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CSI Files - Keith R. A. DeCandido

Keith R. A. DeCandido

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 30, 2008 - 6:24 PM GMT

Keith R. A. DeCandido is the author of numerous novels and story tie-ins with shows such as Star Trek and its spin-offs, Supernatural, Dr. Who, Andromeda and Farscape among others. His first venture into the CSI world is the CSI: New York novel Four Walls set towards the end of the show's third season. DeCandido discussed his desire to write a New York book, his thoughts on the characters' back stories and the traumatic events they've undergone as well as his opinion on the current storylines in season four.

CSI Files: Congrats on the publication of your the CSI: New York novel, Four Walls! How did you end up penning a CSI book?

Keith R. A. DeCandido: It's not my usual thing as far as genre goes because I usually write science fiction and fantasy, but it is my usual in terms of being a TV show tie-in, which I've done many. I've written Star Trek novels, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Farscape, Andromeda and some others and I've written some stuff that would qualify as a mystery even though they were published as science fiction. I did a novel called Dragon Precinct which was a part fantasy mystery, and I've done a couple of Spiderman novels that could qualify as mysteries, as well as my Supernatural book. So I’ve written stuff that has at the very least mystery undertones. I'm also a big fan of stories that take place in New York City. The two Spiderman novels I've written [are set in New York], my first Supernatural novel also takes place in New York, I wrote a Buffy novel that takes place in New York in the '70s--one of the previous Slayers operated there. Just in general--I love writing stories that take place in my home town of New York.

So the editor of the CSI: New York line was aware of this. I had actually asked originally to work on the books when the show first started, however the editor at Pocket preferred, for perfectly understandable reasons, to go with the Edgar-award winning mystery author! Stuart Kaminsky did the first three. The Pocket contract only calls for four books. Stuart ended up not being available for the fourth book so the editor, who was someone I worked with before, turned to me and said, "Would you like to still do it?" And I said yes. So that's pretty much how it happened.

CSI Files: So this could potentially be the last CSI: New York novel?

DeCandido: Potentially. Like I said, the original contract called for four [novels] and [Four Walls] is the fourth and then I don't know one way or the other if Pocket will renew [the contract] or not. The hierarchy with the CSI [novels] pretty much follows what it is with the TV shows. The Vegas one is the most popular, followed by Miami, followed by New York. I honestly don't know what the future of the license will be beyond that.

CSI Files: Are you a fan of the CSI franchise?

DeCandido: I haven't been a dedicated follower of it. And the show rewards that sort of thing anyway--it tends to put the mysteries first--it's the sort of thing you can catch when you can. But when I got the assignment [for the book], I started watching CSI: New York more aggressively obviously. I wanted to be as up-to-date as possible, so DVD sets were only going to do me good up through the first two seasons. The third season was running at the time I was writing the book. The book actually takes place between the last two episodes of the season, right before "Snow Day", right after the whole Clay Dobson thing came to an end and that actually plays into the story and sets "Snow Day" up. It's not a major element; it just sort of places it in the show's history. The two main mysteries aren't specifically related to them, but the events of the previous episodes come into play in how the characters are dealing with stuff. When you're doing a novel, you need to get into the characters' heads a little more than you have to do in a 42 minute episode. You have the opportunity to dig into it a little more than the show does.

CSI Files: From the first chapter of the novel, it's clear you delve into Don Flack's head quite a bit and what he went through after the injuries he sustained in "Charge of This Post". What made you decide to focus on that incident?

DeCandido: There's one sequence, one chapter where three of the characters--Flack, Stella and Hawkes--all have nightmares relating to things that happened to them on the show. They're all triggered by events that happen in the book. Stella's working on a case where her number one suspect was previous accused of rape, and that triggers memories of her boyfriend, Frankie, who attacked her. The other case that Hawkes is working on along with Danny and Mac takes place in a prison and that reminds Hawkes of when he was arrested for murder, when he was framed by Shane Casey. And Flack [is grappling with pain] pills. So all three of them are having nightmares about their traumatic experiences. Basically what I was trying to do there was just address something the show doesn't do very often which is that some of these people have gone through some incredibly traumatic things. One of the things I'm actually enjoying in the fourth season is with Danny dealing with the fallout of Ruben Sandoval's death.

