Hello folks and welcome to a small bit of history in the making. Here we proudly present for your pleasure the first ever collaboration between The Man Eating Bookworm, and The Ginger Nuts of Horror. The interview is being hosted on both sites, and I highly recommend checking out The Man Eating Bookworm, the man knows what he is talking about, as well as being a stand up guy.
Hi Dave how are things with you?
Hi Jim & Peter, thanks for inviting me for this interview. I’m doing well, and am in the midst of working on a book I’ve very excited about.
Can you give us background on your previous works?
Okay, here’s a complete rundown in the order they were published.
Fast Lane is part psycho noir, part deconstruction of the hardboiled PI genre. It was the first book I attempted to write. I originally self-published it as In His Shadow, later sold the Italian rights to Meridiano Zero—a very good press in Italy, and then had it published as Fast Lane by Point Blank Press, who also published first books from Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, and Duane Swiercynski.
Bad Thoughts is a mix of crime and horror. I wrote it in ’96, saw it published in 2007. There’s a supernatural element that scares the hell out of some readers—I had readers tell me that the book gave them nightmares, others told me that the book scared them too much to finish, and then again, some readers find this element cheesy. It all depends how it hits you. This was the second book I wrote and some of the writing makes me groan now, but there’s other writing in it that’s very high energy and kind of inspired. Much different than my others.
Small Crimes is pure noir and at it’s heart is a failed man’s search for redemption. This was my first Serpent’s Tail book, and NPR ended up picking it as one of the five best crime and mystery novels of 2008.
Bad Karma is kind of a new agey hardboiled PI novel. It’s a pretty solid one featuring my hero from Bad Thoughts. Hardboiled readers are happy with it, readers more familiar with my harder hitting noir tend to be disappointed, but it’s a pretty good hardboiled novel with a fast-paced plot and lots of twists.
Pariah is about as fierce and subversive a crime novel as you’re going to find. No US publisher ever would’ve had the balls to publish it, but fortunately my UK publisher, Serpent’s Tail, was only too happy to put it out there. My protagonist in this one is a force of nature, someone who leaves death and destruction wherever he goes. Not a nice guy to say the least. On one level this is a brutal crime novel, on another it’s a satire on the publishing industry and our celebrity-driven society. Washington Post called me a “sick puppy” for this one, but they also named it one of the best books of 2009.
Killer is probably my best crime novel—although fans of Pariah might argue that point (and have!). It’s a much quieter book than Pariah or Small Crimes, sort of a meditation on the mind of a killer. It’s an interesting book too in that while Small Crimes and Pariah appeal more to noir and literary readers, this one seems to have a very wide appeal to crime, literary and also mystery readers (mystery readers are genuinely appalled by Pariah).
The Caretaker of Lorne Field is next. I knew readers would take it as a horror novel, but I was really writing it more as an allegorical fable. Along with Killer, it’s probably my favorite of my published books. Although I’ll always have a soft spot for Pariah, bless it wicked heart.
I just released Blood Crimes as an e-book original. This is a very high octane mix of noir and horror. Think Pulp Fiction with vampires. It’s the first of a planned 5-book series, and it’s a good one.
Outsourced is being released now by Serpent’s Tail. This was actually the 4th book I wrote, but it took 7 years to see it in print. A bunch of desperate software engineers who’ve been made obsolete due to outsourcing and other industry changes come up with what they think is a brilliant plan to rob a bank. Not with computers (as the cover suggests) but with guns. This is a very fast-paced, twisty fun book. And it’s now in film development.
I’ll also add in my Julius Katz stories. These are the polar opposite of Pariah. Lighthearted, charming, very fun. The first one won the Shamus Award, the second one just won 1st place in Ellery Queen’s Readers Choice Awards.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I always read a lot, but I was also very strong in math and always interested in computers, so I never gave any thought into being a writer, and instead majored in Applied Math and Computer Science, and worked as a software engineer after college. But I seemed to be drawn to writing and at times would work on short stories. When I discovered Jim Thompson around 1990 it was like a religious experience, and I started seeing a way to rework one of my short story ideas, and this became Fast Lane, and I knew it was a book noir readers would dig. While I was working on this I wrote my first short story to try to sell, and I sold it to the first magazine I sent it to, then I wore Gary Lovisi down with submissions until he bought my second story for Hardboiled Magazine. After that it was all down hill until selling Small Crimes in 2006.
