Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dave Zeltserman

"I a lot of hours as a kid watching old movies with Hitchcock, the Marx Brothers, and film noir being my favorite, especially The Roaring Twenties, The Third Man and The Maltese Falcon. I also always read a lot, everything from comic books, Mad Magazine, pulps (Robert E. Howard was my favorite), and science fiction. When I was 15 and spending a few weeks during the summer at my uncle's house in Maine, I picked up a dog-eared copy of I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane, and from that point on was hooked on crime fiction. From Spillane, I moved on to Hammett, Chandler, Rex Stout, Ross Macdonald, and lots of other crime writers before eventually discovering Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford in the early 90s. Thompson, in particular, had a big impact on my writing, not only in the way he got into the heads of broken psychopaths and had you rooting for them, but in the way he took chances in his writing. For years before I read my first Jim Thompson novel, Hell of a Woman, I was trying to write what amounted to bad Ross Macdonald. Once I started reading Thompson, it opened my eyes to how I could break every rule I wanted to as long as I could make it work, and this led me to finding my own voice. My first book, Fast Lane, was probably equally inspired by Macdonald and Thompson--it had the sins of the father theme that Macdonald did so well, but written from the unreliable narrator and mind of the killer that Thompson excelled at. Years after writing Fast Lane, I read about Macdonald's last unfinished Lew Archer novel, and was amazed to find that it had a major plot-point in common with Fast Lane.

"A kind of crazy creative fever took over while I was working on Fast Lane, and when I was done I had something that I knew could be published someday, as well as a book that crime noir readers would enjoy. It turned out that day was 12 years after I wrote it, and I first sold the Italian rights to Meridiano Zero before Point Blank Press published it. During those 12 years I had a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs where I'd quit writing to focus on my software engineering career. It's been a long road but things are now looking up. I've had stories published in a lot of places, including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, as well as a 3-book 'man just out of prison' noir series that is being published by the prestigious UK publisher, Serpent's Tail (Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer), as well as books Fast Lane, Bad Thoughts and Bad Karma (Five Star Mysteries). And while it took a while, I know from the letters I get from noir fans who discover Fast Lane that I was right about it. These days I'm spending my time writing crime fiction and studying martial arts (I hold a black belt in Tiger-Crane style of Kung Fu), and enjoying every minute of it."

Ed here: I just finished reading Dave's new novel Pariah. It is one of the most crazed, hilarious, bitter, brutal novels this side of those composed on violent wards. The relationship between the brothers is one of the most powerful in all of noir. The attack on our media world, which shouldn't fit in here at all, works with devastating truth. I have never read its likes before and I have to say that at certain moments I doubted I ever wanted to read its likes again. The sociopathic narrator is almost too beleivable at points. He is people like OJ Simpson writ large--what is good for him is good for the world. That's how he sees things and nothing is going to change his mind. I literally winced at several points. And frequently wanted to kill the bastard telling the story. He is that richly detailed. This fusion of hardboiled and bitter satire is brand new territory for noir and I suspect that it will be one of the most talked about novels of 2009. As Ken Bruen said of Pariah "If every writer has one great book in them, then Dave Zeltserman can rest easy."

1 Tell us about your current novel.

My second “man out of prison” crime novel, Pariah, is being published by Serpent’s Tail in the UK in the next couple of weeks, and will probably be in the States sometime around June. Pariah is on one level a fierce crime novel about a top guy from the South Boston mob out for revenge and to reclaim his former glory, and on another level, a satirical look at the celebrity culture in our country. This is a book I’m very excited about, as is my publisher.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

I’m trying something different for me, and I’m writing a high-concept commercial thriller, tentatively titled “Dying Memories”. It’s basically a “breathless” thriller, where a guy finds himself caught up in the middle of a nasty government conspiracy, and things just keep getting worse for this guy. While I’m going commercial here, I’m trying to keep the book smart and strike a balance between “relentlessly commercial” writing and something I’m not embarassed to have my name attached to.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

The creative process. It’s really quite a high when the book takes shape and starts approaching your original vision for it.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

The rejections. There are so many, and they can be so unrelenting, and the worst are when editors tell you how much they like your book but give you some bullshit excuse, like they’re afraid it’s too dark or not formulaic enough for their readers.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

They need to start respecting their readers more, and they need to go back to publishing what they feel are the best books they can find instead of worrying whether the books are formulaic and mainstream enough or are written enough in a dumb-downed “relentlessly commercial” style.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in
print again? James. M. Cain, Charles Williams and Jeremiah Healy’s “John Cuddy” series.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

My first novel sale was the Italian rights of Fast Lane to Meridiano Zero. They’re a good house, translating people like Harry Crews and Derek Raymond, and one of their translators got his hands on the manuscript and talked the publisher into reading it. The publisher, while surprised no US house had published it yet, liked it enough to want to publish it even though it was unknown. So there you have it, my first sale was to an Italian publisher.

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?

Having NPR select Small Crimes as one of the 5 best crime and mystery novels of 2008.

9. How about the low point?

Having just about every NY house reject Small Crimes. I had reached a point where I was going to quit writing when Serpent’s Tail called to tell me they wanted to publish Small Crimes.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?

For a novel, Small Crimes. For short crime fiction, I’m offering a free PDF collection, titled Seven, which readers can download from my web-site:


Anonymous said...

Yes, Dave is a talented guy, but he also knows his baseball! I know that all he wanted for Xmas was a 2009 World Series Championship for the Bosox.
Great interview Ed, and much-deserved congrats to you, Dave.
Terry Butler

Dave Zeltserman said...

Terry, thanks. Sox have already won 2 more World Series than I ever thought I'd see. At this point, I'll take instead Pariah doing as well as Ed expects it to.

One more thing, damn those Jets! And Mangini too!


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Ed and Dave,

How nice to read a conversation between two of my favorite writers.

And Dave, please leave the Jets alone. They have suffered enough!