Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Murder Club

Murder Club was the 14th book I wrote, but before I talk about it I need to give some background.

Back around 1998 I started a small software business with a partner. The basic idea for this business was that I was going to use this scripting technology to quickly build a core set of customizable network management products, my partner was going to offer training services, and we would also offer consulting. The idea was really a great one, but I made two very big mistakes. Well, really three. First, I rushed into this without seeing a lawyer and having papers drawn up, and while we had a verbal agreement that I would own my work and he would own his if we separated, we had no legal separation agreement going into it. Second, while I covered most of the startup expenses, including an expensive industry tradeshow, Interop, he volunteered to handle the website. He was thinking ahead and I didn't realize what a killer this would turn out to be. Third, I ignored things I shouldn't have.

So we start this business. I've got my head down as I'm rapidly building our products, my partner is working on his training class, we're meeting with different companies to get some beta testing sites lined up, and my wife, who was working in software sales, quits her job to join us. Interop turns out to be a huge success. This is a giant show--miles of floor space with the big companies building small little mansions for their booths, while we have a small 6-foot table in the Siberia section of the show called Startup City, we still get a steady stream of potential customers to us, many of whom seem excited about what we're doing. But as it turned out due to reasons I can't discuss here, this turned out to be the beginning of the end.

So for the next 3 months things are deteriorating quickly between me and my partner. Even with that, we've gotten about 40 customers and about 100K in revenue--and these customers include Lucent, The US Army, banks, utility companies, financial institutions, colleges and military contractors. And I'm getting customers telling me these are the most useful network management products they have. And we're getting more training and consulting interest. And then the plug gets pulled. My partner takes down the website. This in effect kills us. All our marketing literature we'd been sending out and all the prospects we met at Interop have our website address. With our website taken down, we're dead. Before and after doing this company, I'd worked at a number of startups, all of which were heavily funded with venture money, and none of them were ever able to generate the customer list that we got in only 3 months of having the product available--or generated 100K in revenue in less than 7 months of operation. And now not only were we dead, but now it was going to get really ugly.

Here's where I started acting smart. I hired good lawyers. The first lawyer I hired was just great--a very even keeled man who was able to get the other side to agree to arbitration so we wouldn't have to go to court. Since he wasn't a litigator, he pointed to a real pit bull of a lawyer--if I ever had to go to court again, I'd want this guy at my side. I don't want to go too much into the hearing except that the judge ending up giving me what I asked for, which at this point was simply the products I built (my ex-partner was claiming ownership of them). I'll give one story about the hearings--my lawyer had told me that when I was examined by the other attorney, she should only ask me yes or no questions, but if she asks me a why question, I can say whatever I want. So the very first question is a why question--and I launch into my whole defense. She tries stopping me, and I tell the judge that she asked me "why". And he turned back to her and told her that she did ask me why. So I continue and give out my whole story.

While this whole mess was going on, which was unbelievably stressful, I had a dream where I'm meeting a good friend of mine, this Russian software engineer I'd worked with for years, at a Russian restaurant, and we're getting blitzed on vodkas while I'm telling him my sad story. And this friend of mine, now drunk, starts bragging how he's heard of a guy who for a not too outrageous fee will fly a Russian to this country, and after your problem disappears, the Russian will be flown back to disappear back there.

So all of this had formulated into my idea for Murder Club--a husband and wife whose lives are being ruined by a vindictive business partner, and the rabbit hole the husband finds himself tumbling down when he lets himself go as far as to hire that Russian to make his problem disappear. I had this idea for years, and after writing a thriller (Dying Memories) and a horror novel (Monster), I wanted to write a noir novel again, and something absolutely pure noir with no compromise. And so I finally set about to write Murder Club. Once I was done I showed it to two authors I respect a lot, Roger Smith and Ed Gorman, and here's what both of them had to say with their comments edited to remove spoilers:

"I love it, Dave. It is very tight, very fast and very claustrophobic, left me breathless at times. It also has the stench of pure evil running through it, that is really unsettling. A profoundly pessimistic and very disturbing ending. Difficult to forget." Roger Smith