You self published your first novel, what lessons did you learn from that?
This was back in 2002—a different world back then! So I don’t know how applicable these lessons would be in the current e-book world where it’s much easier for new writers to sell their books.
But back then I self-published In His Shadow with iUniverse because it wasn’t costing me anything due to a program they had with MWA, and my goal was to collect enough blurbs to help sell Bad Thoughts. I did get a good reaction to it, getting very generous writers like Vicki Hendricks, Bill Crider and others to read it, and because of noir fans discussing it on the noir reading group Rara Avis, Meridiano Zero bought the Italian rights, and Jeff Gelb invited me to submit to Hot Blood #12. Overall, it was frustrating—I’d have newspaper reviewers who wanted to review it but couldn’t because of their paper’s policies regarding self-published books. And what I really learned from this was that I did NOT want to be a self-published writer. But again, it’s a different world now.
When I was trying to sell In His Shadow/Fast Lane back around 1992, I had a bunch of editors and agents tell me that I needed to write a more formulaic novel for my first, and that dark anti-heroes don’t sell. In my heart I knew Fast Lane would appeal strongly to noir fans, and I was right. The writing is a bit rough in Fast Lane, but it really works well as a noir novel, and I’ve heard from a number of noir readers telling me it’s one of their favorites. But these agents and editors were also right. You’re not going to make a living writing noir, although I keep stubbornly trying.
With the publication of The Caretaker of Lorne Field, and Blood Crimes you’ve made the transition from Crime to horror, was there any reason for the change?
There can be a fine line between horror and crime, and you look at my protagonist’s psychic meltdown in Fast Lane as horror. Bad Thoughts might look like a police procedural at first, but it’s really horror. And then there’s Pariah, where my noir hero, Kyle Nevin can be downright terrifying. I’ve always written books and short stories that can just as easily be looked as horror as crime.
Do you approach the two genres in a different way when you write?
Simple answer, nope. I’m just trying to tell a story, and whether it’s horror or crime or a mix of the two, it doesn’t much matter to me.
I first encountered your work in Needle Magazine, man that was some piece of storytelling, one of the highlights of the issue. Do you enjoy writing such unsavory characters?
My character in that story is a cub scout compared to some of my others, although I’ll never top Kyle Nevin from Pariah. Short answer, yep. I love getting into the psychology of my characters, and it’s so much more interesting when they’re a fucked up piece of work like Kyle.
You’re the founding father so to speak of The Top Suspense Group. What instigated you to form the group? And what drew you to the authors currently in the line up?
It really started from conversations Ed Gorman, Harry Shannon and I were having. The reason we formed it is very simple—as much as all of us might love print books there’s no denying that e-books are the future. And while most professional writers, other than Joe Konrath, spent the last year focused on print books and supporting bookstores, the newer indie writers and Joe focused on the e-book space and building the infrastructure to sell directly to Kindle owners. That ended up leaving most midlist pro writers out in the cold. Now while there are going to be some very good self-published e-books put out there, there are also going to be some not so good ones. The whole idea of Top Suspense Group is simple—band together with talented writers we know who are putting out high quality books, and as the e-book market matures, develop a branding as a safe place for readers to find excellent genre books. I think this will work, the other authors believe so too, but it’s going to take time for readers to learn about us.
Your next book, Outsourced, has already been optioned for film and is in production. When you’re working do you consciously try to write a cinematic story?
I’m always consciously aware of writing exciting, fast-paced books. If I’m going to write something I want it to be something my readers are going to enjoy! So my writing tends towards being very visual and vivid, and seems to lend itself well for film. Small Crimes would make a terrific film. So would Blood Crimes—before Hollywood got swamped with vampire projects I had someone at Dimension films really love that book, and one of the producers on Outsourced want to do something with it. But then vampires became hot and every imaginable permutation involving vampires started hitting the studios, and it’s near impossible now to get a vampire project started. Even one as different as Blood Crimes.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field was a wonderful tale of paranoia and suspense which would make an excellent film. I’m thinking M. Night Shyamalan directing and maybe Gary Oldman or Christian Bale as Jack Durkin. Any bites from Hollywood?
