If you’re a fan of true crime, chances are you already know the name Patrick Radden Keefe. Known for his meticulous research and compulsively readable writing style, Patrick has brought to light stories about the devastating consequences of The Troubles in Ireland, the greed that drove the opioid epidemic, and the underground economies that exploit immigrants in America. His newest collection, Rogues, is a compilation of his best reporting from The New Yorker, along with a brand new introductory essay.
Bookseller Chelsea Stringfield caught up with Patrick ahead of his appearance at the Southern Festival of Books on October 15th at 3:00pm (view the full schedule here). Make your plans to hang out with us, Patrick, and a whole bunch of other amazing authors on the Plaza!
Chelsea Stringfield: Rogues includes profiles of not just criminals but a wide variety of people, including household names like Anthony Bourdain. What initially piques your interest in a person? How do you decide to pursue writing about a person or their story?
Patrick Radden Keefe: I’m interested in charisma – in big, forceful personalities, people who live right at the edge of convention, or outside it. Sometimes, these are criminals, people who have a very warped sense of right and wrong, but at other times they are people like Bourdain, who have just have a rebellious nature.
CS: This is a curated collection of your previously published articles and profiles. Were there any articles that didn’t make the book that you wish had been included? Is there anyone you haven’t written about yet that you are interested in?
PRK: The stories in Rogues are selected from about a dozen years of work, and I was surprised by some of the recurring themes that run through them. But when we started pulling them together, my editor said, “This is a greatest hits album—not a boxed set,” so of course there were stories that I love that couldn’t be included. One, “The Idol Thief,” involved a man in Rajasthan who smuggled looted religious antiquities out of India that ended up in many prominent museums in the West. In terms of other people who I would love to write about, there are so many. This is the downside of writing pieces that take months or even years to put together: there’s never enough time!
CS: The process of writing is so unique to each individual author. Can you describe your process? Does your process include any steps done by hand versus digitally?
PRK: I spend most of my time researching, and when I’m researching I am often working with printed out documents and old fashioned notebooks. I am fiendish about structure and am always thinking about how best to organize all that research, how to deal each card out to the reader in such a way that it will be possible to assimilate complex information clearly and thrilling to follow the story. When it comes to writing, I get up very early in the morning and drink a lot of very strong coffee and tend to write very quickly. But importantly, I’m not just composing on a blank page. At the point when I sit down to write, I have a very detailed road map—my outline—which tells me precisely where I’m going.
CS: Can you say anything about your next project? Any more podcast episodes in your future?
PRK: I’m trying to figure that out! I’m on the lookout for a new book topic, so if you know of any intriguing stories that need investigating, do let me know. As for podcasts, I do have an idea for another one, and I’ve just started to talk with my producers from “Wind of Change” about whether it seems worth exploring.
CS: We always like to finish up with this question: What is your favorite thing about independent bookstores?
PRK: I’m a lifelong devotee of independent bookstores. Any time I’m in a new city, I seek them out. What I love most—and what cannot be replicated online, or at larger corporate bookstores—is the sense of curation, the favorite books on display, the recommendations that feel personal and sincere and thoughtful, rather than algorithmically generated. As an author, I feel doubly grateful to independent bookstores, because much of the success of my last few books has been driven by booksellers who have championed the books and recommended them to customers. When that happens, the whole encounter of buying or selling a book is not just some sterile transaction, but a communal experience that binds us all together, as readers.
Patrick Radden Keefe will appear at the Southern Festival of Books on October 15 at 3:00pm. We hope to see you on The Plaza!