"I love Murder Club! Just as a pure story it may be my favorite of your books. The Russian angle is fantastic as is the reality of the perils of partnerships. Ill pay you the highest compliment I can--they remind me of my two favorite Lionel White novels The Money Trap and Before I Die. There are no similarities in stories or characters but the mood of desperation so beautifully sustained and twisted even deeper with surprises--masterful, Dave!" Ed Gorman

So where is Murder Club now? It's still unsold. There's no question in my mind that this is the best noir novel I've written, as well as the bleakest, but I also know it's going to a hard sell, especially in today's climate. So far I've shown it to two editors working for Big Six publishers, and both tried to buy it, and both were blocked. At this point I'm accepting that my profile needs to be raised before I can sell this, but I also think there's a good chance that will be happening soon. I've heard from my film agent that Outsourced is moving quickly towards production, I also have a film deal agreed to for A Killer's Essence (and am waiting for an updated contract and will give more information about this once I get it), and things are looking very promising for a film deal for The Caretaker of Lorne Field. So for the time being, I need to put Murder Club in a drawer, and when these things happen Murder Club will find the right home.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Monster

One day when I was walking around the long since defunct Brookline Barnes & Noble, I was noticing all the vampire, dragon, zombie, Wizard of Oz & werewolf books, and was thinking what hasn't been done, and what I came up with was Frankenstein. Yeah, I know, Dean Koontz has his Frankenstein series, but that has been placed in modern times and has little in common with Mary Shelley's novel. I started thinking then of a version written by the monster and where everything a dying Victor Frankenstein tells Captain Walton is a lie to cover his own crimes and depravity. I started getting excited by this idea but also severely intimidated by it. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a great novel, and for those of you who haven't read it you should. It's very unlike any of the movie adaptations, including (especially) Kenneth Branagh's "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein". It's also in it's own way a very powerful noir story. Anyway, the intimidation won out and instead of working on this I wrote Dying Memories.

The idea, though, wouldn't leave me alone, and nine months later I started considering this more seriously. A friend of mine who's a PhD candidate in 18th Century European History and fellow Black Belt student at our Kung Fu studio, Alden Ludlow, put together a reading list so I could properly research, among other things, 18th century witchcraft, satanic cults, London sex clubs, supernatural mythology, folklore and fiction. So after 6 months of research that also included historical figures Marquise de Sade and Samuel Hahnemann, I felt ready to start it.

If you haven't read Shelley's Frankenstein, the book takes place in a lot of different locations--starting with Ingolstadt, Germany, then Geneva, French Alps, London, Scotland, Ireland, back to Geneva, and finally the Artic. What I did was layer my version over these same locations but have different reasons for this traveling, as well as make the monster in my version the hero. The Marquise de Sade and his philosophy also plays a critical role.

Overlook Press will be publishing this next year, I can honestly say this by far the best book I've written, and will probably ever write. More than any book I've written, I'm looking forward to seeing this one in print.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Dying Memories

After seeing how difficult it had been to sell The Caretaker of Lorne Field and A Killer's Essence, books that I thought should've been easy sales to the Big 6 publishers but kept getting blocked because they were deemed too different, I decided to write a more conventional thriller, but one with enough of a noirish edge so I'd be happy with it. So now I needed both an idea and a plot, and after some brainstorming hit upon a very cool idea. I needed to do some research on nanotechnology to better understand and formulate this idea, and while I don't want to ruin the story by giving this away now, the idea I came up with is something I'm convinced that will be developed in the future. Maybe not today, or next year, but give it 10 years or so. And it will be a scarier world when that happens.

So now that I had myidea, I needed to work that into a plot, and I did so by steeping it deeply with paranoia, and Dying Memories was born. I wrote it to follow the standard thriller conventions: shorter chapters than I usually write with a kind of cliffhanger at the end of each of these, and like my other books, lots of twists and ever escalating danger. But I also gave it enough of a noirish edge so it would stand out as a book that my current readers would also be happy with. My friend, Vincent Zandri, was having a lot of success with the ebooks that StoneGate Ink were publishing, so I decided with Dying Memories to play more in the ebook world and have StoneGate publish this one also.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Killer

When Serpent's Tail told me they wanted to publish Pariah, I threw out the idea of a book based loosely on Boston hitman, John Martorano, as a third book to make Small Crimes, Pariah, and now what would be Killer, a 'man out of prison' noir trilogy. Martorano had killed 20 people and then was able to serve out only 12 years in prison when he cut a deal to give evidence against Whitey Bulger. I had no idea what this third book would really be about, but I wanted to have a 2-book deal with Serpent's Tail so I'd get to write a book for once without having to hustle afterwards to sell it.

