The Man On The Roof – The Dark Side Of Surburbia
The Man On The Roof
Someone has been creeping in the dark while the others sleep, and they’ve done terrible terrible things.
“There was a man on your roof,” claims curmudgeonly lane-hermit Herbert McKinney. Then, he initiates an unprovoked fight with a local punk. Drama escalates when that punk’s dead body is found hanging at mid-street one August morning—a boastful killer messaging their next prey. All fingers point to Herbert as the culprit. Soon, the five couples he calls neighbours come under suspicion, too. When lead detective Cady Lambert divines blackmail as the motive, eyes cross to find who hides the most shameful secret. Husband versus wife, friend versus friend, the shiny suburban veneer of innocence has been forever tarnished. As hidden deviousness boils from their pores, there lurks a thief, a pill addict and a sadist—secrets worth killing for.
Now, as the man on the roof helps guide justice and watches devious neighbours slip in and out of sleepy houses, confusion and questions persist. Who dies next? What have they learned? Who is becoming a monster? Who already is one? And just how many secrets can a small group of multi-ethnic Ohioans have? Only one cemented truth exists: the killer will kill again.
A tension-building psychological mystery-suspense thriller, The Man On The Roof propels the reader through a tangled, volatile and suspenseful thicket of deception, murder and friends, inviting the reader to discover the murderer and who hides which lie.
Duffy’s Q&A with Author Michael Stephenson
There are many characters in this book. Where there others that didn’t make the cut? Did you have to kill your darlings?
There weren’t any characters that didn’t make it. I always knew that I wanted the end of the lane to feel populated like any other neighborhood. Before writing the novel, I actually studied some other thrillers and mysteries to make sure that I wasn’t going to be overloading the reader, and I believe I ended up with a number around 20-odd characters in any given thriller that the reader has to keep track of. Granted, some are only secondary characters and only get one or two lines of dialogue, but that always rang false to me in a mystery. Why suspect that character of something heinous when you know nothing about them? I also thought that eliminating some characters as suspects right from the start would help the reader to focus on the main people while also allowing those secondary characters to round out the primaries.
The Man On The Roof is much larger in wordcount than your average thriller. Was this a considered choice for the storyline, or the writer’s habit of wracking up the word count as the story gains depth and momentum?
I didn’t think it was that much larger in word count when I finished it, especially not for a psychological thriller or a contemporary mystery. During researching other books, I found that Gone Girl was the longest at between 145 and 165,000 words, Big Little Lies was around 138 to 142,000, The Woman in the Window was around 135,000 and even Into the Water was around 115,000 and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was around 155,000. But I will say that some books like The Girl on the Train and some Ruth Ware books were below 100,000.
The Man On The Roof clocks in around 134,000, not considering chapter headings and all the other book-info stuff. But I think that the more a writer gets comfortable in a genre, the more detail they’re able to put into a novel in order to make the world inside more livable. To compare, my first mystery The Knowledge of Fear is vastly different and clocks in around 111,000 words. It’s also not as unique in my opinion, even though it is still good, I believe. I think it’s a similar situation to Gillian Flynn and/or Paula Hawkins first novels as compared to their second (in Flynn’s case, third) novels. Sharp Objects is vastly different from Gone Girl, so it didn’t warrant as many words. Same for The Girl on the Train and Into The Water. They both share the same DNA but you can clearly study Hawkins’ change in how she details and builds the characters from book to book. As the words mold to fit the story, it may take longer to tell said story.
The book shines a light on many social issues that seem embedded in contemporary American culture. Are these the issues that keep you up at night?
I wouldn’t say they keep me up at night but I do think that we are doing a disservice to the future by not talking about these things and trying to find solutions to them. I think we’re too uncomfortable with some of this stuff to actually talk about it and have it make a difference in our lives or in society. What’s interesting is that art and entertainment often don’t care if we’re uncomfortable with something. It dares to put that thing in our face, then challenges us to both be entertained while also getting out to do something about what we just consumed.
I don’t think we can or should forget the fact that a lot of these movements that are happening now actually stemmed from jokes being made in the way of entertaining. The only reason why Bill Cosby went down (he deserved to) is because a comedian told a joke about Cosby’s dealings with women. It made people laugh at the time, then they finally stood back and said, “Oh my god! Bill Cosby is actually a terrible person.” And then they started to listen to all the women who had said something earlier.
What does The Man represent to you?
I think for now I’ll let the readers decide what the novel represents. There is a hell of a lot of symbolism in there and jokes that you only get if you read it for a second time and are able to keep up. Some of that stuff should be dug through between the readers. I feel like it is a novel that, once read, people are going to want to talk about it, and the more they talk about it, the more their opinions on, potentially, everything will change
Why did you write the book the way you did with varying perspectives? And did you think the narration would suffer from the switches?
To answer the second part of the question, no, I didn’t think the narration would suffer from it. I will say that I don’t think this book is necessarily for speed readers. It is a book that is designed for the reader to flip back and forth to different parts and re-read them or to be re-read as a whole, because you will miss at least 25% of what’s going on in the book the first time through. This is going to sound strange, but I wanted the book to have somewhat of a book club feel to it where a bunch of people have gathered together and everyone has a different perspective, yet often the perspectives aren’t even focused on the same thing. I also wanted to partially deconstruct the modern psychological thriller and how it compares to the regular human experience.
When you are in a character’s thoughts, you’re also in your own thoughts as a reader, thinking about how good or bad that character is. It is the subconscious mind. Conversely, when not in a character’s mind, you can engage in the entirety of the world. That is your conscious mind. So, I partially wanted it to feel jarring and a little confusing at first, however, I think that if you’re paying attention there are plenty of indicators as to who everyone is and what their role is so that it doesn’t feel like there are too many perspectives. It’s seeing things through both the role of god and his creation.
What’s your biggest learning in the self-publishing game to date?
My biggest lesson from self-publishing is that you are judged differently and much more harshly as a self-published author than you are a traditionally published author. Because there is almost never any big buzz about your book (unless it’s negative) people will come at your work with the mindset of looking for flaws.
I remember studying this in a business course in college. It talked about the many aspects of the bandwagon effect. People are more inclined to like your work if they know you or know of you, but because most of the time people don’t know you as a self-pub author, there is an automatically higher propensity to either not like you or feel indifferent about your work. Case in point: Fifty Shades of Grey. I remember first reading that as a fanfic and again when James first started selling it. Those books actually hit the shelves, going from self-pub to traditional pub, with a slew of spelling and grammar errors, but people still bought it in hordes because everyone had to be on that bandwagon. So, until you have a name and a fanbase, prepare for an uphill battle no matter how good you think your work is. You have to write something that people are ravenous for in a niche community, otherwise, they don’t care.
What’s next for Michael Stephenson?
Currently, I’m working on my next three projects. I hope to have season 2 of my sci-fi serial Extraordinary out sometime in August. I hope to have my return to strict horror BLAnd out sometime in October, and I hope to have my next psychological thriller The Ones That Stare out in December. The Ones That Stare is a lot more stripped-down you could say. The Man On The Roof is denser, a lot thicker with mystery, whereas The Ones That Stare is heavier on the suspense.
Thank you, Duffy. I enjoyed talking with you.
The Man On The Roof is out June 22nd – Pre Order for under $10 here
Explore Michael Stephensons other books here