Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On "2 in the Hat" and Raffi Yessayan...

Today Jungle Red welcomes Raffi Yessayan. His first book, "8 in the Box," came out two years ago, and now the sequel "2 in the Hat" is on the Boston Globe Best seller list.

HALLIE: Congratulations, Raffi, on the new book! Your main characters, Boston Police Detective Angel Alves and Assistant DA Connie Darget, are working homicides in the midst of what looks like a gang war. You used to be a DA and Chief of Gang unit in Boston. Did you have to change the real world of Boston gangs in order to write the novel?

I tried to keep the book as real as possible. I used some actual street names and neighborhoods, although I did take some liberty in fictionalizing these places. As for the people involved in the gang violence, young men who are caught up in dealing drugs for a living, I drew on my real life experience to depict how these kids react in certain situations, especially when they are dealing with police and DAs who are trying to solve crimes.

HALLIE: There's also a serial killer the press calls the "Prom Night Killer" -- his victims are white suburban college kids, and law enforcement and the media treat those murders very differently from gang killings. Is that something you saw on the job?

RAFFI: Most of the people I worked with in law enforcement treated every case and every victim the same. It would certainly be easy to put in a greater effort for a sympathetic, "innocent" victim as opposed to a gang-involved victim. But when you're talking about a homicide, there is always a family that is devastated by the loss. It's the mothers, fathers and grandparents that deserve justice for their loved one.

As for the media, they provide us with what we want as an audience. When there is a murder in a certain neighborhood that is plagued with violence, we are less likely to be shocked, which means we are less likely to be interested in it as a new story, and the media are less likely to cover it.

HALLIE: How do you write about violence without romanticizing it?

RAFFI: I try to keep most of the violence off stage. When I do write a violent scene, I try to make it ugly, because it is ugly.

I think back to an old Alfred Hitchcock movie, "Frenzy," where a serial killer is raping and murdering women. Hitchcock did an amazing job of depicting those scenes as the horrible crimes that they are. Although it is difficult to do when writing a serial killer thriller, I try not to perpetuate violence against women and children as these two groups are often the most likely to be victimized in real life. My killers are more equal opportunity killers.

HALLIE: "Frenzy" is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. Neckties have never looked quite the same. The dialogue in the book feels so authentic. Do you just remember what people say and how they say it, or do you have to take notes?

RAFFI: There are times when I hear a great line and jot it down, but mostly I try to remember, not necessarily what people say, but how they say it. I've been fortunate enough to read many trial and grand jury transcript as well as conducting direct and cross examinations of witnesses at trial.

HALLIE: What authors influenced your style?

RAFFI: Thomas Harris created the best depiction of a serial killer as well as the psychology of the killer. George V. Higgins influenced me with his ability to create "real" dialogue. One trick in fiction is that dialogue has to approximate the way we speak. If dialogue were truly real, it would be boring and repetitive. James Patterson provided the structure and the use of third person multiple point of view.

HALLIE: Three masters of their craft. Can you tell us where the title, “2 in the Hat,” comes from?

RAFFI: 2 in the Hat is an old mob term for someone taking two bullets to the head. But it can also describe a killer who is dealing with multiple identities.

HALLIE: I didn't realize that. And not to give away anything (I read the book!) but that is really neat. Because this book has one of the most surprising twists at the end ever.

Thanks for stopping by, Raffi.


  1. Hi Raffi, thanks for visiting! I'll look forward to your new book. I'm wondering how in the world you manage to juggle such a demanding job with writing?

  2. Hi Raffi,
    Welcome to Jungle Red. As a journalist, I always liked to interview lawyers (as long as it wasn't hostile and it was in their interest ) because they seemed to be natural storytellers.

    So it makes perfect sense you are a bestseller! Your first book got rave reviews in my house!! This one sounds even better!!

  3. Raffi, I am really pleased to see the second book out and doing so well. (Very solid interview, thanks.) Hope you are coming west to Bouchercon this year (to MY town) and I'll buy you a beer.

  4. Hey, Raffi! SO wonderful to see you here--and JR readers, you should also know that he's hilarious in real life. ALl the more reason to be blown away (yikes) by his writing style.

    Raffi--why did you start writing ficton? How did that happen?

    Hmm..Im not sure I've ever seen Frenzy. Can that be???

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for welcoming me on Jungle Red.As to your questions,I started writing fiction when my wife and her writer's group encouraged me to do something with all my court stories. Ironically, very few of those funny stories ended up in my novels. And,Roberta,you use exactly the right word when describing how I manage to practice law and write...juggle!