I never had any intention of writing a 'man out of prison' noir trilogy in the first place. I started Pariah with Kyle Nevin leaving prison because I thought it would be an interesting contrast to what I did in Small Crimes since Nevin is almost the opposite of Joe Denton. While Denton is deep in denial as to how much damage he's caused and what he really is, Nevin is just a force of nature--someone who remorselessly leaves death and destruction wherever he goes.

So now that I had this third book that I needed to write, the trilogy took shape as everything just kind of coalesced. It just ended up fitting so well as you had each protagonist going down their own paths--for Joe Denton it was a search for redemption, for Kyle Nevin it was money, revenge and to reestablish himself as a man to be feared, and for Leonard March, my ex-hitman protagonist of Killer, it was a search for self identity.

So while I had no clue what Killer was really going to be about (other than this very vague notion that it would be loosely about someone like Martorano) when I threw out the idea to Serpent's Tail, I ended up both creating and finishing off my noir trilogy with what many (myself included) feel is the best book of the three.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where my ideas come from: A Killer's Essence

The ninth book I wrote, A Killer's Essence, will be published this September and will be my 10th book published (with Blood Crimes and Julius Katz and Archie self-published as ebooks). The original title I had for this was Essence, and my publisher and I went through a long list of titles before settling on "A Killer's Essence". While very different than my "man out of prison" noir books, this and my still unpublished, Murder Club, are easily my two best crime novels, and I'm in the process of wrapping up a film deal for this one which I should be able to talk about more in a few weeks.

So the idea for A Killer's Essence came from a very cool idea that hit me. With the book coming out very soon, I don't want to ruin it by talking about what this idea was, but when you read the book you'll see.

So now that I had this idea, I had to work it into a story. I started this in November of 2007. The Red Sox had just won their second World Series in three year. 2004 was a cathartic moment for millions of Red Sox fans, and making it even more so was the way they came back from the dead against the Yankees in the ALCS. Whether this was a conceit on my part or not, I wanted to center this book during the 2004 ALCS, and a good part of the book takes place then with the Sox-Yankees series being more than just a backdrop but in a way integrated into the story. The book didn't seem to fit the Boston area, so I placed in the New York (Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively), and with it set there, I got to have some fun and show the ALCS (and the Yankees massive chokejob) from the point of view of a diehard Yankees fan.

So far I really haven't talked much about what A Killer's Essence is about. Let's just say this is my most character driven novel, and in a way it's about two very damaged people, Stan Green, a decent man and a good cop whose personal life is spinning out of control, and Zachary Lynch, a recluse who is barely able to fit in this world, and how they ultimately end up helping each other.

When I finished A Killer's Essence, I was sure I had a book that the Big 6 publishers would want to buy, and I showed it to an agent who used to be an editor for Gold Medal. She told me if she was still at Gold Medal she'd buy it in a heartbeat, but that the book was too gritty and different for publishers today. I ended up finding an agent, Matt Bialer at Sanford J. Greenburger, who fell in love with this book and ended up selling it and The Caretaker of Lorne Field to Overlook Press. Maybe it is too gritty for the Big 6, but I'll be finding out in the next few weeks whether it's too gritty for today's crime readers.

One last note, Matt, who lives in Brooklyn, was convinced when he read the book that I must've lived there at one time also because of how authentic it felt. Nope. If I ever lived there it was in a previous life, and if that was the case, I hope I wasn't a Yankees fan then!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Julius and Archie could use a little help...

Julius Katz and Archie are currently engaged in the case of the missing tags, and they could use your help... 15 seconds should do...

I read recently how Amazon has these hidden groups that are directly related to tagging, such as mystery series, and that these can have a major impact on book sales. So if you want to give Julius and Archie a little bit of help, please click on the tags already in place for these two books (about halfway down the Amazon book page), and if you can click the Like button at the top even better! Thanks! I know Julius and the little guy will appreciate your help.

