ROBERT ELLIS: CITY OF ECHOES IS AN EPIC THRILLER
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Robert Ellis’s next novel City of Echoes will have an official premiere on September 1. The book is already in the market for pre-sales and thanks to Kindle first program the first reviews already came. “I couldn’t put it down”, “Excellent read” and “Classic LA Noir” are just few of the opinions by readers. The novel received pretty nice rating with 4.1 Amazon stars from 181 reviews.
The American writer became a bestselling author with his novel The Dead Room. In one of the coolest interviews ever at Land of Books our next guest reveals interesting facts about his books and his future plans.
– Robert, what is your next book City of Echoes about?
– CITY OF ECHOES is the introduction of a new LAPD homicide detective, Matt Jones, on the first night of his first murder case. A man has been gunned down in a parking lot off Hollywood Boulevard. At a glance, the bullet-riddled body appears to be the work of a serial robber who’s been working the Strip for months. The crime is so grisly, the identity of the victim so outrageous, that Jones and his partner, Denny Cabrera, jump into the investigation faster than they should. Nothing about the direction they’re taking is even close to safe. As Jones uncovers evidence linking the crime to a brutal, ritualized murder that occurred eighteen months ago, he begins to suspect that there’s more going on beneath the surface, and that he and his partner are in too deep to turn back or escape. When Jones discovers how far the corruption goes, a cover-up that defies the imagination, and his own personal ties to the rising body count, he’s no longer sure he can trust anyone, not even himself.
– How did you decide to write the story of LA Homicide detective?
– Great question. I love the genre. I grew up in Philadelphia, but moved to Los Angeles and ended up spending most of my life living there. I’ve worked with two homicide detectives from the Robbery Homicide Division, Cold Case Unit for every one of novels. I originally thought that the hero in my last three novels, Lena Gamble, would be great for CITY OF ECHOES. Later I realized that I needed someone younger and with less experience like Matt Jones to cover the thriller beats, make the story resonate, and bring it all home.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– CITY OF ECHOES is an epic thriller. The last third of the novel is laced with twists and turns. My readers expect this when they sit down with any of my novels, so I’m always looking for ways to make sure the reading experience is as intense as possible. This means that for any single novel, I’m actually writing three. In CITY OF ECHOES there is the world as it appears to Matt, the world that it could possibly be, and then with the resolution, the world as it really is. Lifting the veil between the way the opponent wants Matt to see the crime, and Matt’s discovery of what actually happened — making all that work is always the big challenge, but also, the most rewarding part of writing.
– Tell us something more about your main character Matt Jones? Is he close to someone from your real life?
– Matt Jones, or should I say, Matthew Trevor Jones, came up the hard way. His father walked out on his wife and son when Matt was just a boy. His aunt took him in and he was raised in New Jersey. When his aunt passed away, Matt enlisted in the army and was sent to Afghanistan where he met his best friend, Kevin Hughes. Before his tour of duty, Hughes was a cop in Los Angeles. After many long talks and after their return to the US, Hughes convinces Matt to leave the East Coast and sign on with the LAPD. After five years on the force Matt is promoted to Hollywood Homicide. And that’s where CITY OF ECHOES begins; the first night of his first murder case.
Matt Jones relies on his intelligence and instincts to see him through. He is a remarkable character . For almost the entire story, Matt’s life is on the line. In spite of the danger, in spite of the terror, he ignores his fears and pursues the real killer. We experience the story through his eyes, his thoughts, his worries, his best guesses. Like real life, sometimes Matt is right, and sometimes he’s wrong. In either case, Matt’s a keeper and we’re with him all the way.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– (laughs) If you were to ask my editors and my readers, I think everyone would agree that I take too much time! My only defense is that I think all of my novels show that it was worth it!
– The Dead Room is your most popular book. Did you expect such a success of the novel?
– If you had asked this question before August 1st, I would have said that THE DEAD ROOM was my most popular novel. But now, with CITY OF ECHOES, I’m not sure that’s true anymore. CITY OF ECHOES has caught fire and changed everything for me. All three books in the Lena Gamble trilogy are doing the same thing. THE DEAD ROOM will always be special because it’s dedicated to my father who introduced me to Thomas Harris’ masterpiece RED DRAGON. Even more, the story is set outside Philadelphia in the towns and neighborhoods where I grew up. But the introduction of LAPD Detective Matt Jones brings it all back again. In Jones’ second case, THE LOVE KILLINGS (due out next summer), the story is set in Philadelphia again. THE DEAD ROOM will always be special, but right now, everything on the stove has come to a boil because of CITY OF ECHOES. I think it’s the best novel I’ve ever written.
– In Access to Power you moved your characters’ environment from LA to D.C. How tough is make such a change and did you need much additional time to make your research?
– I have always been a filmmaker. I made a film for National Geographic on the Great Lakes with a friend of mine, I ghostwrote NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, and I’ve shot, directed, and edited thousands of short films and TV commercials. I wish I could say that what occurs in ACCESS TO POWER doesn’t happen in real life. But the fact is that everything short of the actual murders occurs every day.
