This interview originally appeared on Rafe McGregor's blod tonight.
WEDNESDAY, 27 MAY 2009
McConfidential #2: Dave Zeltserman
Dave Zelterserman is a writer of dark crime fiction and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Rafe: Tell me a bit about your current series.
Dave: Pariah is being published in the US this October, and is the second of my 'man just out prison' trilogy that Serpent’s Tail is putting out. I wrote this book on two levels — at one level it’s a fierce and uncompromising crime novel, at another level it’s a satirical look at the NY publishing industry and the celebrity culture in the US. In a lot of ways my protagonist in this one, Kyle Nevin, is the polar opposite to Joe Denton from Small Crimes. In Small Crimes, Joe Denton is someone who wants to go through life without causing any more damage, and at some level is seeking redemption for what he’s done. Kyle is a force of nature. He’s someone who causes death and destruction wherever he goes, and what he’s seeking is revenge and his former stature. This is a book I’m very excited about.
Rafe: Which authors have had the strongest influence on your writing?
Dave: Growing up I read a lot—everything from classics, to pulps, sci-fi, and eventually mysteries and crime fiction, and I think at some level it’s all influenced me. My two biggest influences have probably been Ross Macdonald and Jim Thompson. When I was in high school I discovered Ross Macdonald and quickly devoured all of his Lew Archer books. Something about his sins of the father themes attracted me, as well as all that guilt in middle-class America desperately trying to stay buried. Originally I was trying to write my first book, Fast Lane, as bad Ross Macdonald. Then I discovered Jim Thompson, and it was almost like a religious experience. His books were so audacious and original, and just seeing how he broke the rules but made it work opened my eyes to what could be done. At a superficial level you can find some of Thompson in Fast Lane, but for the most part I discovered my own voice in writing that book, and reading Thompson was instrumental in me doing that.
Rafe: What are your five favourite novels that aren’t normally considered crime fiction?
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
1984 by George Orwell
Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
Rafe: Who is your favourite contemporary crime fiction author?
Dave: Derek Raymond. The guy was amazing, and his factory series is by far my favourite contemporary crime fiction series. So bleak and grim, almost like a meditation on death and dying, but what a fantastic voice.
Rafe: What book/s are you reading at present?
Dave: Right now I’m researching my novel, and for that I’m currently reading:
The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley
Witchcraft and Magic in Europe edited by Bengt Ankarloo
The Hell Fire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies by Evelyn Lord
This is different for me, and it’s been fun. Last week I did squeeze in a crime novel for pleasure — Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith, which is being published next year. Smith’s Mixed Blood is one of the best crime fiction debuts I’ve come across, and Wake Up Dead is amazing — he’s going to be a major voice in the genre.
Rafe: What project/s are you currently working on?
Dave: As I hinted in my last answer, I’m doing something different for me. Instead of a crime novel, I’m working on the retelling of a classic gothic novel, and it’s requiring a large amount of research. I’ve already gone through a thick stack of books, and have a small stack left before I’ll be starting this one.
Rafe: That’s very interesting, Dave, because I was going to ask you about your interest in supernatural and occult fiction, which I’d already picked up from reading your work. I’m fascinated by the fact that several of the great crime writers of the nineteenth century also wrote horror fiction, and vice-versa. What common ground do you find in two genres which are now regarded as completely distinct?
Dave: Rafe, that’s an interesting question. Stephen King’s Misery is probably as much noir as it is horror. Jim Thompson’s Savage Night is about as horrific an ending as you’re going to find in any horror novel. Ed Gorman has been writing terrific crime and horror. When I was doing Hardluck Stories, we had a horror noir issue where we ended up with some of our best stories. Myself, I have one book published, Bad Thoughts, that’s pretty much a mix of crime and horror, as well as two more books scheduled for publication, Essence and Caretaker of Lorne Field that both have supernatural and horror elements to them. I guess with crime fiction, especially noir, we’re delving into the darkest depths of the soul and mind, and it’s not that much of a leap from that to horror.
Rafe: I’m one of many who’s taken inspiration from your long struggle to reach a mainstream audience and your selfless ‘Lessons from the Trenches’ series of blog posts. What single piece of advice do you think is most important for aspiring authors?
Dave: This is a tough question to answer honestly without sounding too cynical or depressing, and I can really only talk about the crime/mystery space since that’s what I’m familiar with, but I’d say it’s for writers to understand that with most publishers this is a business and they’re not necessarily looking for the best books to publish but for what they perceive as the most commercially viable books. Probably the quicker a writer understands this and learns what these publishers are really looking for, the smoother their path to being published. Or you can be a stubborn fuck like me and spend years swimming against the tide and get your head bashed in pretty good in the process.
Rafe: You’ve had two brushes will Hollywood so far, the most recent of which seems like it might actually bear fruit. Can you tell me a little about both?
Dave: I’ve actually only had one experience that I’ve talked about. Back in 2004 I wrote a bank heist book that’s a bit on the dark side which is now titled , 28 Minutes. Although we came close we couldn’t get the book sold, but my agent at the time did get it in the hands of a top film rep who believed in the book and took it on. Over the next three years we had a lot of close calls — at one point we almost sold it as a cable series, then later two very hot screenwriters wanted to take it on but had to drop it due to other commitments. John Tomko, who was one of the top guys at Warner Brothers and produced Ocean’s 11 and Falling Down, was involved throughout all this, and last year he got Jeremy Bolt and Impact Pictures interested, and this has led to a studio film deal with Impact Pictures and Constantin Film, with John as one of the producers. The screenplay is being worked on now, and according to John it’s progressing well and should be finished soon. The way this works for most writers selling options, the money is mostly back ended — you get a small amount selling the option, a good chunk for the film rights — but this doesn’t happen until filming starts, and potentially a lot of money if the film is released. I know films are something writers are supposed to never count on — a lot of books get optioned that never get made — but these guys seem pretty driven to make this. As far as the book goes, I’ve since sold the UK rights to Serpent’s Tail and it’s scheduled for a 7/10 release.
Now for my second brush that I haven’t mentioned before and has really just happened. I recently showed another unpublished book to John Tomko — this is one that my agent is now shopping, and John wants to take this one on also. I feel pretty good that this one will go much faster than 28 Minutes. This one would be a series — think Sin City with vampires. It’s a pretty rock ‘n roll crime/horror novel. I’ve also had interest in Small Crimes — Steve Zaillian who did American Gangster very early on asked for a free exclusive option, which I turned down, but I’ve been talking recently with Jeremy Bolt, and I think if I can do a good job with the screenplay this will happen also. That’s the thing with this business—you get one foot in the door and things start happening.
Rafe: That's really good news, Dave, and I'm looking forward to watching Zeltserman-on-the-big-screen sometime soon. Finally, who is your favourite living crime writer, and why?
Dave: Lawrence Block. I love his dark sensibilities, and his writing is just so seamless.
For more on Dave Zeltserman visit his website, at: www.hardluckstories.com.
POSTED BY RAFE MCGREGOR AT 00:01 1 COMMENTS