I recently chatted with Michael Stephenson, author of The Man on the Roof to discuss his recent book release. As of June 22nd, The Man on the Roof is available on Amazon Kindle.
Ashley: Of all the characters in the book, who was your favorite AND LEAST FAVORITE to write and why?
Michael: My favorite character to write was the Old Man. He has a certain don’t-give-a-damn quality to him that I find intriguing and endearing at the same time. My least favorite? Hm? I don’t know if anyone’s asked me that. I think my least favorite to write had to be Martin. I had to straddle the line with his “sin” for two reasons. For starters, it’s not a subject that I fantasize about writing. Even though novels are filled with bad people doing bad things, I don’t think any author grows up wanting to write about evil people. The second reason speaks to my last sentence: evil’s surety. I think that the first time a reader reads through the book, they automatically assume that he is this evil man and has done terrible things. However, if you go back and re-read his passages a second time, readers are supposed to see that he never actually takes the actions he fantasizes about. Yes, the assumption exists in the minds of other characters, however that one character that does know his secret has been mentally compromised and may not be telling the truth. I wanted readers to have a grain of doubt of, “Well, maybe he isn’t actually doing these things.” And in that case, the question becomes: Is the sin committed when there is action or when there is thought? In my attempt to not spoil the book, I probably just did. Oh, well! But I think that trying to impress that idea on the reader’s mind for most of the book felt like a chore. The worst part afterward was realizing that probably a good amount of readers wouldn’t even pick up on all of this weaving and webbing that I did for him. As a complete aside, I seem to be battling a terrible bout of pretentiousness and I have no idea from whence it came.
Ashley: Did the book turn out how you originally envisioned? If not, how did it evolve throughout the writing process?
Michael: It turned out the way I envisioned it from my secondary envisioning. I got frustrated with the sameness of plot and structure I see so often in both film and literature now. My first instinct was to join this reclamation of old ideas and reach back some years to make something old new. That’s a wordy way of saying that the original The Man On The Roof was a short story suspense-thriller (no psychological aspect to it) that was an updated play on that old William Shatner-led Twilight Zone episode in which he sees a monster/creature/man on the wing of his airplane. Old Man would sub as Shatner’s character, and he would see a man on his neighbor’s roof. I still might release that short story if this novel does well, so people might have a chance to read it sometime in the future. Somehow, that idea got scrapped in my mind as I went to write the character bios for the story. It morphed without much prodding or agonizing. The story itself came out and said, “Nope, we’re goin’ this direction.” And I said, “Okay. I guess it’s a little more original than the standard ‘someone has seen something’ idea.” And the rest is fiction.
Ashley: How long did it take you to write The Man on the Roof? What is your writing routine?
Michael: I know I am going to get so much flack for this, especially because I am a self-published writer and people look for reasons not to like them or think they’re unprofessional, but it took me a month to write the first draft. That came in around 118,000 words. I parsed that down to about 111,000 words (curiously, this number was the same amount of words that my first mystery novel ended up being after its editing process). Then, I left it to sit. Part of my routine is that I never edit right away because you miss too much stuff. The Man On The Roof sat on my computer for a little under two years and I sent it out to the first editor late last fall. She told me that it’s good but that I should round out the children so that at least the teenagers don’t feel like they’re cardboard cut-outs in an adult world. So I added another 35,000 words and then edited that down, which took about another week and a half. Some reviewers have said that the book is long, so it might have been better to keep the children flat. Then I had another editor in January tell me that the first editor—a content and proofreader—did a terrible job and that I need to make a bunch more changes. That took another three days. And I sent it in for a final edit in May. So the entire process took about two months of time, but the initial writing only took one month. As far as the process, I sit down and write long snippets or full chapters. If I can’t write up to a definitive break in the story, then I will sit back and meditate on whether I really know where I want a scene to go or not. If I don’t know where it’s going before I start full-steam, then I’ll jot down some notes about it but I won’t write it. I don’t often use outlines, except for my two serials.
Ashley: Which books or resources did you use as research when writing The Man on the Roof?
Michael: Nothing with a name comes to mind right now, except for maybe WebMD, American Journal of Psychiatry and, well, one I don’t want to say because it might be a spoiler for the book. But I also read a lot of high-class journalism that actually focused on real facts and evidence (sometimes seems rare these days) surrounding the various crimes that are mimicked in the book. I read about cases like Freddie Gray, which was raw and still current at the time I wrote the book, and the Russell/Williams case (a local Cleveland case). These might also be spoilers, but I also looked at Mary Kay and LaFave. In the end it all came together rather quickly because the story wanted to tell itself and simply used me as its proxy.
Ashley: What do you read for pleasure?
Michael: If I’m not reading some non-fiction that will help me to build a new skill, then I mostly read thrillers, horror (especially bizarre elements) and sci-fi. I love Dean Koontz and Stephen King. I take a lot of book recs from my mom. She loves Koontz. I remember one of his stories (a short story, I believe) featured a dimension-hopping bear where famous people were totally different on his version of earth. Steven Spielberg was an inventor or something like that. It’s been a while since I read it, so I can’t remember the details or the title, but I enjoyed the wackiness. Gillian Flynn is also one of my favorites because she doesn’t hold the reader’s hand through the insanity. I’m not even sure she cares if you like the characters or not, but she presents them as real people who are flawed for real reasons. I also enjoyed reading Andy Weir back when he was a lowly self-pub author, too. The Martian was cool from a geeky technical standpoint. And yes, I also have dabbled in reading the Fifty Shades books, except for the fourth one that is from Christian’s perspective. I still, to this day, have no idea how I found my way onto a Twilight fanfic forum because I didn’t much care for those books (the movies were okay), but I remember reading it long before it became THE Fifty Shades and thinking, “How should I react to this as a man?” I kept thinking that if I were ever in a room with some young single women who happened to have read this they would judge me if I said that I enjoyed it. Even years later, after it became a big hit and the first film came out and I had written my own erotica novel, I remember seeing an entertainment segment on one of those Hollywood reporting shows where they were interviewing moviegoers pre-screening. And as they interviewed this woman, in the background a man who was all alone started to walk into the viewing only to stop when he saw the cameras and try to hide his face. And I had never identified with someone more.
I would like to thank Michael Stephenson for taking the time to discuss his latest book with me. If you are interested in reading The Man on the Roof, please check it out on Amazon Kindle, and feel free to leave your review on Goodreads, Amazon, or any other social media sites on which you post reviews. Happy reading!
You can find my review of The Man on the Roof here: https://homesweethouser.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/the-man-on-the-roof-by-michael-stephenson/