Ripped from the Headlines: Robert Masello on ‘The Jekyll Revelation’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m joined by dynamic storyteller Robert Masello.

Robert is the author of The Jekyll Revelation—out tomorrow from 47North. An award-winning journalist, television writer, and bestselling author of many novels and nonfiction books, his most recent fiction titles include The Einstein ProphecyThe Romanov CrossThe Medusa Amulet, and Blood and Ice, and have been published in more than a dozen languages. His guide to composition, Robert’s Rules of Writing, has been adopted in many college classrooms. Robert’s articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in prominent publications such as the Los Angeles TimesNew York magazine, PeopleNewsday, and the Washington Post. A long-standing member of the Writers Guild of America, he has taught and lectured at colleges and universities nationwide, including the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Robert also served as visiting lecturer in literature at Claremont McKenna College for six years. A native of Evanston, Illinois, he now lives and works in Santa Monica, California.

robert-masello
Author Robert Masello.

Praise for The Jekyll Revelation:

“Alternating between past and present, Masello’s (after The Einstein Prophecy, 2015) latest offers another look at Jack the Ripper’s identity and his origins … Readers will find themselves immersed in both stories, past and present, as the journal entries and current events intertwine for the novel’s fiery conclusion.”—Booklist

“The coincidence of the opening of a stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the first Jack the Ripper murder provides an intriguing starting point for Masello’s engaging thriller … Masello (The Einstein Prophecy) tosses in quite a few surprises en route to a delightfully devilish conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly

From the publisher:

A spellbinding thriller from the bestselling author of The Einstein Prophecy.

A chilling curse is transported from 1880s London to present-day California, awakening a long-dormant fiend.

While on routine patrol in the tinder-dry Topanga Canyon, environmental scientist Rafael Salazar expects to find animal poachers, not a dilapidated antique steamer trunk. Inside the peculiar case, he discovers a journal, written by the renowned Robert Louis Stevenson, which divulges ominous particulars about his creation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It also promises to reveal a terrible secret—the identity of Jack the Ripper.

Unfortunately, the journal—whose macabre tale unfolds in an alternating narrative with Rafe’s—isn’t the only relic in the trunk, and Rafe isn’t the only one to purloin a souvenir. A mysterious flask containing the last drops of the grisly potion that inspired Jekyll and Hyde and spawned London’s most infamous killer has gone missing. And it has definitely fallen into the wrong hands.

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Now, Robert Masello takes readers inside The Jekyll Revelation

John Valeri: What first inspired you to write The Jekyll Revelation – and how does this book give a fresh twist on the Jack the Ripper story?

Robert Masello: I think I first started to think about this book when I happened to notice, in the course of some reading, that just when the play of Jekyll and Hyde was running in the West End of London, Jack the Ripper struck – and continued to strike. When I found out that the author Robert Louis Stevenson himself, and even the actor playing the dual main role, were considered suspects in the murders (who else, the police reasoned, but the men who created and embodied such terrible evil, could be responsible for such heinous crimes?) then I was sold.

JV: Tell us about the research you did about Robert Louis Stevenson and the creation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In what ways is your work an homage to his – and, conversely, how were you able to take creative license in melding fact with fiction?

RM: As for the research, I read extensively about both the life and career of Robert Louis Stevenson and the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper in 1888. I relied largely upon the thorough Stevenson bio written by Frank McLynn and several books about the Ripper, most notably Jack the Ripper — CSI: Whitechapel by Paul Begg and John Bennett. To keep my bearings in the London of that age, I used four very detailed maps of Victorian London from the Old House Co. in the U.K. They were beautifully mounted on my bedroom walls by my girlfriend, and though, regrettably, she has moved on, the maps have stayed put.  They’re lovely.

In respect to creative license, I take a lot of that. Few stories have as inspired a central conception as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and my goal was to tap into that power source without, I hope, sullying it in any way.

JV: The narrative alternates between 1890s London and present-day California. How does this parallel story structure enhance the narrative – and in what ways does having dueling storylines impact the plotting process?

RM: Having two storylines is 10 times as much trouble. You’re always struggling to keep both of them percolating at about the same rate, or keep them in some way echoing each other. There is also the question of tone — half of this book is written in what is meant to pass for Stevenson’s own voice, and the other half in relatively straightforward and present-day prose.  By dong the current California story, the idea was to keep some present stakes alive, and in the strictly historical sense, the story had to end in the Los Angeles area. I won’t give too much of the plot away, but the real story of the Stevenson family left me little choice in that respect.

JV: In addition to being a novelist, you are also a journalist and television writer. How do these disciplines influence one another – and what most appeals to you about each?

RM: Journalism taught me to meet my deadlines and be as clear as possible in my prose. Writing for TV, which came next in my career, benefited from that ability to write on a tight and unbending schedule. But what I didn’t like about TV writing was the collaborative process – eight writers in a room, beating out a story all together, and having to reach some consensus. Forgive the egotism, but I like to do things my way. Most writers do. Novels are far and away the hardest form – and that’s what appeals to me about them. I like that challenge, and the fact that I am not restricted to, say, 120 pages (as you are with most feature scripts, or even 55, if you’re writing an hour-long TV episode). With a novel, you can swing for the fences, and I do. Sometimes I hit a home run, though it’s rare — many times I strike out. But at least I’ve had my at bats.

JV: You have written a composition guide, Robert’s Rules of Writing. In your opinion, what of writing can be taught and how much is intrinsic talent – and where does tenacity fit into the equation?

RM: Tenacity, as you call it, is critical. I know lots of writers with talent, but what they don’t have is the willingness to sit down in a chair, for all those lonely hours on end, and wrestle with the beast that is their novel trying to be born. Yes, you have to have a modicum of talent, but persistence is key. Oh, and a sense of story — there are SO many students graduating from famous writing programs who can construct beautiful sentences, paragraphs, even pages, but who do not know how to make a story. I say this as someone with the very same problem. Making a story that is gripping and convincing and populated by characters we care about is the hardest part of the job by a mile.

JV: Leave us with a teaser — what’s next for you?

RM: I wish I had a more definitive answer to that. Right now, I am juggling several inchoate ideas, but the one that seems to be gaining traction will hark back in some ways both to The Jekyll Revelation and an earlier novel of mine entitled Blood and Ice, which took place largely during the Crimean War. I’m a kid from suburban Chicago, lived in New York and L.A., but my spiritual home is plainly London. I’d like to think that in a previous life I was once an aristocrat there, but chances are I ran a vegetable stand.

***

With thanks to Robert Masello for his generosity of time and thought and to Claire McLaughlin, Little Bird Publicity, for making this interview possible.

 

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