A few days ago I mentioned that there would be an interview and a review of my forthcoming thriller Empty Rooms showing up on MommaCat's book blog on December 15. I let her make the initial announcement, but I figured you'd want to know more about it. Go over and read what I said there, then come back here for the rest. We'll wait.
Okay, you're back? Here goes.
When I was writing the nonfiction Criminal Minds book, I was waist-deep in the worst of humanity; researching people like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein and Andrei Chikatilo, and so many more. Awful people doing awful things.
A writer friend suggested that I watch some comedy movies to get my head out of that mental and emotional sewer. That offhand comment got me wondering about the people who have to deal with such evil in real life. Cops, mostly; those who are first on the scene, and those who have to spend time there collecting evidence, and those who have to live with a case day in and day out while they narrow down a suspect and build a case.
And that suggested a book. A couple of cops digging into a truly horrible case. How do they maintain their humanity? How do they face their loved ones at the end of a day, after having spent so much time with real-life horror?
Many of them burn out. I've known detectives who have gone back to uniformed patrol work just so they could get out of that excruciating job. Sometimes the pain of seeing one more murdered child is just too hard to bear. Sometimes they can't shake it, and the pain is too much for them, and they opt for permanent darkness.
But I've also known detectives who stayed with it, year after year, case after case, and eventually retired to spend time with their spouses and grandchildren, to travel, to spend the rest of their lives looking away from the darkness and toward the light. How do they do it? How can somebody partition his or her brain that way?
I spent time looking into that aspect of the job. And I started developing the characters who would make their debuts in Empty Rooms. They ended up being a detective and an ex-cop, living and working in the depression-era Detroit of 2009, a landscape that in some ways echoes their inner turmoil. (This piece about Detroit was written more recently, but covers a lot of the same turf as Empty Rooms, even referencing some of the specific neighborhoods my characters go to in the book.)
The main characters in the book are Richie Krebbs and Frank Robey [Frank calls Richie "Maynard" (points if you get the reference!)]. Richie is a walking encyclopedia of crime and criminals--he could have written the Criminal Minds book without breaking a sweat, because he carries all that knowledge around in his head. But he couldn't handle the bureaucracy of police work. Frank was an FBI agent, but he became obsessed with the case of a missing little girl, and when the Bureau wanted to transfer him out of Detroit, he quit and joined the Detroit PD. Frank's a diehard comic book fan and collector, a Motown fan, and a Detroit native. Richie's interests are more narrowly defined: Crime. Criminals. Repeat.
The two men meet and discover their shared interest in the disappearance of Angela Morton, and...
...and things happen. I'm not going to tell you the whole story here. You have to read the book.
But I will show you how I plotted the book, because it's different in that respect than any of my other books. There were a lot of crucial details, a lot of twists and turns and characters to handle, and I was having a hard time visualizing it all in a text outline, so I made this:
Each color corresponds to a different character--Richie, Frank, Richie's wife, Frank's girlfriend, the ultimate villain, and a couple more. I arranged and rearranged the scenes and events until it flowed right, the revelations happened in the proper order, and no single character dominated the book more than the rest (although obviously Frank and Richie take center stage most of the time--they're the green and pink notes). Then I made the sections of the outlines match the board, colorwise, so I could work back and forth from the text to the board and keep it all straight.
If you look closely at the book cover up there, you'll see a quote from the legendary crime writer Michael Connelly, who was kind enough to read the book early and give me a very generous blurb. The full blurb--not all of it appears on the book--was: "Empty Rooms is a searing, no-holds barred journey into darkness. Jeffrey J. Mariotte knows the key is character, character, character and has delivered a story about men who relentlessly work the case at the same time the case works them. I was pulled in from the start on this one and it never let up. I highly recommend it."
There's another equally generous blurb from another of my very favorite writers on the book--but you'll have to wait for that one.
This is an important book for me. I think it's my best work. I want to write more about Frank and Richie, and I want people to read this one. Please, if you've liked any of my books, do us both a favor and give Empty Rooms a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed. And spread the word--nothing sells books like personal recommendations and reviews.
Empty Rooms will be published in early 2015 by WordFire Press. I'll be posting lots more about it between now and then, and running some excerpts on my Facebook author page, so if you haven't already liked that, do it today!