True voice brings 'True Detective' to life

A: I think so. But I did become a better writer when I stopped teaching. I didn't have to keep bringing myself back to the beginning of a conversation about narrative and communicate the same things again to a new set of students every semester. I could just keep extending the conversation I have with myself on narrative.

Q: Were you watching TV during this time, while you were teaching?

A: Sure was. I was in grad school when "The Wire," "The Sopranos" and "Deadwood" were on HBO simultaneously, and those shows filled my hunger for fiction in such a more vital way than the contemporary novels I was reading. Those shows were engaging the culture, people were having conversations about them everywhere. And they weren't talking about books with the same intensity. So, producing something in a popular medium like TV, where I could be part of a cultural dialogue, appealed to me. To actually do that, though, was ludicrous. But the interesting thing about the TV industry now: They want writers. You can come here with only your work as your calling card and within two years be running a show on HBO — no?

Q: The show is a character study disguised as a police procedural, but did it have to be police?

A: I think you can take any genre, and it can be revitalized by the appearance of unique characters and by allowing that genre to try on affects not associated with that genre. But this had to be a procedural, because that's where my areas of research have gone deepest. But also, if one of the chief aims of this show is an investigation into these two lead characters, then it seems natural to adopt the form of an investigation itself.

Q: So the red meat is the serial killer investigation.

A: Or the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

Q: And the two detectives on the show, one poetic and brooding, one no-bones and unpretentious — flip sides of the same person? Or different sides of yourself, divided into a pair of characters?

A: They are much closer in their flaws than they care to admit. But yes to all of that. These are two types of man that I am afraid I could become. OK, so what's unsettling about the show? A serial killer? I don't walk around scared of serial killers. But I do walk around wondering about being a bad father and worrying about having some unforeseen effect on my child. You can't live your life on eggshells, but the idea that there is a perfidy in the world that we can't stop from infiltrating the purest parts of our lives — that's what scares me.

cborrelli@tribune.com

Twitter @borrelli

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