Sometimes the show hasn't been as good [at follow up] as it could be. In Flack's case in particular, those were some nasty injuries! And the next time we see him, he's just walking around like nothing happened. There's some mention of it by Stella and Lindsay [in "People with Money"] and then it's never mentioned again. He'd be on pain killers for months and months after that. I did notice that when he was having that hot and heavy thing with that blonde he was seeing that he kept his undershirt on [in "You Only Die Once"]. I hope if he ever does end up with his shirt off, they remember he should have very impressive scars [on his stomach]!

Television has a tendency to soft pedal what it takes to recover from a major traumatic experience. So that first chapter and later on with Flack dealing with stuff hurting him was just to show that those kinds of things tend to have longer term consequences than you usually see. And Flack's the kind of person who wouldn't let it show anyhow. When you're writing a novel, you have to get into more depth.

CSI Files: Were there any characters in the show you found it difficult to write?

DeCandido: Not really. I didn't use Danny as much as I would have liked simply because the plot just didn't call for him to be used. It wasn't because I didn't like the character--quite the opposite actually--that's just the way it wound up working out. But I enjoyed writing for everybody. Everybody had something I had to hook into to some degree or another. I included not only the opening credit characters but also [the recurring ones]. Adam's in the book and Sonya Walger's character, the DNA expert [Jane Parsons] is also in the book. And Detective Angell also--she's actually rapidly becoming my favorite character on the show.

CSI Files:That's my next question--do you have favorites among the characters?

DeCandido: Flack and Angell I'd say are my favorites. I've always been a fan of police procedure in general and so I find myself--and this is actually true of all three shows--gravitating towards the detectives. On the Vegas show, Brass tends to be my favorite, and I like Catherine also, and of course Frank on CSI: Miami. And Angell's really turning into a wonderful character; Emmanuelle Vaugier really does a wonderful job. With the little screentime she has, she's really created quite a character.

[In the book], there are two cases and it winds up being split along gender lines. One of the cases takes place in a prison, and I figured just for sanity's sake it would make more sense to keep the guys there and not having three attractive women walking around a prison--that's just a recipe for disaster. So it would make more sense to have the guys do that [case]. The other case is Angell's case and Lindsay and Stella are the CSIs on it. Because of when it takes place, Peyton is involved also so I used her as well. To vary it up, I had Peyton be the ME on the guys' case and Sid be the ME on the other thing just to shake up the gender [division] a little bit. And because of when it takes place, Peyton's still around and still dating Mac so I used her. That was part of the fun--getting into Mac's head a little bit. I'm sorry that [Peyton] didn't stick around [beyond the third season].

CSI Files: It's interesting to see how they've introduced a few potential love interests for Mac this season.

DeCandido: There's sparks between Mac and Quinn. [I like her] and yet I certainly understand why Mac is backing off, because he views what happened with her as a mistake. And even though Claire has been gone for seven years now, it's perfectly in character for Mac to not revisit the attraction because it represents a betrayal of her. It's possible he'll get past that. I also like the fact that Quinn fit in perfectly in the whole set up there--with Mac, with Stella, with Danny and Lindsay and everybody--even Sid!

CSI Files: What are you most enjoying about the show this season? If Pocket does renew the contract and you were to write another novel, what storylines on the show would you be most interested in exploring?

DeCandido: As with Four Walls, they'd be background elements, not main part of the story. In Four Walls all the stuff I've been talking about from the show are all background elements that are just informing what people are doing. Having said that, I'd certainly want to deal with Danny and what he's been going through with Lindsay and his relationship with Lindsay, which is in a state of mess. Plus the fact he did her a favor by taking her shift and got the crap beaten out of him for his trouble, which is something I wish they'd addressed, that he did her a favor and ended being taken hostage and assaulted pretty heavily. Because [Four Walls] took place before that, I couldn't deal with it. And that was another tremendous physical ailment that was magically cured by the start of the fourth season. And I think what happened with Rikki just worked perfectly. Part of it is that the woman who plays Rikki [Jacqueline Pinol] has been very convincing in the role as an actress throughout everything she's had to go through. I think one thing about the Danny/Lindsay thing is that it's a textbook example of why inter-office relationships are a bad idea.

