do is stay alive between now and the end of the summer. My book is going to be done. And as bizarre as that sounded, that was like really great to me. Like, okay, cool. And what it did was, I guess, it just quieted all the other voices in my head. And I just said, okay, you know, this is it. For three months or four months, I'm just going to do this.
KLEFFEL: Once the decision was made, Michael Harvey plowed ahead.
Mr. HARVEY: I was just writing. And that the pages begin to add up. The story kind of took hold in my mind. I didn't know where I was going. I didn't have an outline. I had some vague ideas of where I wanted to go but, really, the story just started to take hold in my mind as I wrote it.
KLEFFEL: Harvey's years as a journalist covering crime proved to be a valuable tool when crafting his novel "The Chicago Way."
Mr. HARVEY: There's an old saying you write what you know. And certainly, my experiences in "Cold Case Files" and all the documentary work that I've done - all of that stuff influenced this book, you know, dramatically, certainly in the atmospherics of the book. You know, I understand the rhythm of the language between cops and prosecutors. I sat down with killers and talked to them. I know how they work. I know how they think. I know how they talk.
KLEFFEL: Harvey found that the process of writing fiction changed the way he looked at the world around him. Everything became fodder for the novel.
Mr. HARVEY: A lot of this book I wrote in a coffee shop called Intelligencia, which is in the book. And, you know, I would look out the window and see people walk out - you're in the book, you know? And then boom. Then they go. I mean, it's really as simple as that sometimes.
KLEFFEL: Once he'd finished the book, Harvey still had to find a publisher.
Mr. HARVEY: I didn't know anybody in the business, really. I didn't know anyone in the book business. So I Googled - I started Googling agents and looking, doing some research. And I came across this guy named David Garnett(ph), who has Garnett Company(ph) in New York. And he happens to represent, among other people, John Grisham. Not that I ever thought he would be my agent. But for a first person to send it all to, I figured, why not s at the top? And this seemed like a really good fit. Plus, he represented the kind of thing that I was writing.
KLEFFEL: Garnett e-mailed Michael Harvey the same day he received the novel, accepted him as a client and was able to sell "The Chicago Way" quickly. Harvey has already completed a sequel. This time, he set and met his own deadline.
For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.