STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Our colleague David Greene had a rare chance to speak with an author who values privacy. And he asked that we begin this segment with this music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T FEAR THE REAPER")
BLUE OYSTER CULT: (Singing) Come on baby, don't fear the reaper. Baby, take my hand.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: This is from the band Blue Oyster Cult. And the author Robert Galbraith loves them. Actually, lyrics from this group are all over Galbraith's latest book, "Career Of Evil."
J.K. ROWLING: To be honest, it's the guitar hook. I'm a real sucker for guitars (laughter) and always have been.
ROWLING: I've had a crush on many of guitarists.
GREENE: OK, let's sort something out here. Robert Galbraith is actually a pen name for the woman who brought the world this.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS SONG, "HEDWIG'S THEME")
GREENE: "Harry Potter." Yes, it's J. K. Rowling. A few years ago, she wanted to start writing crime novels but didn't want people to know it was her. And so she hid behind the name Robert Galbraith. It worked for a little while. She was outed after the first novel came out in 2013, which means, among other things, she can now actually do interviews. And she joined us to talk about the third in her series, which just came out, "Career Of Evil." This book brings back the character Cormoran Strike, who's an emotionally damaged one-legged detective. Strike is joined by his young, beautiful and also emotionally damaged assistant Robin. They're on the hunt for a serial killer with a penchant for body parts. And Rowling says it was not easy to dig into the subject.
ROWLING: This is the first time ever that a book has literally given me nightmares. And it wasn't the writing of the novel that gave me nightmares. It was the research I did. And in fact, each of the three suspects has features of a real life killer.
GREENE: My God, you were reading - what? - like, police reports and news clippings of real murders.
ROWLING: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I thought - I thought it was really important to understand the mindset because some of the chapters are written from the point of view of a psychopathic killer. So what do those men say about what they feel about what they do? What do those men - well, what do those men feel is a very interesting question because I think their capacity to feel is very blunted. So researching all of that was simultaneously fascinating and incredibly disturbing.
GREENE: I can imagine. Have you gotten over the nightmares?
ROWLING: Well, I haven't had one since I finished the manuscript. So possibly my subconscious was calmed by having that killer caught. So at least in fiction, the good guy won, and the killer was stopped.
GREENE: Well, this is the third of the three novels involving Cormoran Strike, the detective. And you've written all of them under the pen name Robert Galbraith. And just explain to me why you disguised yourself as a male author for this series.
ROWLING: Well, for a long time, I'd had this idea of writing under a pseudonym. And going back to the beginning of a publishing career was really attractive to me. And then the idea for a male pseudonym was a kind of basic desire to distance this persona as far as possible from myself.
GREENE: Just tell me a little bit more about what you were looking for. You said you wanted to go back to the beginning.
ROWLING: I did. I think that "Potter" was incredible. And I am so grateful for what happened with "Harry Potter." And that needs to be said. The relationship I had with those readers and still have with those readers is so valuable to me. Having said that, there was a phenomenal amount of pressure that went with being the writer of "Harry Potter." And that aspect of publishing those books I do not particularly miss. So you can probably understand the appeal of going away and creating something very different and just letting it stand off all on its own merits.
GREENE: The detective in these novels, Cormoran Strike, you've said that that character gave you a way to talk about the oddities that come from fame because that's one thing that he was doing.
ROWLING: Yeah, that's definitely true.
GREENE: Is that a personal connection you're making there? I mean, what - did you feel oddities, as you're describing them?
ROWLING: Well, it's out of remove (ph) because he himself, when the series starts, is not famous. But he's the son of a famous man. So he has all of the drawbacks of being associated with fame and none of the advantages. So I look at the effect that an individual's fame has on their family, for example, and the limitations that places upon your life, to an extent. I mean, of course it brings marvelous things too. But it brings them mainly to the individual. The people around the famous person often pay a price without really reaping many of the rewards. And I find that an interesting area. And obviously that - yes, that very much comes from my own experience.
GREENE: Tell me a little bit more about that because I know you've spoken about growing up, you know, working-class family, going through some periods of poverty. I mean, as I'm hearing you describe Cormoran Strike, I mean, what is sort of the personal stuff you're exploring?
ROWLING: Well, his - it would be wrong, wholly wrong, to suggest he's an autobiographical character. You know, he's a disabled veteran. He's a man, obviously. He has a very different...
GREENE: Well, you are too, if we go by the author's name, but...
ROWLING: I am too. You're absolutely right. Yes, sorry. I should drop my voice a few octaves and - while we maintain that fiction. (Lowering her voice) I'm speaking to Robert Galbraith.
GREENE: There we go.
ROWLING: Yeah. So there are lots of things that bear no relation to my life. However, there are things that I like in him and I would like to feel that we share. He has a very strong work ethic. He is a try-er in all circumstances. And at the point where we meet him in the very first book, he is absolutely on his uppers in a way that I too have experienced in that he is as poor as you can be without being homeless. So certainly things that - in describing him, I've drawn from my own experience, yeah.
GREENE: Has your family paid a price for your fame?
ROWLING: I'd rather not go - I try not to talk about my kids specifically.
GREENE: I absolutely, 100 percent respect not wanting to talk about your family. I just, in - for our listeners to hear your not wanting to do that - I just wonder, what does it tell us about J. K. Rowling that you keep this private place for you and your family?
ROWLING: I think it's a - you know, there's going to be debate around this as long as there are writers. Some readers and commentators really want to scrape your insides out to make sense of your work. Others say, there's the work. It speaks for itself. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that it's difficult to be honest about certain aspects of my work without acknowledging that I have experienced or felt or questioned certain of the themes in the books. But at the same time, I don't feel I owe my readers details of my family's private life, for example. So I'm happy to talk in general themes. But when we get down to specifics, for me that's always been off-limits. Of course, if my kids grow up and they want to write memoirs about what it was like, then that's their right. And they're free to do it. And we may yet see "J. K. Dearest." But...
ROWLING: Until - until then, I'm going to protect them.
GREENE: J. K. Rowling, it has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for talking to us.
ROWLING: It's been a real pleasure for me too. Thank you very much.
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