It's a bit of a stretch to call The Twenty-Year Death current since it came out in the summer of 2012, but it's just come out in a completely new format that I'm very excited about. The book as a whole tells of the twenty-year descent of the great American novelist Shem Rosenkrantz from bestselling literary darling to out-of-work Hollywood hack. The story is told through three separate mystery novels each in the style of the greatest crime writer of the decade in which that part of the story is set: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. It was important to me that each of the books operated independently from each other, as though each section was a lost novel of its respective era. That way if a reader read just one portion of the novel, he would feel as though he had read a complete novel, but if he read the whole thing as intended, it added up to a greater work. My original vision of the novel was as a boxed paperback set, and my editor Charles Ardai agreed. For cost reasons, however, and to make the biggest splash, we put it out as a single hardcover. This month all three books were released as independent mass market paperbacks. Now some readers might only experience a part of the story, or read the books in a different order than in the single-volume edition, and it will be interesting to hear how those experiences are different.
2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?
My next novel is a robot romance in the Bronte tradition. Set in a dystopic future in which humans are a small minority, it tells of an aged robot who rents a beach-side cabana to contemplate his future. He's been in a terrible accident, and the societal expectation is that he should deactivate himself, but he's not ready to die. While at the beach, he becomes obsessed with the robot family that lives in the big house that overlooks the beach from the top of the cliff. Through a series of interlocking narrators, he learns the terrible secrets that separate this family from robotkind.
3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
Now that I have a real published book out, there's some comfort that there's tangible evidence that I existed. If I die tomorrow, even if my book goes out of print, it still exists out there, to be found, worthy of a footnote at least.
4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?
The years and years of toiling with very little encouragement, and the shock that even after you publish a novel to critical acclaim and with good sales figures, it doesn't mean that anyone will rush to publish you again. The uncertainty with the years and years between paychecks.
5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
Don't forget the booksellers. The booksellers are who sell the books. Not only is it important to cultivate a relationship with as many booksellers as possible, but publishers should help to publicly champion booksellers, emphasizing the role they serve in the literary culture. If the general public began to feel that a bookseller should be consulted like a sommelier, it would help save bookstores, and it will ensure the understanding that there's a reason that 99% of books that should be read are published, not self-published.
6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?
I'm not knowledgeable enough to know of any forgotten mystery writers. NYRB, Hard Case, and other presses like them seem to be doing a great job of bring deserving authors back into print.
7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.
I was cooking dinner when my agent called. I don't remember what I was cooking, but I remember I was using a frying pan on the front right hand burner, and it was something time-sensitive, and there was a lot of noise in the kitchen, my daughter, my wife at the sink, so I was distracted. The months of trying to sell had worn me down, so that it was almost as though the news passed right by me that it had happened. There was a delay in the excitement for some reason. Of course, my wife would probably tell me that I have all of these details wrong. In any event, the moment is hyper-real for me, like the world shrunk into me at that moment. You're right that you don't forget it, but I'm not sure I remember it either. It was epochal.