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on Dawn Patrol with DON WINSLOW

Written by Ayo Onatade

Don Winslow Talks To Ayo Onatade




Don Winslow is the author of numerous novels the most recent being Dawn Patrol which is due to be released in June 2008.  Born in New York City but raised in Rhode Island he has held a wide variety of jobs including being an actor, director (working in film, television and the stage) and a private investigator in the UK and the US whilst on his way to becoming a novelist.   He has been nominated for an Edgar Award and a Macavity Award. He won a Shamus Award with his novel California Fire and Life.


Don Winslow is better known in America than the UK despite the vocal support of Ian Rankin. “As a matter of fact, I’ve spent the past twenty-two summers in the UK, so it’s sort of a second home to me,” Winslow explains.  “I’m a Spurs supporter and have a real Jones for kebab vans.  In the States I live on an old ranch in southern California, but I grew up (assuming facts not in evidence) in the tiny east coast state of Rhode Island.”


He had always wanted to write but it took him sometime to admit it. “I was working as a safari guide at the time, and during a case of dysentery decided that I’d better get on with it and start writing.” 


Winslow came up with P.I. Neal Carey, which seemed a natural place to start as he tells us, “‘Series’ detective fiction was what I was reading in the genre, so that was my model.  I had no clue what I was doing. I stopped because I wanted to be able to write real third acts, without concern for where I left the main characters.  I might pick it up again, though, and hopefully do it a little better than before.”


He is quick to point out that there is not a lot of similarity between himself and Carey.  “There’s a reason for the word ‘private’ in private investigator. But I had Neal use some of the techniques that I used.”


When it comes to a way an author works, some go for big plot outlines or fly by the seat of their pants, the approach Don takes is: “I usually outline, in the sincere and erroneous belief that I’m going to stick to it.  Usually about the hundredth page the train goes off the tracks and chaos ensues.” And as far as the importance of plot over character? “Character, character, character. You know, as a reader, I don’t even care about plot.  I want good writing with strong characters.”


“You know, I think I’ve been influenced by everyone I’ve read,” he reflects. “Surely, you have to go back to the standards – Raymond Chandler, John D. Macdonald, those guys – not that I’m comparing myself to them. Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy . . . . I love series fiction – I get the latest Dave Robicheaux the second it hits the shelves. Jeff Parker is usually cooking something up.  Ditto Michael Robotham, John Harvey.  I’m usually pretty stoked for the next Cormac McCarthy.”


Winslow’s books have provided material for Hollywood. Work is being carried out on A Cool Breeze on the Underground, but as Don explains, it depends on what day you ask the question.  “Right now, we’re in the early phases of casting the film to see who plays Neal.  It’s a real rollercoaster.” His novel The Death and Life of Bobby Z was made into a feature film entitled Bobby Z in 2007 featuring Laurence Fishburne, Paul Walker and Keith Carradine.  On the film version of his novel The Winter of Frankie Machine all he has to say on it is, “Mr. De Niro is going to play Frankie, and Mr. Mann is going to direct it.  The writers’ strike slowed things down, and now they’re back on track.”


Questioning him about Art Keller, Jack Wade and Frank Machianno and what makes them such extraordinary characters as on the one hand they are deeply flawed but on the other they are rebellious, independent and have their own idea of morality. “Well, I think we all took our marching orders from Chandler, didn’t we: ‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean. . . .’  I want to write characters who face conflicts that are simultaneously external and internal.  I hope that the things they experience on the outside change them on the inside during the course of the story.  I spend a lot of time getting to know a character before I even start writing the book.”


The Power of the Dog is a powerful novel.  He tracks five major characters over 30 years. Wondering where the impetus for the book came from and the difficulties arising, “The impetus came from real life,” Don explains.  “The massacre of women and children in a town in Mexico where people in San Diego go for cheap weekends.  I kept asking myself how it could happen, and then started writing about it. Yeah, it was awful.  It took five years of research and mostly rewriting, as it was hard to find the story in the mass of facts and events – most of the book being based on sad reality.  I was depressed by the time I finished it.”


His most recent book is The Dawn Patrol with surfing as a major theme, but does he admit to being a good surfer?  It did, because it made me take a longer look at surf culture and the society that surrounds it.  Surfing is surfing – you ride a wave or it rides you – that doesn’t change – but the culture does.  How good a surfer am I? I genuinely suck.”


California Fire and Life, The Power of the Dog and The Winter of Frankie Machine are all standalone novels all seem to interweave some involvement of the Mob.  Was this intentional?  “I don’t think so. If you write about crime in the larger sense, you’re probably per force going to write about organized crime.”


Along with Karin Slaughter, Simon Kernick and James Flint he wrote an audio book/podcast for BMW called Beautiful Ride. “I went to lunch with my English editor and he asked me if I wanted to do it,” he explains. “I can usually be had for bangers and mash, so I said yes.  They didn’t give me a theme or any requirements – they were great.  It was a blast – I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”


In his spare time he hits the water, walks and runs. A particular foible is that he likes driving around the West in a perpetual quest for the perfect chicken-fried steak, and “ I like sitting at the beach tossing down fish tacos.”


The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow


The Dawn Patrol is published by
William Heinemann Ltd  June 2008 pbk £12.99




For more information visit: www.donwinslow.com





  • The Dawn Patrol (June 2008)
  • The Winter of Frankie Machine (September 2006)
  • The Power of the Dog (2005)
  • California Fire and Life (1999)
  • Death and Life of Bobby Z (1997)
  • Isle of Joy (1996)
  • While Drowning in the Desert (1996)
  • A Long Walk Up the Water Slide (1994)
  • Way Down on the High Lonely (1993)
  • The Trail to Buddha's Mirror (1992)
  • A Cool Breeze on the Underground (1991)

Scripts and Screen Plays

  • Alexander Hamilton: In Worlds Unknown (Script and Film New York Historical Society)
  • The Full Ride




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