His latest book, Three Days In Chicagoland, is a collection of short stories.
Roger met me at The Slaughterhouse, were we talked about the book and his band The Whiskey Poets.
Tell us about your new collection of stories with Orion.
I was asked to write some short stories. I am not a short story writer. Short story-writing is a very definite skill and discipline, quite different from writing a novel. However, the idea intrigued me and I started to think about what I could do within the short story parameters. I proposed the idea that I could perhaps write three linked stories, each in first person, each their own story, but each giving the viewpoint of the same event from an entirely different perspective. Hence, ‘Three Days in Chicagoland’ was born. ‘The Sister’, ‘The Cop’ and ‘The Killer’ tell the tale of the murder of a young woman in Chicago in 1956, and the first story begins with on the night before he is executed. Finally, at the end of the third story you get the ‘Prologue’, and here we get the viewpoint of the victim herself. Each story is designed to give you a definite certainty about what really happened, and then at the end of the story that idea is turned on its head. Only when you get to the Prologue do you really know. Each story is about 15,000 words long, so together they run to approximately a third of a novel. I wanted to write a crime novel stripped down to its bare bones, and then tell it in reverse. That’s what I think we have here. And the tone, the atmosphere, the language, the characters were all very much influenced by one of my great passions which is the Golden Age of Hollywood noir and thriller genre, films like ‘Strangers on a Train’, ‘Psycho’, ‘White Heat’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Detective Story’. Those scripts were all extraordinarily well-written, the dialogue was crisp and punchy, and they did not all have the fabled ‘Hollywood ending’. Take a look at ‘Detective Story’ with Kirk Douglas. A real tough ending, no redemption at all. That’s the kind of tone and
What strategies do you think are effective for a fiction writer to boost sales these days?
Honestly, I have no idea, and most of the marketing and promotion professionals I speak to in the publishing industry have no idea either. Booksales have crashed dramatically by 20 or 30 percent in two consecutive years, and kindles and e-readers have not in any way compensated for the shortfall. If you change the format in which a book is presented, it doesn’t make readers out of non-readers. Authors are being dropped left, right and centre. Publishers are cutting back on promotion and marketing costs. The changes in Waterstones have caused widespread chaos in the industry. We have lost Borders and last year we closed one independent bookstore each week. It is worse, statistically, than it has ever been. As one very senior and very experienced marketing manager said to me only last week, ‘Frankly, it’s alchemy. We’re just trying everything we can, but right now there’s no real signs of improvement.’
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on the novel for 2014, as yet untitled, which is going to be rather epic, I feel! I have recently completed ‘The Devil and The River’ for 2013, and that is now away for editing. I am also about to embark upon two week-long tours – the first in Canada, the second in France, and I am also in rehearsal with the band with a view to getting on the road in the not-too-distant future.
How are the Whiskey Poets?
Alive and well and living somewhere in the Midlands (mostly!). We are – coincidentally – in rehearsal currently. We intend to be gigging before the end of the year, as long as the drummer decides to get a job closer to Birmingham than Brighton! I am busy honing my chops, writing lots of songs, keeping the thing going in the right direction. Watch this space…
Thank you Roger for a brilliant and informative interview.
All R.J. Ellory titles:
A Dark and Broken Heart (2012) at Amazon US and UK
Bad Signs (2011) at Amazon US and UK
Saints of New York (2010) at Amazon US and UK
The Anniversary Man (2009) at Amazon US and UK
A Simple Act of Violence (2008) at Amazon US and UK
A Quiet Belief in Angels (2007) at Amazon US and UK
City of Lies (2006) at Amazon US and UK
A Quiet Vendetta (2005) at Amazon US and UK
Ghostheart (2004) at Amazon US and UK
Candlemoth (2003) at Amazon US and UK