Friday, March 20, 2015

Robert Ellis News

Robert Ellis
Happy to say that all things are good! City of Echoes has been proofed and sent to the typesetter. I love my editors, I loved working with them. I've always been lucky, or maybe blessed, to have editors who care as much as I do about the finished novel. This time around the entire experience from start to finish was terrific. I feel that City of Echoes is the best novel I've ever written, so putting something I cherish in the hands of such good people means a lot to me.

But there's more. Cover art is in progress, and I've been meaning to take that new author photo since the snow began piling up in February! Now, to my horror, it's begun to snow on this first day of Spring, with 4 to 6 inches expected overnight! So I guess I'll be waiting a bit longer to take that photo!

Finishing a novel is always difficult for me. Because City of Echoes is something of an epic thriller, waiting for the shine to wear off has been more than challenging. Instead of dwelling on it too much, I'm making every effort to blast through the haze and begin something new. A friend of mine used to work as an assistant to one of the brightest producer/directors in Hollywood. She always used to talk about how frightened her boss was when he began working on a new film. I found everything she was saying something of a shock because her boss had produced, directed or acted in more that forty films, and won or been nominated for too many Oscars to count. So if an artist like that (and I'm intentionally leaving his name out even though it's an easy enough guess), if an artist like that can admit to experiencing fear when he faces a blank page, I guess I can, too.

It may be the difference between seeing yourself as a writer, and seeing yourself as a storyteller, which has been mentioned before in earlier posts. Seeing yourself as a storyteller may amplify the feeling a fear because there's so much more at stake. I have always had that uneasy feeling when it's time to push the boat away from the dock. But this time around things are a little different. This new project will be something of an experiment for me because it picks up where City of Echoes ends, and just keeps going. Six weeks will have passed in story time between the two novels, and that's it. Six weeks go by and the story continues. Even better, this new project is more crime story than thriller, with an entirely unique set of story problems. The experience feels like a breath of fresh air. It's new and exciting and I'm pleased to say "all things are good!"

Sleep loose,

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Dead Room

Originally posted August 2014 and back by request
Robert Ellis

I can remember coming home from college one year and finding my father all amped up about a thriller he was reading. Actually, he was more than amped up, he was bouncing off the walls. He kept saying, "It's the wheelchair scene, Bobby. The wheelchair scene. You've gotta read this book!" My dad had been a journalism major in school and was editor-in-chief of the Temple University Press, a daily newspaper published by the university in Philadelphia. He loved history and loved reading about the Civil War and Russia. In fact, he had decided to go back to school, and after he retired, was earning a graduate degree in history from Villanova University. I mention this because seeing my father so excited about a thriller was more than unusual. When I asked him about the book, he scooped it up off the kitchen counter and showed me the cover.

RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris.

This is painful to admit, but at the time I had no idea who Thomas Harris was or what RED DRAGON  might be about. My interests were a thousand miles away. But then I moved to Los Angeles and everything changed. I can remember a life without e-books, a ten year stretch when bookstores were really thriving and crime fiction was in a Renaissance. No matter where you lived in the city, you could throw a stone in any direction, and nine times out of ten, wind up hitting a bookstore. Authors came in every weekend to meet their fans and sign their latest work. I was writing spec scripts at the time, but reading a lot of novels and showing up for book signings as often as I could.  One question that every author seemed to be asked was, what are your ten favorite novels? Every answer was different, except for one novel, a single title. Every author I was following included RED DRAGON on their list. As I thought it over, Harris's influence had been huge. He'd had an impact and changed the entire genre. But even more, Harris's RED DRAGON and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS had changed everything for me as well.

I wrote THE DEAD ROOM for my father as a way of saying thanks -- a legal thriller set in Philadelphia and the surrounding neighborhoods where I grew up. It's the story of Teddy Mack, a young civil attorney who has just graduated from law school. Unfortunately for Teddy, and for unknown reasons, his new boss is forcing him to represent a man arrested for the horrific murder of an eighteen-year-old girl. I particularly enjoyed doing the research for this novel because everything about it was new. I had the opportunity to meet with the district attorney of Philadelphia. I walked through the Criminal Justice Center, Police Headquarters, and most fascinating of all, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, where I learned that the only protein source inmates receive is turkey because of the tryptophan. Caffeine, of course, is forbidden! Writing THE DEAD ROOM changed me. And RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris, and as presented by my father, turned out to be the light that showed me the way. "It's the wheelchair scene, Bobby. The wheelchair scene. You've gotta read this book!"

Sleep loose,

Monday, March 16, 2015

House of Cards, Season 3

Robert Ellis
WARNING ... Possible Spoiler for anyone who hasn't yet watched House of Cards, Sseasons 1 & 2 ...

Just about ready to fire up Netflix and get started on House of Cards, Season 3. But what I'm hoping for, what I've really been waiting for since the end of last season, is payback. Lots and lots of payback. I need it bad.

Two National Treasures: Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey
Cable series seem to be where it's at these days and House of Cards is no exception. It's plot is diabolical and wicked. Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), are pure evil and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. From what I understand, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), Underwood's  perverted dirty tricks go-to guy, has been resurrected from the dead and appears to be his horrid self, only this time on steroids.