My thoughts exactly about M. Night Shyamalan. I’m a big fan of Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and he could make a terrific film with this. Imagine fields of Aukowies, blinking on and off between being weeds and seeing their little Aukowie faces! And Gary Oldman would be a perfect choice for the Caretaker. I have a very good film agent working on this, but nothing happens quickly in Hollywood, and The Ruins is making things more difficult. But with all the good press Caretaker has been getting, including being short listed by ALA for best horror book of 2010, I think it will eventually happen.
In an interview you did with Roger Smith you discussed your inspiration for The Caretaker of Lorne Field which I found very interesting. Why don’t you tell our readers a little about that and how the experience lead to writing the book.
First, a comment about Roger—he’s one of the BEST thriller writers working today. Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead are just outstanding. Very violent, but in a real way, not cartoonish like a lot of violent books, and with all this visceral energy and power. Roger and I both dig each others books, and have since become friends, and I’ve had a chance to read his 3rd, Dust Devils, and it is amazing.
Okay, the reason I wrote Caretaker. My wife and I moved to a new house where we had this weird root system growing weeds throughout our front and side yard. These weeds were nasty—they’d grow fast, and if you didn’t pull them out within a few days they’d develop thorns, and if they were left alone you’d have a forest of them. I think they’re black locusts. Anyway, each day I’m walking up and down the yard pulling out 100s of these suckers and after a couple of months of this I told my wife I was going to write a book about it. She scoffed at me, so I had no choice!
There is a backlash within the horror genre lately aimed towards the watered down vampires of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. Your vampire/noir thriller Blood Crimes: Book One has been described as Sin City meets the horror of Stephen King. Was there a conscious desire on your part to write a vampire book with some serious bite? And what was your inspiration to write this book?
I had Blood Crimes in mind since ’96. Back then I was working with this agent who gave me a horrifically bad vampire script to novelize. I didn’t want to work on that, but it gave me an idea for a hardcore vampire series, and I wrote a film script based on it. My agent then got insulted and we split. But I had Blood Crimes thought out since then, and finally in 2006 wrote the first book of what will be a 5-book series. My agent at that time had her hands filled trying to sell Pariah & Caretaker, and she didn’t want to take on anything else. In 2009 I had a new agent, he read Blood Crimes, loved it, and tried selling it. We had a fewer younger editors fall in love with it, but at that point the vampire genre had been co-opted into soft porn for teens, and these editors all got shot down by their bosses for the book being too noir and too much horror. It really is a kick-ass, high octane book, one that any fan of noir, crime or horror will dig.
You’ve written a Gothic horror novel based around Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Where did the idea come from to write such a book and what can readers expect?
Monster is my retelling of the Frankenstein story, this one from the point of view of the monster. Here the monster is a heroic but tragic character, with Victor Frankenstein a fiend who is in league with the Marquis De Sade to bring hell to earth, and the book is layered very carefully over Shelley’s. It’s by far the best book I’ve written. Not just my opinion but other people who’ve read it. My agent sent this out in the Fall of 2009 when the Jane Austen zombie mash up books were dominating, and we had editors tell us that they couldn’t buy anything that wasn’t a mash up book. We did have an editor at TOR spend 6 months trying to buy it, but eventually it was decided it was too much horror (imagine, a Frankenstein book being too much horror!). My editor at Overlook loved this book and was in the process of acquiring it when he quit. My new editor feels the same but the they’re publishing another book of mine in the fall, so the publisher is in no rush to buy it. It will probably kill me if this book doesn’t get published. Seriously.
You’re primarily a Boston writer. What was it like writing a book which takes place across Europe?
I spent 6 months studying 18th century Europe so I could write this book. I have a good imagination and can make my books feel like they’re written anyplace I put them. My fall book, The Essence of Monsters, takes place in Brooklyn. I’ve never been there, my agent lives there, and he was convinced after reading the book that I must’ve lived there at one point.
Many thanks for agreeing to do the first ever Ginger Nuts / Man Eating Bookworm interview it’s been great fun and enlightening to get a glimpse into the mind of such a talented author.
Dave Zelserman’s books are available wherever good books asre sold. He can also be found here
The Top Suspense Group can be found here