MysteryPeople Q&A with Ariel S. Winter

~post & Q&A by Chris M.

One of the perks of working for a store like BookPeople (aside from tons and tons of free books) is getting the opportunity to talk to the authors we love about their work. Recently I was given the honor of interviewing Ariel S. Winter, the author of one of 2012’s best mystery novels, The Twenty-Year Death. Keep reading to see what he had to say about his writing process, crime fiction, and his future plans.


MYSTERYPEOPLE: I’m sure people have been asking you this constantly, but what made you decide to write The Twenty-Year Death in the style of three master crime writers?

AW: The seed that became The Twenty-Year Death started as a novella in a larger novel. In that novel, the frame narrative was about an introspective reader reading through stacks of books. As he read, the book he was reading was presented in full, and the first of those books I wrote was Malniveau Prison a Georges Simenon pastiche. So in the context of that book, it was supposed to be as if the main character was actually reading Simenon. Once I abandoned that book, I wanted to do something with Malniveau Prison, so I started by expanding it into a full length book on its own. But at the same time, I began to ask myself what a mystery series would look like if a character other than the detective travelled from book to book. There are many ways to approach that idea, but since I had a Simenon on hand, I followed through with the thought, what would happen if one of Simenon’s characters wound up in a Chandler novel? Then in a Thompson novel?

MP: You do such an admirable job emulating the masters, was there one style that you enjoyed writing over the others?

AW: The challenge of writing in another author’s voice while still making it your own is fun regardless of which author you’re working on, so I wouldn’t say I preferred one to another. Chandler was probably the most intimidating.

MP: I’ll be honest, Shem is kind of an asshole throughout the book, but in the end I found myself rooting for him. Do you think he truly got what he deserved, or did he get off easy?

AW: He definitely didn’t get off easy. No matter how boorish, alcoholic, and womanizing you are, nobody really deserves what Shem goes through at the end. I feel sorry for him, but I know I’m in the minority. He had flaws that he allowed to control him, and they dragged him down emotionally, personally, and professionally. Nowadays, he would have ended up on a mood stabilizer and so much of his pain would have been avoided.

MP: The novel is quite broad in scope; did you have a difficult time getting started?

AW: It helped that I had a third of it written before I decided on the final structure. When you have a full book sitting there, it takes some of the pressure off, because, if this new plan falls through (as the first one did), you still have this good book sitting there (like the first time). Once I did decide on writing the second two books, I remember knowing it was ambitious, but never doubting I could do it. My biggest concern was whether or not the through characters’ story would feel like its own book that justified the whole conceit. I still worry about that sometimes.

MP: The Twenty-Year Death is out via Hard Case Crime. How does it feel to be working with such a classic publisher?

AW: When I was writing the book, I knew it should be a Hard Case book. I told my agent right up front that Hard Case was the place for it. No one else could have edited it as well as Charles Ardai, and no one else could have gotten it the attention it has received. Stephen King blurb? I wouldn’t have that somewhere else. Hard Case has done their all, and I couldn’t be happier.

MP: This might seem like an obvious question, but I have to ask; what’s your next move as a writer?

AW: I’m rewriting an older novel about a family coming together for the eldest daughter’s engagement party only six weeks after the parents have announced their divorce. It isn’t a mystery, but that doesn’t mean I’m done writing mysteries. It just means a mystery isn’t the next thing I’ll be doing. As you may know, I also released a children’s picture book this year called One of a Kind, and I have several other picture book scripts that I’m hoping to sell in the near future as well.

Many thanks to Ariel S. Winter and his publicist for taking the time to do this interview. Be sure to grab a copy of The Twenty-Year Death at Book People!

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