Jesse Miles grew up in Central California, where his ancestors had arrived from Arkansas and Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl migration. When he was eleven years old, his father took him on a business trip to Los Angeles, and little Jesse immediately decided he wanted to live in L.A.
During his college years in Orange County and Los Angeles, his part-time and summer jobs included work as an insurance investigator in the Hollywood area. That work experience provided some thought-provoking insights into the human condition and laid part of the foundation for his writing detective novels.
He earned an MBA at UCLA and put in three decades with a large corporation, working mostly in computer security. Over the years, he worked with a wide range of law enforcement and military intelligence veterans, learning many lessons of criminality, investigation, and survival.
Jesse currently lives in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. His interests include classic films, pro bicycle racing, Russian ballet, and Formula 1. In his spare time he goes to the gym and hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.
FAQs with Jesse Miles
What made you want to write detective fiction?
Soon after I started my corporate career, I read all the Raymond Chandler mysteries back-to-back. The stories jumped off the page and smacked me in the face. I had never seen words used so economically and so effectively. I knew then that I had to write L.A. private detective fiction. This was a big turnaround for me. I had been a science fiction reader since I was ten years old. When I was a teenager, I entertained the idea of writing science fiction, but not crime fiction.
How did the Jack Salvo character come into being?
My full-time job and youthful restlessness made writing difficult, but I hacked away over the years, and the Jack Salvo character slowly began to take shape. I read Ross MacDonald, Mickey Spillane, Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, and others. I read some of their novels a second and third time. I read Raymond Chandler again and again, with a special reverence. I watched a lot of detective films and TV shows, trying to keep track of the clues and guess the outcome.
Most of Jack Salvo’s qualities are traditional, derived from established fictional private investigators. I concluded there were certain prerequisites. Like a knight or a Western hero, he has to be strong and brave, and possess a hard-wearing sense of justice. He has to feel empathy for victims and anger at predators. He has to be a soft touch for those in need. Like a savvy cop, he observes the human condition with a balance of cynicism and hope. With regard to integrity, he is no angel, but always honorable.
Where did the philosophy angle come from?
When I was in college, there was a brilliant young professor in the Philosophy Department. He wasn’t athletically inclined, but he had the size and appearance of an NFL quarterback. In addition to publishing scholarly papers in philosophy journals, he was a true educator. He wasn’t happy until he saw light bulbs blazing over his students’ heads. He had movie star looks and a top-drawer Ph.D. We’ll call him Professor X.
The girls swooned over him. That was especially annoying to me, since the swooning girls included my favorite coed. He was mild-mannered and uncompromisingly polite, like Clark Kent. He was the sort of man who would speak to the custodian in the same cordial tone as he would to the college president.
I don’t know what sparked this thought, but somewhere in the development of the Jack Salvo character, I asked myself, “What if Professor X were a tough guy with a short fuse? What if he were inclined to punch the noses of the phonies, bullies, and other degenerates that are so prevalent in L.A.? What if he had a compulsion toward frankness and sarcasm that precluded his fitting into a scholastic environment?” It seemed like an interesting blend of erudition and grit, and I went with it.
Where did the espionage angle in DEAD DROP come from?
My corporate career was with a large aerospace company. I worked mostly in computer security and other phases of security. My coworkers included retired LAPD cops who had shot down armed robbers, raided porno movie productions in the Hollywood Hills, and met Chicago gangsters at the airport and “suggested” they go back where they came from. My favorite cop stories were of the 1950’s LAPD “hat squad” detectives who worked out of the Los Angeles City Hall.
I also worked with retired military intelligence officers who had done clandestine work in various worldwide locales. One character always kept a packed briefcase under his desk, just in case he ever needed a trench coat, burglar tools, or the lock-picking kit he had fabricated during his training at a “farm” near Washington D.C.
As a group, the retired cops and operatives were conscientious, tough, and honorable.They were a good-natured group, with a proclivity toward ribald humor. They were also somewhat deficient in their written communication skills. I had a reputation for getting my commas in the right place, so I frequently ended up on security-related committees and special projects. I was always the go-to guy for writing the final report.
One of my career high points occurred during a security conference in Arlington, Virginia. I found myself in a small group that included California Congressman Bob Dornan, FBI Associate Deputy Director Oliver “Buck” Revell, and a Russian KGB defector named Stanislav Levchenko. I’ve often thought that my being in that rarified air was the starting point for the espionage story in DEAD DROP.
Where did the Russian ballet angle come from in Church of Spilled Blood?
Some of my readers are surprised that CHURCH OF SPILLED BLOOD takes place against the background of Russian ballet. They ask me, “How did you get interested in ballet?”
A few years ago, I was working in an office where my desk was near a group of mainframe computer programmers. On a Friday morning one of the programmers came to work wearing a long face. We’ll call him Spike. One of the guys asked Spike what was bugging him. He said, “My wife is making me go to the f*****g ballet this Sunday. We have to drive to downtown L.A., and I have to wear a f*****g suit and sit there like I have a stick up my a** and watch people prance around the stage in weird costumes. My weekend is totally ruined.” The guys in the office, including me, were deeply sympathetic. We knew nothing about ballet.
Monday morning Spike came into the office, and someone said to him, “So how bad was the ballet experience?” Spike was wide-eyed and dead serious. “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen! I can’t wait to see it again.” He went on to describe the dancers’ strength and agility, how the dancing blended perfectly with the music, and the great-looking ballerinas. A little bell went off in the back of my head.
You can’t appreciate Spike’s response unless you know him. He was a team player in the office. A genuinely nice guy. He always had a quick smile, a wise-ass witticism, and a new off-color joke. He was a serious gym rat, with a massive upper body. He never bullied anyone or kissed anyone’s ass. In the Army, Spike had been an expert with machine guns and other serious weaponry. As a civilian, he had been the fastest street racer in town, with his blindingly fast Corvette. He now commuted to work in a slightly less ferocious Corvette. When he was single, he had to fight off all the girls, and that was the only circumstance in which his fighting had ever been lackluster.
I figured if Spike liked the ballet, there must be something to it, so I bought a couple of ballet videos. I was impressed, to say the least. I watched more videos. I read a few books. Pretty soon I knew the difference between La Sylphide and Les Sylphides. The big turning point was when I saw the Kirov Ballet perform in Los Angeles. It was a magical world of movement, form, color, and music. Since then, I’ve seen the top Russian companies many times, mostly from the front row.
Russian ballerinas have a rare combination of athleticism, artistry, girlishness, and guts. They usually start dancing when they are five or six years old and willingly give up the usual childhood amusements. They endure rigorous training and a brutal selection procedure that has been in place since the 18th century. The best ballerinas perform live, in front of discerning audiences, without a shred of stage fright. The French call it sang froid (cold blood), and it’s heart-warming.
When do you write?
I like to get up early and write for five or six hours. After that my brain usually slows down. I try to write another two or three hours in the evening. On occasion, I get in a zone and write all day and into the night.
I have a story idea (or a manuscript). May I send it to you for your review?
For legal reasons, I cannot accept unsolicited material.
Do you answer the e-mails you receive?
I review my e-mails, and I enjoy hearing from my readers, but I cannot guarantee a response to all of them.