“The Twenty Year Death” stayed with me. It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished this trilogy of crime novels but I found myself thinking about the characters on and off. When I was offered an opportunity to interview author, Ariel S. Winter, I accepted gladly.
char: How did you come up with the idea for a trio of stories?
ARIEL: The first book, Malniveau Prison, was written with a different novel in mind altogether. My idea was to write a novel made up of several short novellas, each written in a different genre. When that original idea didn’t take shape in a way I was satisfied with, I decided that I still wanted to do something with Malniveau, since I felt it was still quite good. I had the thought: what would a mystery series look like if we follow a secondary character from book to book instead of the detective? The Twenty-Year Death came out of that thought.
char: It’s not really just a “first” novel – it’s three firsts. Did the over-arching story come to you as a whole or in those three separate parts?
ARIEL: The first book was written without any idea of what it would become. Once I began to think of it as a series following one character, books two and three came together as a natural progression for the character’s life. Shem Rosenkrantz is a critically successful American novelist living in France in 1931. Many of the writers who did that in real life, later wrote for Hollywood, which is where book two is set, and I knew how I wanted the whole thing to end, which really shaped book three.
char: Why Simenon, Chandler and Thompson?
ARIEL: Simenon came about simply because I was reading a lot of Simenon at the time. Once I decided to expand the work into three interrelated books, it only made sense to continue to write in the voice of other great mystery writers. As I said, since a natural progression for an American author at that time was to go from France to Hollywood, Raymond Chandler was the obvious choice. He owns L.A. in the hard boiled world. Then to maintain the ten year spread between books, which put book three in 1951, I chose Thompson because he’s one of the greatest crime novelists of the period, and his outlook on life was appropriate for Rosnkrantz’s arc.
char: The “feeling” of each novel is different, in part, due to the subtleties of the three styles. But the mood changes as well. There’s humor and then some darkness – is it an exploration of human nature? Does the different motivation of each Detective play into that?
ARIEL: In the first two books I used the detectives as lenses by which we see the Rosenkrantzs. Their own stories and emotions are important and hopefully compelling, but when mapping the changes in mood from book to book, the only way to measure it is by the one constant, which is Shem Rosenkrantz. And while we catch Shem at a bad time in book one, it’s clear that he’s relatively happy, self-assured, and at the height of his powers. While Simenon’s hard novels are very bleak, the Maigret novels often have light elements, so Simenon’s world is one that can accommodate a happy man at an unhappy time. As Shem’s life falls progressively to pieces, he descends through bleaker and bleaker literary styles–Chandler and then Thompson–and it’s those narrators that can best draw those moments in his life.
char: There seems to be a lot of “hope” and a fair amount of “hopelessness” in each novel – where does that come from?
ARIEL: Much of it is imported from the authors I’m emulating. Simenon’s Maigret hopes that just once people won’t disappoint him. Chandler’s Marlowe hopes that he can hold back the fall of society by being an honorable man. And even Thompson’s narrators often start from a place of hope, even if it’s only a hope that their lives will get better if they do this one thing. Of course, all three of those authors are drowning in hopelessness too, which in many ways comes simply from living through the two world wars and the Depression. As to where it is in me? I like to say I’m an optimistic pessimist. Anyone who writes for years and years and years, receiving rejection after rejection and no encouragement is probably a miserable person. I was. But to keep doing it anyway betrays an element of hope underlying it all.
char: Will you be writing more in the genre? Do you have other ideas brewing?
ARIEL: Earlier this year I rewrote a novel I had originally written before The Twenty-Year Death, about a family coming together for the eldest daughter’s engagement party only six weeks after the parents have announced their divorce. Needless to say, it’s not a mystery. My agent and I are shopping it around now, so hopefully that will be my next published novel. I write children’s books as well as adult fiction, and I have a picture book script I want to expand into an early chapter book, which is probably the next thing I’m going to work on. But I love mysteries, and I’m sure I’ll revisit the genre at some time in the future.
“The Twenty Year Death” will be released on August 7 – pick up your copy! You won’t be disappointed.