Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Robert Ellis: THE LOVE KILLINGS, Murders in Newtown

Coming August 2, 2016

The only rule that I'm aware of as a writer is that stories need to build. How a writer creates that build, whether he or she succeeds or fails, is up to them. But the more dramatic, the more thrilling, the more insane the escalation of your hero's revelations and plight -- the better the story. Without increasing tension a story spins off the rails and dies without a single witness.

So here's the story problem that had to be solved while writing THE LOVE KILLINGS. As we spoke about in an earlier post, THE LOVE KILLINGS isn't a second novel in the Detective Matt Jones series as much as it's an actual continuation of the first novel, CITY OF ECHOES. The two novels are, ideally but not necessarily, meant to be read back to back. So if a story has to build, how do you get more intense than the serial killer in CITY OF ECHOES? What crime could possibly be worse than a killer infatuated with the Glasgow smile or the Chelsea grin?

One of the most compelling aspects of writing crime fiction is that we're working in a genre. Within the genre are different wings, thrillers in my case, detective stories in another, and crime stories in the last. But even more fascinating is the fact that the genre comes with a history; a past, a present, and a future.

What makes a serial killer a serial killer?

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in PSYCHO
In Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho we have a serial killer like Norman Bates, but we also have Norman's mother (or should we say her corpse?). In Thomas Harris's Red Dragon the concept takes a step forward. We have Francis Dolarhyde, but we also have the horrific memories he can't shake of his sexually abusive grandmother. Oh, and let's not forget her teeth in a glass of water that Francis keeps in the bathroom!
Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde in RED DRAGON

Norman Bates is a psychotic killing machine. Francis Dolarhyde is equally psychotic, but knows the difference between right and wrong, and can't help himself. So if we took Red Dragon a step forward, what would it look like?

There have been so many mass killings in the news over the past few years. So many real life fiends spilling so much blood in an elementary school like Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and now, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. While the mass killings in Newtown and Charleston are not directly related to my new novel, they are part of the world of the story. Both the crimes and the young men who committed them are referred to in detail. And their impact on Matt Jones is haunting as he investigates a series of horrific murders in Philadelphia and wrestles with a key question that surfaced more than once in CITY OF ECHOES, and will be brought home in THE LOVE KILLINGS.

How could anyone, no matter what their psychological issues in life, be brought to a place so dark that killing anyone or anything made sense?

I can see my readers shaking their heads because they know I'll try to come up with an answer, and while it will be thrilling,  it might be a bit scary, too. Here's a hint: Think RED DRAGON meets TRUE ROMANCE.

Sleep loose,

Friday, June 24, 2016

Robert Ellis: THE LOVE KILLINGS Playlist, Cut 1, Plush

Coming August 2, 2016
Stone Temple Pilots, Plush

While many of you know that in a former life I played an electric guitar in several garage bands (making noise you're lucky you never heard!), managed the kitchen at a nightclub in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania called the Main Point where I had the opportunity to hang out with music legends like Muddy Waters and Chick Corea, the truth is that THE LOVE KILLINGS might be the most intense novel I've ever written. While I've enjoyed putting music that I'm listening to in my novels in the past, it didn't feel right this time around. Not with a story like this one set in Philadelphia so close to where I grew up.

Still, I had to survive the writing process with my fix. These are the songs I listened to almost every night in order to maintain the intensity, but also, to keep everything together. Ha! Let's see if it worked!


Sleep loose,

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Robert Ells: THE LOVE KILLINGS, Born of a Hurricane

Robert Ellis

It's only a guess, but I think a safe one, that all artists work differently. That the methods an artist uses to make something out of nothing are as varied and unique as one person is from the next.

My novels come together in many different ways. It could be an idea for a character and his or her plight. An opening or closing that seems particularly exciting and vivid. A story in the news that had an impact on me.

August 2, 2016
In the case of THE LOVE KILLINGS it was all about the protagonist, the hero in the story, LAPD Detective Matt Jones. As you may have heard by now, THE LOVE KILLINGS isn't exactly a second novel in the Detective Matt Jones series. Instead, THE LOVE KILLINGS is an actual continuation of the first novel, CITY OF ECHOES. These two novels make a single story and were conceived all at once and at the same time. This, of course, is a rare occurrence in publishing these days, and I can't thank my editors and publisher enough for letting me break stride and present a story that takes two books to tell.

But, then, this is the nature of Detective Matt Jones and his journey.

Hurricane Irene, the Day After
Conceived the way a child might be in his parent's mind, the idea of Matt Jones was born on August 28, 2011 when Hurricane Irene washed on shore in Connecticut. I had moved from Los Angeles and was living directly on Long Island Sound, my front door fifty feet from where these photographs were taken. My neighborhood had been evacuated, and those who decided to stay were asked by the police to sign a release stating that if an emergency or disaster occurred, no help would come. Many of us stayed, though signing the release amped up the terror and gave the decision a new degree of gravity. I can remember the calm before the storm -- dusk and early night -- and then the breeze picking up. Toward midnight, the breeze morphed into 120 mph winds, with torrential rain and flooding. Within two hours, we lost power and were stuck. But we were also lucky. It hadn't been a direct hit. Hurricane Irene had veered off course just a few sweet miles south, before reaching shore.

Hurricane Irene, the Day After
Every night has a morning, I guess, until we reach the end of our days. At some point during the night the National Guard sealed off the neighborhood and everyone who stayed was stuck. If anyone left, there would be no way to pass the checkpoints and get back home. And so we stayed, on dry ground but surrounded by water and completely isolated for about a week. Because we'd lost power, our refrigerators had shut down and everything in our freezers was beginning to thaw. The solution to not letting the food go to waste seemed simple. We decided to throw freezer parties every night. We joined tables together on the lawn, we circled our grills, and we sat around into the wee hours of the night eating potluck dinners, drinking wine and telling tales.

Hurricane Irene, the Day After
And that's when it happened. That's when a neighbor told me a story about how his father had abandoned him as a child. But even more, how he'd spent most of his adult life brooding about it and dreaming of revenge.

My past with my own father had been rough in my teens and early twenties. No doubt about it, I was built to go my own way in life and I did. The pressure of the times seemed to magnify this calling, times that seem to be repeating the same beats today. A bogus war that no one could explain and had no end, "Catcher in the Rye" by my bed, revolution in the air. I had already been working on something along these lines, a hazy, vague idea about a detective in search of his family, something that still had no real shape and remained beyond my grasp. But the conversations I had with my neighbor during the hurricane and its aftermath gave the whole thing new definition, a new form. And so I let the ideas percolate the way I let all my stories percolate. Notes on 3x5 cards beginning to stack up all over my desk. A project finished, a new one in the womb.

The Love Killings, Born of a Hurricane and Ready to Read
Anyone who's read CITY OF ECHOES knows all about those wonderful loose ends permeating the last chapter. And most of my fans know all too well that my novels are about something more than the murder. Everyone of them has a theme, a reason to be written and read, a reason to live and breathe. As you might be guessing, all of this points directly to THE LOVE KILLINGS, a story idea that has taken two books to tell. Two epic novels joined at the hip about a homicide detective named Matt Jones and his torturous journey. His search for his family, his history, his identity, and his soul. And hey, what about that serial killer who's still on the loose?

CITY OF ECHOES and THE LOVE KILLINGS. As a writer, these two novels back to back deliver something more than I could have ever imagined. I hope you love reading them together as much as I loved writing them, together.

Sleep loose,