Ariel S. Winter
Ariel S. Winter is the author of the picture book One of a Kind illustrated by David Hitch, and the forthcoming novel The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime).
Are you a bookgeek?
Most definitely. I’m the kind of book consumer that cares about the jacket, the trim-size, the margins, etc. I enjoy finding two books that use the same source photo as much as any other aspect of books. I don’t go anywhere without a book, there’s no flat surface in the house that doesn’t have a book or books on it (including the floors), and Amazon is one of the first three things I check every morning along with my e-mail and blog reader. I’ve worked as a stacks assistant in a library, as a book conservator, as a bookseller, as an editorial assistant, and as an author. I got to visit the Random House distribution center last week, and it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I notice new editions of books, spend hours deciding which edition of a classic (Penguin, Oxford, Library of America, etc.) to read. Yes, I’m a bookgeek.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given (and do you follow it)?
I’m going to cheat and use two, both from my professor Alice McDermott: Never write a bad sentence, even if you’re just writing an email or a quick note. And, the only real writing is the writing you do at the desk, i.e. you can think about your work all you want, but only the actual writing matters. I try to follow both those pieces of advice.
Which authors do you find most inspiring as a writer?
Given my novel, which is three separate novels written in the style of Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson, I think I have to say Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. But over the years and more broadly, Philip Roth, John Updike, Jonathan Lethem, Alice McDermott, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan.
Do you have an audience in mind when writing, or do you just write for yourself?
I don’t strictly write for myself in the sense that I am always writing something I intend others to read. But I do try to follow the old adage, if I find it interesting then someone else will too, which is sometimes also said, write the book you want to read. So I don’t have a specific audience in mind, but I don’t write for myself.
Where do you write, and why?
I’ve been writing in the same spot in my university library for the last ten to twelve years. I find that leaving the house, and walking to the library gives me a chance to get into my writing mode, to separate myself from my non-writing life, and focus on the work I need to do. I also need quiet when I write, and a minimum of distractions, and the library provides that. For most of those years there was no such thing as wi-fi or my computer didn’t have the capability, so it forced me to write without the distraction of the internet. Now that I can just jump online, I think I’m less focused, but I do use the internet as a resource to spot check things too.
Tell us the book you most wish you had written.
I imagine you mean an actual book that someone else has written, and not some idea for a book that I haven’t written but wish I had. Off the top of my head, I’d say Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. His ability to work in so many different genres and voices so successfully, to have them all be compelling, and to connect them altogether is staggering, and was definitely an inspiration in writing The Twenty-Year Death.
In The Twenty Year Death, you work in the style of Simenon and Chandler, but create your own characters. Was there ever a temptation to resurrect Maigret or Marlowe?
Absolutely not. I never even considered it. Probably in part because I don’t feel I would have the right to do so. Also because I’m a stickler for canon. For example, I refuse to acknowledge the Curious George books not written by the Reys, or the fact that I just acquired twelve Boxcar Children books that I’ve started to read with my daughter, but only books by Warner, not the ones written since her death. Also, trying to be true to Simenon and Chandler’s styles was limiting enough, but to know that the main characters had the same personal history of the earlier books, and that they would only behave in certain ways would have been even more limiting. And I wanted the books to be my own.
The arc of Rosenkrantz’s life fits perfectly with the increasingly gritty styles of the books. Which came first – did you choose the writers to emulate and find a character arc to fit, or was it more organic than that?
It was organic. I started off writing another book with a frame narrative that was going to include a variety of books that would be presented in full. The first one I wrote was the Simenon pastiche simply because I was reading a lot of Simenon at the time and felt that it was something I could easily do. When the other book fell apart, I knew I wanted to do more with the Simenon book, so I lengthened it to be a standalone book. But then I started to think about doing a series in which the character that moves from book to book is one other than the detective. I settled on Rosenkrantz as that character, and it was natural that an American writer who was in France in the 1930s would end up in Hollywood in the 1940s like Fitzgerald or Hemingway. And L.A. meant Chandler. And since there were ten years between those two books, I decided on ten years between the second and third book, which meant picking a 1950s iconic crime author. Jim Thompson was the obvious choice.
Many writers talk about the subconscious “doing the heavy lifting” when they write. Does this happen for you when working in another author’s voice?
Writing in another writer’s voice is no different for me than writing in my own. The main difference is that, when I sit down to write, I first read a little of the author that I want to emulate, sometimes as little as a paragraph, just to get the voice in my head, and I might turn to it from time to time as I go. But, honestly, I often do that when I’m not trying to write in another voice, but simply trying to catch a certain tone. Then, on the rewrite, I try to not look at the author’s work, so that it does start to become my own as well as the inspiration’s voice.
You specifically avoided “Chandlerisms,” in order to avoid slipping into parody. What do you think it is about Chandler that has seen him imitated and parodied so much more than other crime writers?
No one else has that showy verbal flare, except maybe James Ellroy, and who could emulate Ellroy? And Chandlerisms are often funny when they’re written by Chandler himself, so the humor is already built-in. And for the most part, classic crime novels in particular strove for the clean, punchy Hemingway sentence, so there’s not a whole lot to distinguish their voices. The mood of those books, however, is often parodied, whether Chandlerisms are employed or not. It’s just when they’re not Chandlerisms, they could be anybody who wrote in the field.
You inscribe each book to the imitated author, “with apologies.” Does the old maxim about imitation being flattery not hold true here? From what we know of the authors as men, do you think they would welcome your work as an homage?
I took “with apologies” from the poems I remember in college that were answers to other poems, which let the reader know that they were part of a dialog through the “with apologies” dedication. It’s also meant as a sign of deference and humility. As to whether they would welcome my homages, I doubt it. I could hope for indifference, but I would probably be the subject of scorn.
Was there ever a better match of writer and publisher than that of yourself and Hard Case Crime
Absolutely not. When my agent and I decided it was time to go out to publishers, Hard Case was the first publisher I named. I knew they would get what I was doing. And I can’t imagine anyone other than Charles Ardai as an editor. He’s as steeped in these authors as I am, probably more so, and he also knows the importance of originality, so his ability to steer me between those two poles couldn’t have been done by anyone else.
Questions by Mike Stafford