Julius Katz Mysteries
Julius Katz And Archie

My series of posts of where my book ideas came from will continue tomorrow with my ninth book.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Blood Crimes

Back in 1997 I was still trying to work with the agent who had given me the Silence of the Lambs ripoff plot that I transformed into Bad Thoughts, and now he gave me this really cheesy vampire biker script that he wrote that he wanted me to novelize. There was no way I could've written a decent book off the script he gave me, but it got me thinking about putting vampires in a noir world--although not supernatural vampires, but more along the lines of the ones from I am Legend where a virus creates vampire-like changes in a person. The more I thought about this, the more excited I got by it, and I worked out an extremely harboiled/noir script based on this idea. When I showed this new script to my agent, he was not happy and that ended up being the final split between us.

Fast forward to 2006. I'd just finished Pariah, and my Blood Crimes script (then titled Vampire Scripts) had been on my mind for the last 9 years where I'd been wanting to turn it into a series of novels, and so I wrote my 8th book. Unfortunately, my agent at the time had her hands full trying to sell Pariah and Caretaker, so she didn't want to take this on. When I later switched agents, he fell in love with it, as did a lot of younger editors we sent it to, but the problem was the vampire genre had been hijacked into teen/women romance genre with the success of Twilight and True Blood, so it became impossible to sell a hardcore crime/horror vampire novel. The book also generated a lot of excitement with the film people I showed it to, but we ran into that same problem where until the Twilight and True Blood dominance wears off, there's no way of doing anything with it in Hollywood.

Anyway, I decided to put this out myself as an ebook, and reader reaction has been great. I know the book is going to upset any Twilight fans who stumble on it, but I'm getting emails from readers who tell me they hate vampire books but love this book. I'm also seeing readers really digging seeing vampires taken back to real horror, and written in a tough-minded violent adult style. Blood Crimes is the first of what I'm hoping to be a 5-book series.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Pariah

I wrote Pariah in the early Spring of 2006. For years I'd been fascinated by the stories I'd been hearing and reading about Whitey Bulger and had been wanting to write a crime novel based on him, although I hadn't figured out what angle to use. At this point I had finally sold Small Crimes to Serpent's Tail after having the book rejected by every NY publisher, and was still struggling to find a home for Outsourced.

What finally pushed me into writing Pariah were two things: (1) seeing all these South Boston mobster tell-all books come out in early 2006 (2) the Kayva Viswanathan plagiarism scandal with Little Brown. Both of these sent me into a rage-filled writing frenzy, and I ended up writing Pariah as a mix of crime and what I politely like to say is a satire on the publishing industry, although it's really a fuck you to New York publishing. I ended up writing Pariah in 6 weeks, which is the quickest I've written a book, and while this will probably surprise anyone who has read Pariah since it's such a fast read, this is not a thin book--it weighs in at 95,000 words.

For those who've read Pariah, you probably think I also used the OJ Simpson "If I Did It" story. Nope. I had Pariah written well before that story came out. I just didn't think it would be possible for a NY publisher to behave as outrageously as I had my fictional publisher, but once again NY proved me wrong.

While Pariah made a number of end of the year best lists, including The Washington Post's best books of 2009, I'll always be grateful to Serpent's Tail for publishing this, because there's not a single New York publisher who would've ever had the balls to publish this.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Where my ideas come from: The Caretaker of Lorne Field

My wife and I bought a house where we had what I think was a black locust with a root system that ran all over our front yard and the side of our house. Every day, 100s of weeds would pop up from this root system, and they'd grow fast, maybe growing as much as a foot after 4-5 days, and then they'd develop thorns. IF left unattended I'd have a forest of these black locusts, so every day I'd pull out 100s of them. After a few years of doing this I told my wife I was going to write a book about these weeds. Maybe I was joking, maybe I was serious, I can't say for sure now, but when she told me I was nuts, I had no choice, I had to write the book then!

I'd like to thank Paul Tremblay and John Langon For their write up yesterday on The Caretaker of Lorne Field.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Bad Karma

Bad Karma was the 5th book I wrote, and was the 4th one of mine published.

I wrote this back in 2005, and at the time Fast Lane had been published here and in Italy, but Bad Thoughts, Small Crimes and Outsourced were still all unsold, and I decided to write a sequel to Bad Thoughts to help generate more interest in that book. At the end of Bad Thoughts, I had Shannon and Susan in Boulder, Colorado, and decided to keep them there. After the hell I put them through in Bad Thoughts, I also wanted them to be back together and happy, and I wanted Bill well along the way of healing himself psychically from all the damage that had been done to him. My goal from the beginning was to write this as a more conventional hardboiled PI novel so it would be an easier sell.

