By Dawn Ius
A DARK AND BROKEN HEART, like Shakespeare on meth, makes BAD LIEUTENANT look like a kindergarten teacher. You have been warned.
Like each of R.J. Ellory’s books, A DARK AND BROKEN HEART is not part of a series. It’s a stand-alone, where a new environment, a new atmosphere, and new cast of characters must differ from each of his previous nine novels.
Yet, strangely, Ellory admits his newest release is kind of an inadvertent sequel to one of his most popular titles, SAINTS OF NEW YORK.
“SAINTS was a book about a man who appeared to be a disaster. His life was a horror, a real car crash, and yet beneath all of this he was a decent, good-hearted man, just trying to do the best that he could in a terrible, terrible situation,” he says. “A DARK AND BROKEN HEART is a modern Shakespearean tragedy, and deals with the opposite kind of character, a man who appears to be the very best, but beneath the façade he is a nightmare.”
At the crux is the story of “good guy” Vincent Madigan – the situations he gets into, his reactions, and the ultimate decisions he must make. The life of a complex individual, which for Ellory is at the core of all his writing. For it is not the crime genre itself that compels Ellory to write, but rather the study of character – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
“The thing that never ceases to amaze me is the indomitability of the human spirit, the things that people are capable of overcoming, and the fact that they can survive beyond that.”
Ellory knows a thing or two about survival, particularly when it comes to the unpredictable world of publishing. Having amassed an impressive mountain of rejection letters in his formative years, Ellory can now look back and recognize the era for what it was – his learning curve.
“We take for granted that a good mechanic has to take a lot of engines out of cars. An athlete has to train everyday, and it becomes a lifestyle, not just an interest or a job,” he says. “Even Hemingway said, ‘It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.’ Artistic ability is like a muscle, and you need to exercise it continually to keep it strong.”
The key to Ellory’s writing fitness is an almost religious-like regime. He starts early in the day and writes three or four thousand words, with the ambitious goal of churning out a first draft in about 12 weeks.
The creativity doesn’t stop there, though. If writing is Ellory’s religion, music may be his philosophy – or perhaps it’s the other way around. He admits it’s sometimes hard to separate them.
He’s the guitar player and singer in a band called The Whiskey Poets, and when he’s finished writing for the day, he hones his chops on the guitar, usually for two or three hours.
“I think getting involved in other creative avenues and pursuits just simplifies everything you are doing as a writer, and it also serves to remind you that great accomplishments take time and hard work,” he says. “I am not the writer that I want to be, and I am certainly not the musician I want to be. I have a long way to go for both.”
Ellory never shies from the commitment required for success. In addition to time spent writing, reading, creating music, taking photos and painting, Ellory maintains an active schedule attending book-related functions whenever possible. Not to mention finding that important life balance by carving out valuable time with his wife and son.
“There are 168 hours in each week. No one gets any more or any less than anyone else,” he says. “I have always regarded each day within which to achieve as much as I can. I know when I have spent a day wisely, and I know when I have wasted it, and I try to waste as few as possible.”
And as reward for this commitment to the craft, Ellory celebrates with a really good Manhattan – and then takes his family out to dinner.
A DARK AND BROKEN HEART is available May, 2012.
RJ Ellory’s CANDLEMOTH and CITY OF LIES were both shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger. His fifth novel, A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS won the Livre De Poche Award, Strand Magazine Novel 2010, Mystery Booksellers USA Award, and the Nouvel Observateur Prize. A QUIET VENDETTA won the Quebec Laureat and the Villeneuve Readers’ Prize. A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE won the UK Crime Novel of the Year. Nominated for a further seven awards, he is now available in twenty-four languages, and is published by Overlook Press in the USA. He is also the singer and guitarist of ‘The Whiskey Poets’.
To learn more RJ, please visit his website.