Thursday, November 20, 2014

My First Novel Fast Lane by Dave Zeltserman

I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.
After the first draft, I started working on a second draft, which I finished in 1991. It was a different world back then, and editors actually responded to well-written query letters. I ended up getting about 10 invitations to send in my manuscript, and about half of them sent me back  encouraging rejections—telling me they liked the writing and the book, and encouraged me to send them my next, but that they didn’t think readers would accept a psychotic private eye. At the time I didn’t realize that selling true psycho noir to a major publisher would be only slightly easier than pulling one’s own wisdom teeth, and instead of wisely taking their advice and working on a new novel (which I wouldn’t do until 1997 with Bad Thoughts), I stubbornly started a third revision of Fast Lane—this time taking advice from several readers and pushing the start of the novel back so I could show Lane acting in a more normal manner with only hints of his psychotic tendencies showing. This required about 60 new pages, and just as I was finishing this, my early version of Microsoft Windows crashed and I lost these new pages. I doubt  I’d be able to do this now—and I can’t swear that I retyped those 60 pages exactly as I originally wrote them—but I’m pretty sure I did. Once I had this version finished, I tried again, and collected more rejections. Sometime around 1993, I had a couple of short story sales, but for the most part gave up writing (at least until 1997), and put Fast Lane away in a drawer.
I’ll jump ahead to 2001. I had two novels—Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts—and I was unable to sell either. I decided to sacrifice Fast Lane (still In His Shadow) to self-publishing in the hopes of getting enough people saying good things about it to get Bad Thoughts published, and so I self-published it on iUniverse. It somewhat worked—I was able to get enough generous writers like Vicki Hendricks, Bill Crider, Ken Bruen, and Gary Lovisi, to blurb it, which got noir readers on Rara Avis to discover it, which led to Luca Conti finding it. Luca was working as a translator with the Italian publishing house, Meridiano Zero, and he convinced the publisher to publish it—and so I had my first book deal—Fast Lane translated to Italian. Eventually, Allan Guthrie (whose first story I published on my webzine Hardluck Stories)  and JT Lindroos  would publish Fast Lane under their Point Blank Press imprint and Fast Lane’s long and tortuous road to publication would come to an end.
One final note. At one point I tried sending Fast Lane to the London publisher Serpent’s Tail, only to never hear from them. Years later after they published Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer, and Outsourced, I sent my editor a copy of Fast Lane, and he rather liked it, telling me if he had seen it years earlier he would’ve fought to get it published. C’est la vie. 


Bill Crider said...

Fast Lane was a real shocker, and I suspect that it holds up pretty well.

John Christopher said...

I'm a reader who found Fast Lane through Rara Avis. Half of the fun of Rara Avis was tracking down various books.