.: Interview with Dave Zeltserman
Hi Dave and welcome on Liberidiscrivere. Thanks for accepting my interview. Tell to our Italian readers something about you. Who is Dave Zeltserman?
I’m married, live in the Boston area, and for years worked as a software engineer. Now I’m trying to make a living as a writer.
Why you have decided to become a writer?
When I was younger I was always interested in math, and in college earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Math and Computer Science and later a Masters in Computer Science. Still, I always read a lot, and throughout my earlier life was always working on short stories, I just never expected to have any of them published. At some point I started getting some success as well as getting bitten severely by the writing bug, so now this is pretty much all I want to do so I’m giving it a shot.
Tell us something about your debut. You self-published a private eye novel called In His Shadow. Why?
In His Shadow wasn’t really a private eye novel, more of a deconstruction of the hardboiled PI genre, as well as psychotic noir. I self-published it because nobody at the time was willing to publish it an it was free to do so because of an arrangement MWA had at the time with iUniverse. I had two novels written at the time, and I thought I might be able to get enough positive responses from this one to get my second book (Bad Thoughts) sold.
Your first book then improved and called “Fast Lane” is published in Italy as “L’occhio privato di Denver” Meridianozero. Tell us something about it. Do you hate happy end?
What actually happened was that Luca Conti found In His Shadow and liked it enough where he convinced the publisher at Meridiano Zero to publish it, so my first book deal was actually the Italian rights of In His Shadow to Meridiano Zero. Later, a fan of In His Shadow, Allan Guthrie, was starting a small US publishing house called Point Blank Press, and he asked if he could publish the book. I said sure, and it was renamed Fast Lane. Now depending on how you look at it Fast Lane may or may not have a happy ending, but while some of my books and stories have very noirish endings, others do have happy or upbeat endings, and several of my published stories are more on the light-hearted side.
Projects with Fanucci Editore? An Italian edition for “Pariah”?
Fanucci bought the Italian rights for Small Crimes, which was published last year by Serpent’s Tail, and National Public Radio ended up picking it as one of the five best crime and mystery novel of 2008.
Tell us something about Pariah. Is it a mob book?
Pariah is also being published by Serpent’s Tail, and is the second of what I’m calling a ‘man out of prison’ noir trilogy, with Small Crimes being the first, and Killer, which is being published next year, being the third. All three books start with a dangerous man being released from prison and then following the noir journey that they take. With Pariah, the man being released is Kyle Nevin, and he was a top guy in the South Boston Mob, and he’s out for both revenge and to re-establish himself. The book is very heavily influenced by the history of Whitey Bulger and the South Boston Mob, and it’s a very explosive and subversive book. About two thirds in it takes a hard left turn into areas that will surprise the reader.
Is Johnny Lane an anti-Marlowe?
Johnny Lane, who’s my PI from In His Shadow/Fast Lane is more the anti-Lew Archer. He’s someone who desperately wants to be Lew Archer, but it’s just not in the cards for him. He’s not a very stable individual.
Do you read other contemporary writers? What writer had the biggest influence on you?
I do read a lot. Some of my favorite writers are older ones: Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Charles Willeford, Mickey Spillane, Dan Marlowe, Rex Stout, Ross Macdonald and Jonathan Latimer, to name a few, but I also read more contemporary writers, and my favorite of these in crime fiction is Derek Raymond. I’m also a big fan of Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block and Elmore Leonard. As far my influences, Jim Thompson was a big one in that seeing how he broke the rules with his books taught me that I could do the same, and it was after reading his “Hell of a Woman”, “Pop. 1280” and “Savage Night”, that I saw how I could rework my first attempted novel (In His Shadow) into something where I could find my voice and which would work. At some level I’m probably influenced by all the great writers I’ve read, learning from each of them.
Any movie plans for your books?
Constantin Film and Impact Picture, who are the guys who do the Resident Evil movies, are currently developing my soon to be published book, Outsourced, into a movie with the same name.
You are an American writer. Do you like the European crime books?