ACCESS TO POWER came to me in a nightmare after I was assigned the task of gathering surveillance footage of a mobster running for political office in a New Jersey ghetto. While a friend of mine and I hid on the third floor of a parking garage with a long-lens camera, the subject walked outside, stepped away from the building, looked straight up at the lens and froze. The moment was extremely frightening because he thought the camera was a rifle, and for a split second, he thought he was going to be assassinated. He thought he was going to killed. A few moments later, he realized it was a camera and ran to his car and took off. And in a single instant, I realized that the horrific world Dashiell Hammett described so perfectly was alive and well and always would be. There would be no need to invent mobsters or “bad guys” when just about any politician would do. I began working on ACCESS TO POWER the following day.
Every political detail in ACCESS TO POWER either happened to me or someone I know. This includes the chase to the top of the Capitol Dome. If you take a close look at the dome you will notice a ladder built into the side. I made the climb from an inside catwalk on a hot day in August. The only liberty I took were in the dimensions of the dome’s slope. Everything else in this novel is real and true.
– Who are you (Would you describe yourself with few sentences)?
– Someone who’s still very much a searcher. Someone who wants to make the world a better place for everyone. Everybody living right now only has this one life, this one chance. Helping people see it through, helping people with the injustices in life, even in my small way as a novelist, seems like the right thing to do.
– What are your writing habits?
– I write everyday in the morning, walk my dogs, eat lunch, run errands, then write for a couple hours before dinner. My dogs, Harry and Sam, will be thirteen in October. The three of us have been on the same schedule for thirteen years! Oh, and did I mention how much I love coffee. The heroes in my novels all drink a lot of coffee, which I guess they get from me!
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– (Laughs) What writer is satisfied with sales numbers?! Tell me his or her name?!
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– CITY OF ECHOES was one of six books picked by Amazon to be promoted in their Kindle First Program. This is a terrific program for authors and readers alike. I’m honored to be selected, and can’t wait for publication day. I’m also using social media. But my favorite way to get the word out is by meeting with book clubs. I do it in person, if I can, or use Skype if I can’t. I love book clubs because everyone’s read the novel and we can talk about the story without the fear of spoiling the read. Meeting with readers, talking about stories, listening to what they think, makes it all worth it. I’ve always looked at it this way; a novel isn’t a novel until the reader brings their imagination to the work and completes the circle.
– When we will see your next novel and would you unveil something more about it?
– My next novel, THE LOVE KILLINGS, will be out in August 2016. It’s another Matt Jones thriller, and as I may have already said, the story is set in Philadelphia like THE DEAD ROOM. Like RED DARGAON and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, CITY OF ECHOES and THE LOVE KILLINGS are very closely linked. In fact, you could say that THE LOVE KILLINGS is a continuation of CITY OF ECHOES. I’m totally jazzed by the whole thing.
– Do you remember the exact moment when you decided to become a writer?
– This is a really tough question because I remember the exact moment as if it was yesterday, and I don’t talk about it very much. I was twenty-four years old, driving out to graduate school in a VW bus that I’d refurbished that summer. It was a hot afternoon on the 27th day of August, and I was driving west on Route 70 about thirty miles east of Pittsburgh. Traffic had been reduced to a single lane because of construction. A tractor trailer was in front of me, and another truck was behind me. Everything was cool until the truck in front me came to a stop. I looked in the rearview mirror, saw the truck behind me and said to myself, he’s going to stop. When I checked the mirror again, I realized he wasn’t going to stop. I had enough time to get the van into first gear, let out the clutch, turn the steering wheel, and grab it as hard as I could. I was knocked unconscious on impact. The van flipped and rolled and landed on its side pointed in the opposite direction. I must have been out for five or ten minutes because when I woke up traffic had stopped and a crowd of people had formed. Fifty people were staring at me like I was dead. Once I woke up, a man broke from the ranks and helped me kick through the windshield and escape the wreckage. I was going to graduate school for a degree in film, but already had one as an undergraduate. After the accident, my perspectives changed. I met Walter Tevis, who wrote THE HUSTLER, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, and THE COLOR OF MONEY. I quit school after the first quarter, rented a small house, and started writing.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be? (Don’t forget to answer)
– What was your greatest revelation about writing? I was writing screenplays. Like I said before, I ghostwrote NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, but I wrote more than a handful of my own screenplays. I can remember spending an afternoon with Sandra Bullock in her kitchen, drinking coffee and talking about a screenplay I had written that she wanted to be in. I can remember sitting with the heads of production at Fox and Imagine and spending hours talking about another screenplay entitled HIDDEN AGENDA, which would later become the novel ACCESS TO POWER. These were the same people who produced the series 24, and it was a real kick when Jack Bauer’s go-to political sleaze bag in the first season just happened to be named Robert Ellis. And that’s where the revelation begins. It happened when I transformed HIDDEN AGENDA, the screenplay, into ACCESS TO POWER, my first novel. A screenplay is a blueprint for a finished work. Inside that screenplay a writer is limited to what characters do and say in order to tell a story. But a novel is a completely finished work. There are no limitations on the writer. For the first time in my life as a writer I would no longer be limited to action and dialogue. Now I could stir the pot with what my characters were thinking. It was this discovery, the idea that a novelist can give his characters this extra dimension, this spark of life, that got me all amped up. My novels are usually written from the hero’s point of view. What Matt Jones is thinking in CITY OF ECHOES gives this story life, and makes everything about it, real.