Everyone in this series is terrific. I can't name a single character who isn't fully realized by both the writer and the actor playing the role. House of Cards is completely twisted and delicious!
Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Michael Kelly

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
So what I want this year is payback. For two seasons the Underwood's have used people, abused people, and ruined people's lives. Francis Underwood, the president of United States, even committed two particularly dark and nasty murders. And with each new crime, the Underwood's aren't punished and face no consequences. Instead, it's just like real life on Capitol Hill. Francis and Claire Underwood are rewarded over and over and over again with more cred in their vicious thirst for power. Hopefully, their climb up the ladder is about to come crashing down! I really need to see them "get it," and am guessing that everyone who is following House of Cards needs to see it, too!

Sleep loose,

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

CITY OF ECHOES: Thriller Basics

Robert Ellis

I received the following email yesterday, and realized that this is as good a way as any to talk about what I write and the way I do it.

Hi Robert,
I'm one of your biggest fans and wish like hell you would write faster! I was on your website yesterday and saw that your next thriller CITY OF ECHOES introduces us to a new main character, Matt Jones. I'd been hoping for a new Lena book (I've read all three at least four times) and was just wondering why you're writing about someone else.
Can't believe I have to wait until August 25 to read your new book!
-- Sally Bernhardt, San Francisco, CA
I have always enjoyed the comparisons some reviewers make between my work and writers I admire. But my stories aren't really drawn from any mold I know of. They're more of a hybrid in the way they move--part detective story, part crime fiction, but everything built around the thriller genre. The mix wasn't created artificially. It just came to me as a natural process while writing THE DEAD ROOM. I liked this hybrid structure, and felt it set me apart from others. But what it also allowed me to do was create fully realized characters and a fast plot at the same time. It was the first thing my creative editor said after she read CITY OF ECHOES six weeks ago. How does a writer create great characters and a knock-down-drag-out plot at the same time?

Let's get real and be humble! Besides a handful of editors, no one else has read the book yet! Still, it's my belief that my editor's question should be the goal of every writer who cares about the genre and is trying to push it forward.

The way I try to intensify character and plot at the same time is by making my protagonist vulnerable and placing he or she in jeopardy. For me, vulnerability and jeopardy are the two most important keys to the thriller aspects of my novels. In THE DEAD ROOM, the protagonist is Teddy Mack, a young civil attorney who has just graduated from law school, has no experience in criminal law, but gets dragged into a horrific murder case by his boss. In the Lena Gamble novels, the same rules apply. In CITY OF FIRE Lena has just been promoted to the homicide table. In THE LOST WITNESS and MURDER SEASON, she's in a continual state of learning and progressing, yet her life, her survival, just like Teddy Mack's, is an open question until the last page

One great advantage, or should I say result, is that characters experiencing an ordeal like this come off extremely real. Why? Because a really good thriller is in essence, a character study. But there's also a price to be paid. A long series following a single character would never work for the same reason that we can only lose our virginity once. A hybrid story requires a certain amount of fresh meat!

And this was one big reason why I wanted to introduce you to a new character, Matthew Trevor Jones. CITY OF ECHOES is set in Lena Gamble's world of LA and Hollywood. The background characters that Matt works with are in fact the same background characters from the Lena Gamble novels. As a writer, I have to say that it was great fun. But the key to this story, my favorite story so far, is that when we meet Matt, it's the very first night in his career as a homicide detective. Matt's promotion to Hollywood Homicide went down that very day. He's a rookie, he's green, he's vulnerable, and most important of all, he's in a great deal of jeopardy, his survival uncertain to the last page. 

CITY OF ECHOES will be published August 25, 2015. Although we don't have cover art just yet, the novel can be pre-ordered at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, and Amazon Germany (English Edition).

Sleep Loose,

Monday, March 9, 2015


Robert Ellis

Just finished the copyedit. My creative editor calls CITY OF ECHOES "a tour de force" so it sounds like we're off to a pretty great start!

For all my fans who love the Lena Gamble novels, I offer you this challenge. I'm going to say here and now that you're going to love Matthew Trevor Jones even more. CITY OF ECHOES is billed as a Matthew Trevor Jones Thriller. The story is set in Lena Gamble's world of Hollywood and Los Angeles. Lena even makes a brief, but memorable appearance at the very end of the novel.

City of Echoes by Robert Ellis
But this is Matt Jones's story. Jones grew up in New Jersey. When his father abandoned him as a young boy, his aunt took in Jones and raised him. After she died, Jones signed up and went off to Afghanistan where he met another soldier, Kevin Hughes. Hughes convinced Matt to move to Los Angeles and join him as an LAPD cop. CITY OF ECHOES begins five years after that. Matt has just been promoted to Hollywood Homicide and is handed his first murder case. Unfortunately for Matt, the murder is so horrific and twisted it staggers the imagination. There's no way a rookie homicide detective should have been handed this case.

Once you start reading the first chapter of CITY OF ECHOES, this one's not going to let go. My former editor always used to say that she thought each one of my novels was better than the next. When I turned in MURDER SEASON, she loved it so much she told me that she doubted I could ever top it. I guess I wasn't listening! Or maybe she lit a fire under me, and I had to dig deep down to deliver something new and fresh and even better for my new editor and publisher.

It's hard to imagine writing anything more personal than THE DEAD ROOM, but CITY OF ECHOES is the thriller I think I've been waiting for my entire creative life. So I offer you my challenge. I think you're going to love meeting Matthew Trevor Jones as much as I loved writing about him.
CITY OF ECHOES will be published August 25, 2015. Although we don't have cover art just yet, the novel can be pre-ordered at Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon Germany (English Edition).

Sleep Loose,