Andrew Shantos has turned to some of the biggest names in show business, Elvis, Jimi, Marilyn, that fellow from The Doors, to populate his debut novel – but wait, you cry, surely they’re, you know, deceased.
Turns out they’re not. In Dead Star Island, they’re living in blissful anonymity on a remote island and still partying like there’s no tomorrow. That is, until someone starts killing them off for real. Greece’s former top cop Mario Gunzabo is called in to solve the mystery of the Déjà vu Killer. But can the part-time tennis coach and full time alcoholic stop the killer in time to save the rest of the superstars?
Andrew’s comic thriller is a high-concept romp and a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster which combines his love of music, dead rock stars and ferrets.
In the the latest stop of his Blog Tour, Andrew gives us the intel on his one-armed detective, which music icon he’d love to perform on stage with – and he earns some extra Intel brownie points by mentioning the undisputed king of high-concept, Ira Levin…
Tell us about Dead Star Island…
It’s a spoof murder mystery. Dead Star Island is home to sixteen superstars the world thinks are dead, but who faked their deaths to live in tranquil anonymity on a secret island paradise. Until now, that is, because there’s a killer on the loose, taking them out one by one in repeats of the deaths they staged to leave the real world.
Your alcoholic, one-armed detective Mario Gunzabo comes with a ferret up his sleeve – tell us about him!
Gunzabo came about from a silly game on holiday in Cyprus. My wife and I were trying to outdo each other with ideas for outlandish detectives. I suggested a one-armed detective called Mario Gunzabo. And she immediately said, with a ferret up his sleeve.
So that was the starting point, but Gunzabo evolved into a fully formed character over many drafts and rewrites, and in him is a mixture of many relatives in Cyprus, long dead, that I remember vividly from my childhood. An important part of the backstory is how he lost his arm, why Didi exists (or not), and how this continues to affect his life and the investigation.
Dead Star Island is a fascinating idea – where did you get the inspiration?
About five years ago, I was listening to LA Woman by The Doors, feeling a bit sad and thinking, “Oh, I wish Jim Morrison wasn’t dead.” Then I thought, “Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s hanging out with Elvis on a desert island somewhere… Of course, Jimi would be there. Marilyn too…” And I found I couldn’t stop thinking of people who’d be there with them – basically anyone who was on my bedroom wall as a teenager.
So that’s how the idea came to me. But I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, in particular about why I had the idea, which I’ve written about in more depth on another leg of my Blog Tour, in a piece called ‘The Psychology of an idea’.
On your website, there’s a quiz you can do about the island, a music playlist, a map and even a graph on which details how many hours you spent writing the novel – how important is it for authors to provide extra content for readers?
To begin with I just had the idea to put an application form on my website, so that people could apply to go and live on the island. It was just a bit of fun, but it made me laugh doing it and I kept on adding new pages, like the quiz to try and guess who the residents are, based on the crazy caricatures my mate Joel did (it’s a tough quiz, no one’s managed full marks yet, not even anyone at my publisher).
But yes, there is an ulterior motive: I want to find and engage new readers, so my hope is that when people see the website, they’ll want to come back, and they’ll tell their friends that they’ve found something worth reading – hopefully much like the book itself.
Mostly though, I just really like the idea of a book living outside the confines of its pages. So that what you’re reading is an excerpt, a particularly interesting episode in the universe someone has created.
You’ve played the Hammond organ in lots of bands – which deceased musical icon do you wish you could have played alongside?
Jim Morrison, every time! The keyboard player I look up to the most is Ray Manzarek of The Doors, so I guess the ultimate would to have been in his piano stool, shaking my head in a stoned trance while playing a ten minute solo during Light My Fire at the Hollywood Bowl, Jim shrieking and doing some kind of crazy tribal dance in front of me. At the after party we’d hang out with Jimi, probably get drunk (definitely get drunk), sing a few sea shanties, and talk pseudo-philosophical nonsense. This would last several days until one of us got taken to hospital.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
Probably what I talk about in my blog post “How many hours does it take to write a novel.” I remember finishing my first draft (written at night in the odd hour when our newborn baby actually decided to sleep), and giving it to carefully selected friends and family, naively thinking that the concept alone would be enough to wow everyone. That most definitely was not the case, and slowly, realisation dawned: I had only just started. I suddenly knew how much work was ahead of me, and I nearly didn’t carry on.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
There are loads; it’s tough to pick out any in particular, like it’s tough to pick your favourite bands. In general I’d say the authors I admire most are those who write with economy and clarity, but also with flair and imagination. I’m never that bothered about genre, I’ll read anything by anyone, so long as they meet these criteria.
As for names, well of the old favourites, I like Hemingway and Orwell best. They’re the literary equivalent of The Stones and The Beatles for me. I’m gradually working my way through Elmore Leonard’s work (I finished Freaky Deaky last week, which I loved and recommend to any crime lover).
Someone who is slightly forgotten these days is Ira Levin, who was massive in the fifties and sixties. Pretty much every one of his novels has been made into a film, some of them several times over. Most are absolute classics: A Kiss Before Dying, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby. They often have a crime element, all are amazing ideas, full of tension and suspense, and inevitably you find yourself devouring them in a single sitting.
Give me some advice about writing.
Work hard and be open to criticism. These two things make you a better writer.
Writing is one of the few crafts people expect to be good at immediately. There’s the old joke about asking an Australian if they can play the violin, and the Australian replying, “I dunno, I’ve never tried.” But really, you have to practise, practise, practise, and you have to actively seek criticism. Plus you have to read lots too. I often forget that, and have to remind myself: read, read, read!
Mostly we’re blind to our own faults, but see them more easily in others. It’s like anything: if you want to be good at it, you have to work hard. Above all though, have fun. Enjoy it. Otherwise what’s the point?
What’s next for you?
I’ve got lots of ideas. If anything too many. It’s a nice problem to have though, so I’m going to use a few of them in a collection of short stories, which will have the additional benefit of being good practice for the next novel.
I do have three or four ideas for full-length novels, but knowing now how much work it is, I’m taking my time and want to let them stew away in my head for a few months. I read a fascinating piece in the Guardian the other day, where author William Boyd talks about his writing process. He spends about three years writing each of his books, the first two years of which is research and planning.
That’s a long time, and I hope I’ll be quicker, but then again Dead Star Island took three years… can I book a slot in autumn 2018 for my next blog tour?
Dead Star Island, published by APP, can be ordered through Amazon priced £4.99 for Kindle and £8.99 paperback right here.
To get in touch visit Andrew at his website andrewshantos.com or on Twitter @andrewshantos