PRO-FILE: DAVE ZELTSERMAN
PRO-FILE: DAVE ZELTSERMAN
1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).
I’m going to cheat and talk about 3 of my novels.
I just put out an original e-book for the Kindle and Nook, something that’s a very high octane, ultra noir crime and horror hybrid called Vampire Crimes. Think Pulp Fiction with vampires and it gives you some idea what this one’s about. I wrote Vampire Crimes back in 2006, but my agent at the time had her hands full trying to sell Pariah, The Caretaker of Lorne Field and Outsourced, so she never did anything with it. I eventually switched agents, moving to Matt Bialer over at Sandford J. Greenburger, and Matt was excited by this book, thought it would be an easy sale, and we came close—we had a number of young editors who loved this book and tried to acquire it but ran into problems for any of these reasons (a) editors higher on the food chain were trying to bring in their own vampire books and didn’t want the competition (b) people were afraid the book was too noir for a thriller (c) the fear also that the book was too much of a horror novel, especially with the vampire genre being co-opted as more of a teen romance. We also had the problem that Matt was sending this out in March of 2009, which was when the publishing industry had started to go South in a big way. So it didn’t sell, and I got sick of seeing of one of my better noir books gathering dust, so I put it out there myself for about the price of a cup of coffee.
My latest print book release was The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which Overlook Press published in late August. This isn’t a crime or mystery novel, but instead a mix of horror and allegorical fable, and the reader reaction to it has been great, with the book already being nominated for a Black Quill Award for best dark genre novel of the year among some very stiff competition, including Stephen King’s Under the Done, Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter and Justin Cronin’s The Passage.
The basic premise of the book is a simple one—a family has been responsible for weeding a field for the last three hundred years, with the belief being that if the field isn’t weeded according to the strict guidelines set out by the contract, that the weeds will grow into monsters and the world will quickly end. Now in present time, the current Caretaker believes these legends and believes he’s saving the world each day, but few others in this town still believe this. As simple as this concept is, the book is almost like a Rorschach test where each reader seems to take something different from it—some readers looking at the book as pure horror, others as a religious parable, others as a political parable, others as an allegory of sacrifice vs. selfishness, or of belief faith vs. reality, and the list goes on.
In February, Serpent’s Tail will be releasing my bank heist crime novel, Outsourced, which Booklist already calls a small gem of crime fiction, and which has gotten some very nice reviews in the UK from The London Times, The Financial Times and Morning Star, and a rave review from The Australian. I have a film deal with this with Impact Pictures, who are the guys who make the Resident Evil movies, and the script and financing are already set, so hopefully this will go into production soon. This is a fun, fast-paced twisty crime book that people are going to enjoy.
2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?
I just finished a Julius Katz & Archie novel. My novella, Julius Katz, got a great reaction from mystery readers, winning several awards including the Shamus, and since all the other books I ever submitted to NY were always rejected for being too dark, too gritty, too unlikable characters, etc., I decided this time to write a charming and lighthearted book with endearing characters that already have 1000s of fans from the stories with these same characters that have already appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The feedback I’ve gotten from my early readers and Julius Katz fans that I showed the manuscript to has been extremely enthusiastic, and the novel really works much better than the stories. It should be a no-brainer for NY, but we’ll see.
3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
The creative part. It’s such a great high when you get lost in the writing and the rest of the world disappears. I love the writing part of the business
4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?
The business side of writing.
5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
Learn a lesson from the independent publishing houses and start buying the books you love and trust your readers. And, uh, publish my Julius Katz novel—1000s of mystery readers have already enthusiastically embraced the characters from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine short stories, so no reason to talk yourself out of it with reasons that don’t make any sense!
6. What is the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
Enjoy the journey.
7. What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?
This is specific advice I got regarding Small Crimes when an editor gave me a three page analysis of everything that he thought was wrong with the book. If I didn’t trust my own instincts, I would have ruined the book by blindly taking his suggestions. It is important to listen to other people, but ultimately you have to trust your own judgment and gut level feelings.
8. What is the best piece of writing business advice you ever got?
Don’t stop writing while you’re waiting on submissions. Just keep writing. It helps keep you productive and keeps your head in a good place.
9. What is the worst piece of writing business advice you ever got?
That’s a tough one, Ed. Just as I ignored most of the good advice I’ve gotten over the years I think I’ve probably tuned out most of the bad advice as well.
10. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?
Gil Brewer and Cornell Woolrich have some of their books in print, but it would be nice to see more of them.
11. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.
My first sale was Fast Lane to the Italian publisher, Meridiano Zero, which happened due to an odd sequence of events. My first English rights sale was Small Crimes to Serpent’s Tail, which was also due an unusual sequence of events, and I’ll talk about that one. Everyone in New York had rejected Small Crimes, some publishers several times, and I was getting ready to throw in the towel and quitting writing. I had several people, including Ken Bruen and Vicki Hendricks saying really good things about this book, and because of that I was able to get John Williams at Serpent’s Tail to take a look at it, but John told me the chances of them buying it were slim—that they only buy books that they absolutely love and feel they can’t live without, so while I thought it likely that John would like Small Crimes, I didn’t expect to sell them the novel. After a year of not hearing anything, I decided to accept an offer I had from Five Star, and call it quits. Five Star has good people, and is a good library publisher (selling almost entirely to libraries), but it wasn’t what I was looking for to keep going at this. Two days after I signed and mailed back the contract to Five Star, I got a call from John that Serpent’s Tail wanted to buy it, and at that point I was scrambling to try to arrange something with Five Star. Fortunately the people there are great and we worked out trading my novel Bad Thoughts for Small Crimes, but it was such a stressful month while trying to work this out, that I couldn’t really enjoy the moment of selling Small Crimes. I enjoyed it more a couple of years later when Small Crimes was published and NPR picked it as one of the 5 best mystery and crime novels of 2008.