Monday, August 14, 2017

Robert Ellis: THE DEAD ROOM, Did you expect it to be so successful?

Reader: THE DEAD ROOM is your most popular novel. More writers have ripped off this title than any book I've ever heard of, including the romance writer, Heather Graham, who should have known better. A movie came out last year, a really bad movie, ripping off the title. In my bookstore, THE DEAD ROOM by Robert Ellis, is still the best selling thriller they've ever had on their shelves. Did you expect this kind of success when you wrote this novel?

Robert: If you had asked this question last week or even last month or last year, I would have said that THE DEAD ROOM was definitely my most popular novel. But now, with CITY OF ECHOES and THE LOVE KILLINGS, that's just not true anymore! CITY OF ECHOES and THE LOVE KILLINGS are actually a single story that took two books to tell. Once everybody figured it out, these two novels caught fire and changed everything for me.

Don't get me wrong, the Lena Gamble novels are my most critically acclaimed work to date, and I'm so proud to have created these stories and this wonderful female detective. If I was writing detective fiction like Michael Connelly, I would have continued with Lena's character until the end. But I write thrillers, not detective stories. Thrillers work and move so much differently, and it's just not possible to continue with a single character for very long. Once a character gains experience, they lose vulnerability, which is the key to anyone who writes and reads and loves a great thriller. While I may find a way to work Lena back into a story with Detective Matt Jones or even the defense attorney, Teddy Mack, someday in the future, it's still not on the map.

But getting back to THE DEAD ROOM, I believe that in crime fiction there are only a few writers pushing the genre forward. I dedicated THE DEAD ROOM to my father because he introduced me to one of them, Thomas Harris, and his masterpiece, RED DRAGON. THE DEAD ROOM will always  be special for me because it was more or less an attempt to push the ball one step further up the mountain. From the overwhelming response, we succeeded. But even more, the story is set outside Philadelphia in the towns and neighborhoods where I grew up, so it feels very personal. And then, of course, LAPD Detective Matt Jones brings it all back in THE LOVE KILLINGS by returning to Philadelphia for another series of  particularly gruesome murders in places I walked as a child and young man.

THE DEAD ROOM will always be special, but right now, everything on the stove has come to a boil because of CITY OF ECHOES and THE LOVE KILLINGS. While some critics believe that the Lena Gamble novels, CITY OF FIRE, THE LOST WITNESS, and MURDER SEASON are my best work, LAPD Detective Matt Jones in CITY OF ECHOES and THE LOVE KILLINGS are my two favorites right now. And yes, I'm working on Matt Jones's third case as we speak and it's going well!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Reader: Two quick questions. First, why do your characters sometimes smoke cigarettes? And second, in your novel THE LOST WITNESS LAPD Detective Lena Gamble shares cigarettes with her partner, Stan Rhodes. Your novel was the bestselling work of crime fiction in Southern California that year, as all the Lena Gamble novels have been, so there's no doubt about it that these scenes were lifted by the people who are writing HOUSE OF CARDS. Does that bug you?

Robert: To your first question, I call it emotional punctuation, and I've used it in all of my novels and screenplays. Not just cigarettes, but nicotine gum, alcohol, and especially, a piping hot cup of coffee. I use them as a way to underline the trouble my characters are in. The need for a crutch of some kind. A moment to say, hey, wait a minute, I'm in too deep. How am I going to get out of this jam!

As I think about it, none of my characters are smokers, per se. Everyone of them quit at some point in their life. But that makes the emotional punctuation even stronger. When Matt Jones hits the wall (as is his way!), sometimes the trouble he's in is so big, he needs that crutch. I should add that Matt's never lit up without thinking about the five reasons he shouldn't (and the five reasons he quit)!
House of Cards "Smoking Scene"

As far as HOUSE OF CARDS goes, you're probably right about the timing. THE LOST WITNESS came out before the TV show and Lena and Rhodes shared cigarettes. The novel was a bestseller, particularly in Los Angeles. At the time, mystery bookstores owned the city and THE LOST WITNESS was No. 1. If someone from the show read the book and liked it enough to be influenced by it, I take that as a compliment. THE LOST WITNESS is still one of my favorite books, so I'm not bummed, it's all good!


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Friday, June 30, 2017

Robert Ellis: Taking a Day Off, Revisited

I've just finished writing my sixth thriller a few weeks ago, a novel that will probably remain untitled until we get closer to a publication date. While this is the first of two related novels, I still don't have a feel for how the next book will move. Everything past the first hundred pages remains so sketchy. Instead of hitting it hard, I've decided to take the day off and watch a movie. At this point I can't decide between THE MALTESE FALCON or THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I love both films, and Dashiell Hammett and Thomas Harris are two of my favorite authors.

Dashiell Hammett
What I admire about both of them is their remarkable grasp of storytelling. In both cases, the films are an exact mirror copy of the novels. John Huston directed THE MALTESE FALCON. But it's his credit as screenwriter that makes up one of my favorite stories in the history of filmmaking. Hammett's novel was so tight, so perfect, that Huston handed the book over to his assistant, asked her to transcribe it into screenplay form, and went fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. If you ever get your hands on a copy of that screenplay, you'll see what I mean. It's Hammett's novel, word for word!


The Love Killings
by Robert Ellis
Amazon Link:

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