Ariel S Winter is the author of the widely acclaimed The Twenty-Year Death. Based in Baltimore, he also writes a blog called We Too Were Children Mr Barrie.
You are not as well known in the UK as you are in the US. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
This year, I published two books, one a novel for grownups entitled The Twenty-Year Death, and the other a picture book for children entitled One of a Kind. I also write the blog We Too Were Children, Mr Barrie, about children’s books written by adult authors such as Gertrude Stein, Grahame Greene, and John Updike.
What made you decide to write what are in essence three separate crime novels?
In the summer of 2007 I began a novel I thought of as Cloud Atlas as written by W. G. Sebald. There was a first person narrator, very much like myself, who was sitting and reading novels. Each novel was presented in full, so the reader got to read exactly what the narrator was reading. The first book I wrote within that book was Malniveau Prison, a Georges Simenon pastiche that became book one of The Twenty-Year Death. When I abandoned the original scheme for the larger novel, I wanted to preserve Malniveau Prison, since I knew it was the best part I had written and it could stand well on its own. So at first, I expanded it so that it could be its own novel. But as I was working on that rewrite, I began to think about a mystery series in which the through character is not the detective, but someone else. That thought is what led to The Twenty-Year Death, a novel comprised of three novels with different protagonists that all share some of the same characters.
How did you approach writing each novel since you had to contend with three different voices?
I wrote the books separately, so I did not have to jump between voices from day to day. I would work for a month or two in one voice, then a couple of months in a different voice. At the beginning of a writing session, I would read a paragraph or two of the author I wanted to emulate, to get the sound of that writer in my head. Then, as I wrote, I would make sure it sounded the same to me. Occasionally, I would refer back and read a sentence here or there of the original in order to make sure I had not strayed too far in my own writing. However, when I got into later rewrites, I stopped referring to the authors’ books, and made sure I sounded consistent myself.
Why Simenon, Chandler and Thompson and not any other authors?
Simenon happened simply because I was reading a lot of Simenon at the time, and thought I could do a Simenon novel pretty well. When I decided to expand the book to follow one character through different mystery styles, I chose Shem Rosenkrantz, the American writer living in France as the main character. A logical progression for an American writer living in France in the 1930s was to go to Hollywood in the 1940s, so Chandler made sense for Rosenkrantz’s life story. Since there were ten years between the first two books, I wanted ten years between book two and three, which put me in the 1950s. Jim Thompson was one of the most distinctive crime novelists of the ‘50s, and I was a big fan,