One other thing that I dealt with to some extent in Four Walls and would like to do more is the politics in the NYPD which is to some extent [apparent] in the Clay Dobson thing although I thought the conclusion was kind of hammy [in "...Comes Around"]. Because honestly, I kept watching that thing and they kept trying to make me believe that Mac was being railroaded and I didn't buy it. Mac was completely in the wrong! I actually admired that they were doing that with their main character, but then they finked out in the end by having him come out in the end, although railroading the senior detectives and your boss like that is not something that will make your life easier as you go along. They brought back Sinclair for one episode, but it really didn't go anywhere, but both his and Carmen Argenziano's characters were wonderful. Gerrard and Sinclair were wonderful characters. I really liked the antagonistic dynamic between Gerrard and Mac, which in fact plays very heavily into Four Walls. I made use of Gerrard quite a bit and the issues he has [with Mac]. My favorite TV show is The Wire on HBO. The thing I love about that is the way it deals with the office politics and how much that affects the way cops do their job which affects the whole crime solving thing. That's something I would probably want to deal with some more as well.

And I'd like to do more with Flack and Angell because I like them. Just the traumas these characters have had to deal with--all of these guys are damaged to some extent. Mac's got what happened with Claire, Stella's got not only Frankie but now she's burned out of her house, Lindsay was sitting in a bathroom while her best friends were shot, Danny's got Ruben, Flack was in an explosion...these are some very screwed up people! So there's plenty of fodder for [exploration]. And also in Hawkes case there was being arrested and also when he left surgery because of losing a patient on the table. And I get the impression from several things--I don't think they've come out and said, but part of it is the way A.J. [Buckley] does is his scenes--is that Adam was abused as a kid. I really hope they explore that at some point. If they do, that would be fun to get into. It's one of those things where you don't know where the show is going to go so because of that you don't want to deal with it in fiction because the show can turn around and establish something completely different. So you have to stick with what we actually know.

One other thing I might want to do is have part of it be a flashback so I have an excuse to be able to write the character of Aiden. I absolutely adored her. The characters I liked the most when I first started watching the show were Flack, Danny and Aiden because they were the ones who felt like New Yorkers to me. Those three actors are actually from New York, whereas the others aren't. In Mac's case, they had him be from Chicago, which is where Gary Sinise was from.

CSI Files: It was a shame when Aiden was written out and replaced with a character who wasn't from New York.

DeCandido: The other problem I have with the show is the writers don't always seem to get New York. Like the whole street luge thing [in "Playing with Matches"]--that would never happen. There's absolutely no way you can do street in midtown Manhattan. The streets are never that empty! And the streets are too close together. You could do it in the outer boroughs--if they'd done that, it would have been fine. I remember there was a first season episode where they obviously had no idea how friggin' huge Central Park is--little things like that are frustrating. They're going on location more often, which is good. You can always tell when they're outside and it's L.A. instead of New York. It's a byproduct--you got that in NYPD Blue all the time. It's not as noticeable with Vegas and Miami because you can disguise L.A. as Miami a lot more easily. You've still got the palm trees and sunlight. New York just has a different feel.

CSI Files: Would you like to write another CSI novel of some sort?

DeCandido: Absolutely. I have to sit down and write the pitch, but I have a Vegas story I've been meaning to do. That's one that's particular to Vegas. The cases in Four Walls are [specific to New York]. I did serious research on the prison in Staten Island [where one of the mysteries is set]. I took a tour of the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in Staten Island, talked to various people who worked there and tried to make it as authentic as possible. The other murder takes place at an Italian bakery in the Bronx, which is actually modeled after an Italian bakery that I'm familiar with. I tried to get the local flavor in both cases.

The idea I have for [the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation novel] is one that could only happen in Vegas. It's one particular locale that only exists in Vegas.

For more from Keith R. A. DeCandido on his writing career and his science fiction works, please visit TrekToday!

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.