Yep, Derek Raymond and his factory series novels are some of my favorites. I also loved Gianrico Carofiglio’s “Reasonable Doubts”, which was one of my favorite books when it came out in 2007. I’m also a big fan of Crimini, which is a collection of translated short Italian crime fiction.
Do you write short stories or only novels?
Both. I’ve had a lot short stories published, and 5 novels (with Pariah and Bad Karma being published this October), with 4 more scheduled to be published over the next year and a half.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’d just recently went on a Continental Op binge where I reread Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and all of the Continental Op short stories.
Tell us something about your Boston.
I’m going to tell you about two different Bostons—the one that existed when I was growing up, and the one today. The Boston in the early to late seventies was tougher more violent place than it is today, but it also had used bookstores and grand movie theatres. Today, Boston in a completely different city. A lot of money has been poured into Boston over the last 20 years to revitalize it. A section that used to be topless bars in now filled with high-end restaurants. The channel area in South Boston that used to only have a very seedy nightclub is now filled with high-rises and expensive waterfront property. So while the Boston today is a wealthier area with trendy restaurants, it doesn’t have any used bookstores or any of those great old movie theatres that it used to. But it still has some charm with the North End, as well as many historical spots.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received about writing and about the publishing business?
Okay, but this is for US writers only since I don’t know what it’s like for writers in Europe. This piece of advice was given on a recent episode of Californication, but it’s also something you hear a lot from writers who’ve been in the business for a while. If there’s any way that you can quit writing, do so. This is a tough business, where there’s so much rejection and so much randomness and so much patience required. The odds of making it are so low. Now if the writing bug has gotten in too deep, as it has with me, then you’re screwed and you just got to keep writing. But if you can walk away from it you’ll save yourself a lot of heartaches and frustration.
Got a literary agent?
Do you like Ross Macdonald? Was he an influence?
I read all of Ross Macdonald books when I was in high school. I loved those books, loved the sin of the father stuff and all the sin hidden in middleclass America. He was definitely an influence for Fast Lane, probably not for anything else of mine, though. Years after writer In His Shadow/Fast Lane I read about the last Lew Archer novel that Ross Macdonald was working on before his death and the similarities with Fast Lane were startling.
What is “freedom” for you? Is it an utopia?
I think I needed to be a philosophy major to answer this, and sadly I was math and computer science major.
What are you writing at the moment?
I just finished a novel that I’m very excited about. It’s something completely different for me—a retelling of the Frankenstein story from the monster’s perspective. In this one, the monster is a heroic but tragic character and Victor Frankenstein is a depraved character under the influence of the Marquis De Sade. I spent a lot of time researching late 18th century European history to write this, and I’m very happy with the way the book came out. My agent is now shopping it and I’m hopefully optimistic, although NY is buying very little right now.
Any advices for aspiring writers?
Other than the advice above, if you want to write you need persistence and patience. A lot of both.
Do you like Cornell Woolrich? Was he an influence?
I’ve only recently read my first Woolrich novel—a recent reprinting of Fright. The writing at times was a bit too much for my taste, but I did like the book, even though I was tempted to stop reading several times. Very dark and bleak.
You've written many books in your career. Which do you prefer?
Without a doubt Pariah is the best crime novel I’ve written. Very dark, very explosive, very subversive, and I think it’s unlike any other crime novel I’ve seen. I got a nice note the other day from a German publisher who was really taken by this book, and what I really liked about what he wrote was that he didn’t find the book over-the-top but right on the edge, and that’s what I was going for.
Your books are dark, bitter, violent. Have you sense of humour? Tell me a joke.
Hey, Washington Post said about Small Crimes: ‘The plot of Small Crimes is a thing of beauty: spare but ingeniously twisted and imbued with a glossy coating of black humor.’ While I’m not writing comic novels, I think most reviewers and readers have found my books having their share of black humor. Here’s an example of some sophmoric humor from Fast Lane which my editor wanted me to remove but I stubbornly insisted that it stay in. Johnny Lane shoots a man, and as the man is dying he begs Lane to call him a doctor. Lane tells him, ‘Okay, you’re a doctor.” Now that’s not funny?