Ariel S. Winter, the author of The Twenty Year Death, which is a smash hit amongst pulp fiction crime lovers, have agreed to give Killer Aphrodite readers a bit of an insight into his world. Published through Titan Books, The Twenty Year Death has already gotten quite a bit of publicity and praise from well-known authors, such as Stephen King, James Frey and David Morell. What’s more is that this is merely the beginning of what hopes to be one heck of a writing career. Killer Aphrodite Entertainment welcomes Mr. Winter with open arms and hopefully we can all get a glimpse into the mind of a Hard Case Crime novelist…
Monique: The Twenty Year Death is one thrilling book from the start to the finish, with 670 pages of fun-filled edginess that is reminiscent of 1940’s and 1950’s pulp; it’s quite an epic debut you made. I guess the question is, why start writing a book that, in my personal opinion, is aimed at probably the most difficult genre in literature?
Ariel: The shortest answer is that I’m a fan. The slightly longer answer is that I didn’t at first set out to write what became The Twenty-Year Death. My original idea was even more ambitious, a frame narrative in which the stories were complete novels. The novels were supposed to be in various genres, but I started with a Simenon pastiche simply because I was reading a lot of Simenon at the time. When I first abandoned that book, I wasn’t thinking of doing anything more than expanding the Simenon into its own book. But concurrently, I started to think about how a mystery series would work if we followed a character other than the detective. Since I already had one pastiche on hand, I liked the idea that the character would wander between several distinct, familiar crime novels. I hoped that it would allow me to say something about the evolution of the genre and the way in which genre affects the way that characters are depicted. I can’t tell you exactly how long this transition took place, but suffice it to say that it was at least eight months, so you can imagine, by the time I was thinking in those terms, I was well into the book. So I never had a moment where I thought, this is a difficult genre to attack. If anything, I thought the reverse. That these were books I could easily mimic. I did, however, think that it might be a really hard book to sell. Not to the public, but to a publisher.
Monique: Of course your motivation may have dwindled from time to time?
Ariel: No. As any writer, I’m a fairly focused and disciplined person, and I was excited about the task I had set myself, so I don’t remember ever questioning what I was doing or considering dropping it.
Monique: There’s always this saying that authors write about what they know (as an author, I guess I fall into the stereotype), but as far as inspiration is concerned, what really inspired you to write this tale?
Ariel: So, write what you know can be interpreted in many ways. At base, what it means is that you should write about your life experience, and that is good advice. But we also know a lot of things that aren’t from life experience. Like what we read, for example. So, I don’t know anything about being an alcoholic or a murderer from life experience, but I do know a lot about those things from what I read. So, again, at base, I was inspired to do the book because I’m a fan, which is just another way of saying, I wrote the kind of book I know I love. So my inspiration was books. Obviously, the books of Simenon, Chandler, and Thompson, but also the books of David Mitchell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and any number of other mystery writers.
Monique: The Twenty Year Death spans across three decades, so it’s basically three books in one and somehow they all come together perfectly to tell the story of murder, lust and redemption. Did you feel it was a big risk to take, especially considering that crime noir has not made the impact as a genre it did a few years ago?
Ariel: Yes, as I said, I was worried about finding a publisher. I knew the book was a page turner, but I also knew that its conceit might get it labelled experimental or high concept. But my biggest concern was whether or not I would actually tie it all together so that it felt like there was a reason this was all one book. I’m still worried about that, but most reviewers seem to have gotten it, so I have to trust them and assume I pulled it off.
Monique: I did do my homework beforehand and noticed that you have written a children’s book, called One of a Kind (Aladdin), before The Twenty Year Death. The two genres are worlds apart and from a psychological perspective it’s quite interesting to see an author have such a wide range. But why the jump?
Ariel: So, first I would amend that to ‘I published a picture book before my novel’ as opposed to ‘wrote it before my novel’. I’d already been working on what became The Twenty-Year Death for a year before I wrote the initial draft of One of a Kind. I then sold the picture book a whole year before the novel, but because of the lag time in picture books, the two books then came out only two months apart. As for the jump, I’m the kind of writer who often tries his hand at whatever form he’s excited about at the time. I was a children’s bookseller in New York for a year, so I was immersed deeply in children’s books, baby and picture books in particular, and I became impassioned by the form. I of course, had been writing adult novels for many years before that, and I’ve never planned to give that up, but I definitely want to continue to do both. Having subsequently become a father, I’ve had reason to read more and more children’s books, and my excitement for the form has yet to wane. The process between both forms isn’t that different, however, except that writing a picture book can take a lot less time, so I don’t see it as a vastly different skill.
Monique: Okay, enough of the very serious questions, tell us about what you do when you’re not writing. Who is Ariel S. Winter?
Ariel: I’ve been the primary caregiver to my daughter since she was born (she’s four now), so a lot of what I do is dollhouse, coloring, playing games, reading, Legos, blowing bubbles, and preparing meals, doing laundry, and chauffeuring my wife and daughter. What I do for fun other than reading? My wife and I have been doing a lot of Lego sets ourselves, separate from the ones my daughter has. I’m a big comic book fan and Masters of the Universe fan and vintage Fisher-Price toys fan and Little Golden Books fan, which is just another way of saying I’m a collector. So, at time, I spend a lot of time on eBay. I’ve got it under control now, dipping in here and there as opposed to hours a day (not necessarily buying anything, but shopping), but I tend to obsess over pop cultural things in general.
Monique: I’m sure you’re already contemplating your next novel… Can you give my readers a little insight into what we can expect next from you?
Ariel: I’m rewriting a novel I wrote before The Twenty-Year Death named And Other Permanent Things. It all takes place in one day. The Krauss family is coming together for the engagement party of the oldest daughter. However, the parents have split up only six weeks prior, and the younger daughter gets thrown out of her house that morning for sleeping with her housemate’s boyfriend, so everyone’s bringing a lot of stress into this party. It doesn’t go well.
Monique: Do you have any profound words to share with aspiring authors? What’s your secret to success in writing?
Ariel: The most important one is to never give up. Write every day and don’t stop. Ever. Someone else gives up every day, so every day you don’t, you’re one step ahead.
Monique: Finally, one of my quirkier questions… What’s your favourite book?
Ariel: Naming one favorite of anything makes me anxious, because I feel like I want to give so many caveats. But for the sake of the exercise, I would say House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski. Every single aspect of that book, the story, the suspense, the voices, the experimentation, the subtexts, the audacity, the conceit. It’s mind-blowing. Fun to read and impressive. Both intellectually stimulating while being a great suspense novel. And it holds up over multiple readings.
Monique: Lastly, I would like to thank you for giving me an opportunity to delve inside your mind. Do you have anything else you’d like to tell our readers as a closing statement of sorts?
Ariel: I recently wrote a list for Flavorwire about experimental novels. House of Leaves and Cloud Atlas were on there, of course, as I’ve mentioned them again in this interview. But I chose to limit myself to novels written in English (with one exception). That meant that I left some titles off that I’d like to mention, but I’ll focus on one here: The Manuscript Found in Saragosa by Jan Potocki. It’s a frame narrative with the conceit, like House of Leaves, that the frame narrative is a lost manuscript that has been discovered years later. The stories within the frame narrative range widely and include living skeletons, underground Moorish palaces, and lots of other crazy things. I highly recommend picking it up, if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.