Author Interview: Aaron Michael Ritchey
& Review of Long Live the Suicide King
Long Live the Suicide King by Aaron Michael Ritchey (summary from Amazon.com):
Seventeen-year-old Jim JD Dillinger knows exactly how his miserable suburban life is going to play out. At least drugs added a little chaos to his life, but after almost losing his soul, JD knows he has to quit. Now clean, he figures he has another sixty years of plain old boring life followed by a nasty death. JD decides to pre-empt God by killing himself. However, once he decides to die, his life gets better, more interesting, and then downright strange. New friends. Possible romance. And donuts. Lots of donuts. Once the end is in sight, every minute becomes precious.
First of all, I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to interview Aaron. We met a couple of years ago at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Aaron had just released The Never Prayer, a YA paranormal romance with angels and demons and a girl who isn’t sure which is which, and I had just started writing a YA paranormal romance with angels and djinn (which I might actually finish someday). I thought The Never Prayer was well written and an emotionally compelling story (yes, I cried), so when Aaron released his new book I had to read it.
Ok, not going to lie – I cried during Long Live the Suicide King too. Aaron’s sophomore novel is filled with amazing side-kick characters, like Ingalora Blute and 1066, and I really loved how funny JD is, even in all his suicidal angst. It’s very well written and is an original story with a couple of unexpected twists. There is a lot of heart in this book, which is what keeps you going when it gets dark. As you may have guessed, there’s a lot of talk about suicide in the book. There’s some conversation these days about how we need diverse books especially in MG and YA (check out #WeNeedDiverseBooks) and hopefully that conversation will get bigger and bigger. And the diversity goes beyond gender, race, and religion, to sexual orientation, disabilities, and illnesses. Every book can’t be about mean girls and crushes. If you have ever had suicidal thoughts, a friend with suicidal thoughts, or lost a loved one to suicide (or yes to all three like me), this can be a difficult read. In the end, it’s the truths in the book that make it a fulfilling read.
So without further ado, my interview with Aaron:
Ingalora Blute was my favorite character. She’s feisty, wise, and is a neighbor I would love to have. The characters in Long Live the Suicide King feel very real. Do you base your characters on people you know?
No, I really don’t. I let my characters write themselves. Inga surprised me with her secrets, and a past which made her feel connected to my main character Jim, despite their age difference. Now, on the other hand, I’ve known a bunch of girls like the good Christian girl in my story, Marianne, who also aren’t as Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know as you would think. But none of my characters are based on actual real people I could name. Most of the time.
And I don’t write with actors in mind either. So when asked, I get all tongue-tied. It’s like which actor would play my great aunt Ethel? No one! Ethel plays Ethel. Get your own role.
All that said, Laurence Fishburne would play the villain in my book, in all of his Morpheus ominous. So yeah, I just contradicted everything I just said.
Jim Dillinger goes on a difficult journey. What was the hardest part about writing his story and what made you want to write it?
I walked Jim’s path. In high school, I was the suicidal guy looking for an answer and always coming up with empty pockets. I knew if there was one book I could write, it would be a book on suicide, and the story came to me on a long walk, the whole thing, and when a story taps you on the shoulder, sells you a watch, you buy the watch and you tell the story. I’m happy it turned out so well. Hardest part of writing was making Jim likable. No one likes whiners. I’m not sure why. Inga was critical in keeping Jim sympathetic. And 1066. And the whole gang.
At Cimmerian Tales, we often use songs as writing prompts. What was your playlist while writing this novel?
Funny you should ask, but I only recently started using playlists for my books. I wrote Long Live the Suicide King before music became a part of my process. Now, all my books have a very definite playlist, which helps me keep the tone consistent and helps me get excited about the story.
For the editing of my suicide book, I searched my music for keywords that I used for the soundtrack. I searched “Suicide”, “Hope”, and “Believe” and then added some songs that fit the tone.
Some of the songs that stick out are in no particular order:
“Sober” by Tool – I reference this song in the book because I love how hopeless it is, how resigned to the darkness. Why can’t we sleep forever? Because in the end, we do.
“I Believe” by Bon Jovi – I hated Bon Jovi in the 80’s. I was young and simple. Now I like Bon Jovi because they are young and simple.
“Believe” by Cher – Because, duh, Cher!
“Suicidal Blonde” by INXS – Ironic, given what happened to Michael Hutchence, their lead singer. Rest in peace, my friend, the pain is over. This is a great song, and I never knew what it was called until it came up on my playlist. That harmonica is epic!
“Something To Believe In” by The Offspring – The Offspring was formed by two guys sitting outside of a concert who wanted to form a band but didn’t know how to play any instruments. They learned. The world is better for it.
“Slow Motion Suicide” by Voodoo Child – This is actually Moby writing under a pseudonym. It’s from my all time favorite ambient album, “The End of Everything”.
“The Final Cut” by Pink Floyd – Out of all the music I listened to when I was suicidal, Pink Floyd captured the desperation I felt, the desolation, the despair. I reference The Wall in the book, but I love The Final Cut, which isn’t so much a Pink Floyd album, but a Roger Waters solo project. Still, it was leftovers from The Wall, and I like leftovers.
I could go on, but I won’t because, yeah, um, I love music.
We’re split 50/50 between being pantsers and planners at Cimmerian Tales. What does your novel process look like?
I was a pantser until I had to start writing novels quickly and more efficiently. I just can’t spend years editing and re-working scenes, but if I could, I would still pants. I love sitting down and being surprised. That still happens to me, every once in a while, but I’m a slave-to-the-outline planner nowadays. I write the pitch, I write the synopsis, and then I write my Save-The-Cat fifteen beat outline. If I don’t have a beginning and an end, I don’t write the story. I need to visualize the climax, and usually that’s not hard because I LOVE HIGH, WORLD-CRUSHING DRAMA! In all caps!
This year, you’ve published both a novel and short stories. What are you currently working on?
Actually, I’m juggling four different projects, all so much fun. I got a contemporary romance (very different), I got a YA sci-fi romance (Blade Runner meets Twilight), I have a YA steampunk familydrama (very Firefly), and I just signed the contract on my next book, Elizabeth’s Midnight.
Elizabeth’s Midnight is a contemporary YA with fantasy elements. Oh, it’s so great. It has France in it, and treasure hunting, and love, and doing the impossible.
It’s about an overweight, emotionally handicapped teen who finds herself on the run with her grandmother. Both are being chased by the teen’s mother, who wants to stop them from travelling to France to see the grandmother’s lover from World War II. You don’t know if the grandmother is crazy and lying, or if she is telling the truth about her lost love, since yeah, she claims he’s a sorcerer-prince from another world.
It really is a sweet book, solid PG, but I still have Characters who are hurt and hurting, dragging themselves through their days until that special something happens, that spark, which drives the wounded character forward until they find healing.
I loves me a good character arc.
Life is sweet.
Thank you, Aaron! I’m looking forward to your next books. Anne and I are slightly addicted to France. Also, I could totally geek-out about Firefly (but I’ll try to contain it).