24 Jun 2018


Blog Tour Author Interview / The Man on the Roof by Michael Stephenson

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 neighbors come under suspicion, too. When detectives divine 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 neighbors 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 taut domestic 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. First there was Gone Girl. Then there was The Girl on the Train. Now, there's The Man On The Roof


1.  If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
Gillian Flynn. At this point, I think our styles line up a bit more. Neither of us hold any punches in our writing and give you the story real, raw and a little mean, while also including a heart within our writing. I think we both try to study the characters on the most human level we can and create fictional people that feel like real people, living in real situations that can happen. Not to say that my book is the next Gone Girl, but I do think that it fits well with how she writes. Speaking of, I think I might have an intriguing idea for a GG sequel if Gillian was interested.

2.  What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
I write in my family room where my computer is. While writing The Man On The Roof, I had a bulky desktop from seven years prior. It had a streaky screen where every other line of its display was either red, white or black and I could barely see what the hell I was writing, but it managed to limp to the finish line with me. Now I have a laptop but still tether myself to that little office space set aside in my family room. A typical writing day is me getting up at around 10am, checking the news (and celebrity gossip) for the next hour, then getting up to go write. I’ll write up until about 6pm in the summers, then go on an hour and a half walk around my town, come back, make dinner, spend some family time with my people, then I’m back to writing at 10pm. I’ll finish sometime around 2:30-3:00am. Then I’ll spend about two hours cooling my brain with some reading or TV watching before I go to bed.

3.  What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
The grammar. I’ve noticed that when you are writing for a big-house publisher, you can get away with a lot of stuff grammar-wise because the marketing machine behind you is so good. Misplaced or misspelled words, oddly constructed sentences, clauses galore—it’s all on the table and people will accept an artsy explanation for why you did it, so long as they like the story. In self-pub or indie books, people don’t like that, even if you do have legitimate artistic reasons for doing it. The worst is that I was never good at grammar in school (I was going to go for the easy grammer school wordplay joke there, but I held back. Now I’m a little proud of myself). Learning where to cut run-on sentences, learning when to use semicolons, learning how to not make long parenthetical references—all of it somewhat baffled me. The story comes easy to me, I let the characters build themselves through their actions and I never struggle to create tension in my mind, but making sure that the grammar is correct is really hard, even with an editor. So I’m always worried that I may have written a really good, really engrossing book, but won’t get the big-house publisher bias and be called out for poor sentence structure.

4.  When and why did you first start writing?
I first started writing when I was 11. I decided I would probably be a writer at 8, but didn’t really start studying and trying to build a career from it until three years later. I was inspired not by books but by film and TV. I always wanted to be part of the entertainment industry and wanted to do a bit of everything. I think that to be really good, to be a legend in it, you have to try to do at least some of all of it to know how hard it is. Writing is the most technical part of entertaining and is one of the most technical art forms because you have to weave a spider’s web every time. You have to somewhat control the mind of the reader and make sure that they get context, they get tonation, they get voice, they pick up on all of these cues that normally we would only pick up on when viewing something. And I always had stories I felt I needed to tell because if I didn’t, they’d nag me. Everyday, for the last 15 years, I’ve thought about one particular story and have yet to write it, but it keeps nagging me. I know some authors talk about that nagging, but that’s what it really feels like, looks like.

5. When starting your novel, what was the first thing that you wrote, like, the first completed scene or chapter and why?
I wrote all of the first person “asides” first. Readers of the novel will understand this only after finishing the book, but I wrote Allegra’s introduction first. Out of all the characters I had, I knew her the best from start to finish because I knew people like her. I knew her flaws and her triumphs and why she is the way she is. That made writing in her voice so much easier than writing in just about anyone else’s voice. Shanna was the second easiest to write because she’s so similar, in my mind, to Allegra. Using Allegra as the template, I tried to keep each aside no longer than a 1000 words to keep the narrative going at a decent pace, even though it can get really confusing really quickly. Also, writing her first helped me to remain focused on creating unique voices for each character rather than having them all sound so similar that they run together in the reader’s mind. If you don’t pick up on the differences, then chances are that you are trying to read too fast. Slow down. Enjoy it. Let the mystery envelop you.

6.  Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
I think that depends on what your idea of a big reader is. Some people’s main entertainment is reading and, while I adore that, I do find watching something easier some of the time. With that said, in between my own writing, I will generally read at least one book every three weeks. Currently, I am reading Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup in anticipation of HBO’s miniseries Sharp Objects. I already read Sharp Objects last year, but I felt I should read some Flynn before seeing the HBO show, so I chose her only other work I hadn’t read.

7. If you had to start your writing career over, what would be the one important lesson you would want to know that you’ve learned in your career?
Hmm? If I had to start my career over? Like, if I had lost all knowledge and ideas and everything and I had to start from scratch, I would want to keep the knowledge that standardization is everything. Inspiration is amazing to have, natural talent is pretty good too, and even perseverance is a necessity, but I have learned in all of my writing years that if you can find ways to standardize your process to such a point that you don’t need all of the creature comforts you think you do, and can still get a good amount of words out on a page per day/week/month, then it will help you to deal with the stress of writing so much that you won’t agonize over the process. It’s more than routine, it’s almost mechanical. And it sounds like it would strip away the magic, but having a standardized process allows you to enjoy the magic more. So, I guess it boils down to things going a lot smoother when you’re wholly committed and know what you want and don’t allow yourself to beat you out of that idea.