Interview with Ariel S. Winter

Posted by Grey Monday, August 13, 2012

Without a shadow of a doubt one of the most ambitious début novels we have seen for some time, Ariel S Winter’s first novel, The Twenty-Year Death, was published last week to some notably rave reviews. The Daily Zombies checked in with the acclaimed writer for some intriguing insights into his bold new novel.

Released just last week on August 7 by Titans Books, Ariel S. Winter's debut crime noir novel, The Twenty-Year Death, was met with rave reviews from the likes of Brian Azzarello to Stephen King himself. An ambitious 700-page hardbound crime novel in the forms of three separate hard-boiled crime novels, The Twenty-Year Death comprises the style of Georges Simenon in the 1931 novel, the style of Raymond Chandler in the 1941 novel, and the style of Jim Thompson in the 1951 novel, and combine all three novels into an epic story of an author.

While we here at The Daily Zombies have to first confessed that we were previously unaware of this thoughtful blog that Ariel S. Winter have put together, We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie, we are absolutely excited by the bold concept in his début novel, being long-time fans of hardboiled, noir crime fiction ourselves.

While we will be doing a full-fledged review on the title shortly, let's take a moment to speak to the author for some intriguing insights into this ambitious début novel.

The Daily Zombies: Let’s start by telling us a little about yourself. You were a Librarian, a book seller, a pie-man, and now an author of an already critically acclaimed crime fiction novel. What were the triggers behind these bold changes of course in your career paths?

Winter: I've always been a writer. I started writing in elementary school and started defining myself as a writer in high school, so my various "day jobs" have always been means to an end. I chose most of the jobs I've had because they had to do with books, and if I couldn't be writing, I wanted to be interacting with books in other ways. Just to clarify, I'm not a librarian. I worked at the library as a stacks assistant and book conservator, both cool library jobs, but neither earns me the title librarian. I switched jobs over the years for practical reasons, either a job was ending, or I was moving, or I needed more money. The only outlier was my time as a pieman, which I did when I moved back to Baltimore after a one year sojourn in New York City. I needed a job, I was in the Dangerously Delicious Pies, I asked if they were hiring on a whim, I started working a few days later. When I was on, I was usually the only person in the store, that meant I made all of the pies and did all of the customer service, not to mention receiving deliveries, preparing deliveries, cleaning, etc. I created the Baltimore Bomb, the only pie on the DDP menu not created by Rodney. It's a chess pie with Berger's cookies mixed in. It got highlighted on the Food Network, although I was unfortunately not on the show. You can see me in the audience in Rodney's throw down with Bobby Flay though.

TDZ: More likely than not, this is one of the most-asked-questions that you have received thus far but we just felt compelled to know how exactly did you come up with the innovative concept of incorporating three novels into one? Is this a celebration of the genre or does it serves some other realm of meaning to your personally?

Winter: I originally thought of it as a series. I wanted to answer the question: what would a mystery series look like if we followed a character from book to book other than the detective? I figured I'd put the three books out either once a year or once a quarter, but as I wrote, it became clear it was really one book. If they didn't all come out at once, it wouldn't make sense and the individual books would have gotten written off as exercises in parroting, instead of my intention, which was to tell a larger story through several styles of mystery. So for a long time, my dream was to put the three books out as a box set of three paperbacks. My publisher wanted to do something like that too, but for cost reasons, we had to go with a single hardcover. I think it's actually the best format though, since it really drives home the idea that this is one cohesive book, not three different books.

TDZ: For a début novel, The Twenty-Year Death certainly is a handful given how it is actually three colliding into one. Are you satisfied with the final product?

Winter: Yes, very. And the title was the last thing that fixed it all. My original title was In Memoriam With Apologies, which is the dedication to each section but also serves as a tombstone for the book's characters. But my editor was absolutely opposed to that title, which I fought at the time. We went back and forth with lots of ideas, and eventually I came up with The Twenty-Year Death of an American Writer. It was my editor's wife who said, just call it The Twenty-Year Death. With that title, it tied the whole book together (sort of like a rug).

TDZ: Given the nature of the narrative, there are several interesting pastiches in the title that gave us a refreshing take on some of the tried-and-true stereotypical characters in conventional hardboiled crime fictions. Any personal favorite characters that you felt interested enough to write them a side-story?

Winter: I'm not sure I follow your question. Are you asking, would I go on to write more about any of these characters? If so, I'd say, no. The detectives in the first two books rely heavily on the source material, and I really used them as lenses to tell the larger story. If I used them again, it would go counter to the original intention of a series that follows characters other than the detectives. One reviewer said he would have liked to see more of Rosenkrantz's wife Clothilde's point of view. I could see that her story might make a very different book of its own, maybe a different genre at the same time, say a romance. Wouldn't it be interesting if Clothilde's experience of all of the same events were a romance novel? That just came to me, and I like the idea. It would be a challenge.

TDZ: What is the single most important inspiration and influence in your writing career?

Winter: If I can only pick one, it would be Stephen King. I started reading King in the fourth grade, and I've read over thirty of his books. On Writing came out when I was in college, and it was that book that got me to write my first novel (long lost). I was already a dedicated writer, but On Writing really drove home the importance of a disciplined schedule and daily page count. The ten-pages a day eventually burned me out, and it took a long time to learn that I didn't have to reach that everyday, but it was good at the time for me to actually amass a long work. That King was kind enough to blurb The Twenty-Year Death has been a dream. I'm sure it has opened up many doors for me, influencing my career in a very practical way.

TDZ: Do you actively seek out inspirations? Or do they just come to you in a “aha” moment? How do you get inspired and stay motivated?

Winter: I do a little of both. I open myself up to the possibility of "aha" moments when it's time to start something new. Then, usually, something presents itself. Now, sometimes I might not be looking for something, and an idea will come, and in that case I'll often never pursue it. Or sometimes I'll be looking for something, and try to force it, which doesn't work either. As to staying motivated, it's usually through sheer discipline. I go every single day to the library to write whether I feel like it or not. I try to ignore the doubt for as long as I can. Sometimes I can feel like something's terrible and I'll abandon it, but usually I see it through by force of will and it needs to be abandoned then. One way I differ from King is that I can't do it non-stop. I work in bursts. I'll write a draft of a novel in three months, and then I won't write anything for a few months. That's something I've long felt guilty about, but I think I now accept. Seeing John Cleese in a documentary say that he worked the same way made me feel much better.

TDZ: In an interview with Crime Fiction Lover, you mentioned how you started out to write some kind of a "sort of Cloud Atlas by way of WG Sebald". I believe most people would agreed that you have pretty much make as far of a depart from that original angle as possible. What do you feel and are you fine with that ever-evolving creative direction?

Winter: Cloud Atlas written by W. G. Sebald was an ideal beyond my capabilities. I might try it again sometime, but it's probably something I'm just not equipped to do. So to salvage a good chunk of that failed novel, and to create this much stronger novel is incredibly satisfying. It's always hard when you've spent months or even years on a book and it never gets published or you decide to trash it . In this case, I trashed a few hundred pages, but I got to keep a hundred or so pages at the same time.

TDZ: Speaking of "Cloud Atlas", we all know it will be adapted to the big screen this coming October in an ambitious Hollywood blockbuster feature film by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. Like all successful novels, it is more likely than not that Hollywood will lay their eyes on The Twenty-Year Death eventually. Any preferred director or cast personally? (We know Rose McGowan will be a shoo-in for this)

Winter: My dream directors would be the Coen Brothers. Imagine a movie in which The Man Who Wasn't There, Miller's Crossing, and No Country for Old Men were all one movie. That's what The Twenty-Year Death should be. As for casting, I really like Leonardo DiCaprio for Shem Rosenkrantz. The role would require him to play the character at three different ages, in three different settings, and I think the challenge would appeal to him.

TDZ: Looking into the future, what do you see yourself doing three years from now? Or rather, what you hope that you will be doing by then?

Winter: I'd like to continue to put out novels, but I'd also like to write some comic books. Ideally, I'll be doing both and Hollywood will be adapting them all. Is that too much to hope? Probably.

TDZ: In closing, what's coming up next from you in a follow-up to what most perceived as an ambitious novel?

Winter: I've been rewriting an older novel, which I hope to see published. It's called And Other Permanent Things. It's about a family coming together for the eldest daughter's engagement party only six weeks after the parents have announced their divorce. On the same day, the younger daughter gets thrown out of her house for sleeping with her housemate's boyfriend, so she's moving home in the middle of all of it. Hopefully you'll be reading that one next year.

Now first and foremost, we would like to extend our gratitudes to Ariel for taking the time for this interview and a special kudos to Tom Green from Titan Books for making the special arrangement.

We have just received the review copy of the The Twenty-Year Death and our newly-joined colleague, Minerva Yin, has been vivaciously acquainting herself with the hard-boiled characters from the title. We will rolling our full-fledged review shortly.

The Twenty-Year Death is now available in all fine bookstores. For those who would like to order the book online, head over to or Titan Books.


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