So now that I had my goals, I had to come up with an idea for a plot. At the time a couple of people I knew had gotten messed up by this cult that operates what looks like these seemingly harmless yoga studios, so I wanted to use that, especially with the cults that were in operation in Boulder when I was there from '78 - '82. I had also written a PI story that I was never quite happy with and never sent out, but I liked its plot, so I decided to salvage that from the story and use it for Bad Karma. Finally, I go back to Boulder occasionally, and I wanted to write this as almost an homage to the Boulder I used to know (and love) as opposed to what Boulder has become. Finally, my wife was studying homeopathy back then (and is now a practicing homeopath), and I decided to make Susan a homeopath, and have homeopathy play a role in solving the murders.

Bad Karma is my only somewhat conventional hardboiled PI novel (I say somewhat because there's a lot of new age stuff in it, including a fair amount dreamwork, lucid dreaming, etc.). I never really pushed Bad Karma because the lousy timing of it coming out weeks before Pariah, but it's been really interesting the way readers have responded to it. Fans of Fast Lane and Small Crimes seemed almost betrayed and angry by this book, while readers unfamiliar with me tended to like this book quite a bit, at least from the emails I received and the reviews the book garnered. Well, it's been brought back as an e-book, and I hope people give this one a chance, accept that not everything I write is going to be some pitch-black noirish journey (although at it's core, Bad Karma still has a very dark plot), and if you do read this, let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Outsourced

I'm writing these blog posts in the order in which I wrote my books, so while Outsourced was my 8th book to be published, it was the 3rd book I wrote.

The idea for Outsourced came from several places. I need to put this in some context. I wrote Outsourced in 2004, and at that time I was very disappointed that Small Crimes was having no luck finding a publisher. Second, I'd been a software engineer for about 20 years and the industry's push to outsourcing was something that I was keenly aware of and interested in. Third my short Nigerian email scam story, More Than a Scam, was really my first success in the great reader response it was getting and making honorable mention in Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories anthology, and so I thought I hit on the secret to writing something that will grab people's attention and sell more easily--be the first out there with a very topical theme. So I decided for my 4th book to write a bank heist novel with my bank robbers being software engineers who'd been made obsolete (and desperate) due to their industry's push to outsource their jobs.

The results of my using outsourcing as an underlying theme for the book ended up being mixed. On the plus side, it immediately attracted the attention of Hollywood, and eventually led to a film deal, and it's now looking very likely this will be going into production soon, but editors at different publishing houses who tried to acquire the book were being shot down by their editorial boards because of the fear that outsourcing wouldn't be an issue by the time the book would be published in 2006. It wasn't until I stripped out most of the outsourcing theme and made the book more of a pure bank heist novel that I was able to sell it to Serpent's Tail. This also turned out to be my most widely translated book, with it currently having been translated to German, Dutch and Lithuanian, with French and Thai coming.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Small Crimes

Small Crimes came about from two newspaper articles I read. One was about a Sheriff's office in Denver in the 60s where they were robbing businesses blind, including an incident of stealing a safe they couldn't break open, loading it onto a pickup truck, and not securing it well enough so that it fell off into the middle of the street. The other was about a cop who committed a crime very similar to the one that my fictional Joe Denton did, and then somehow this cop not only serving out an extremely light sentence in County Jail, but then getting his pension once he was released. With that first newspaper story, Sheriff Dan Pleasant and his boys were born, as well as the extreme corruption within my fictional Bradley, Vermont. Joe Denton and his situation came out of my merging the second newspaper story onto this corrupt environment and playing a lot of what-if games to try to figure out how a bent cop committing such a heinous act could be treated so lightly.

Once I had this idea for Small Crimes (and the title came to me early on and just felt very right), I set about to write a more modern noir novel than Fast Lane which would be thematically centered around the idea of redemption and whether you reach a point where it's no longer obtainable. Fast Lane drew a fair amount of comparisons to Jim Thompson, and while I love Thompson's psycho noir novels (and could probably hold an honorary degree in them with all the times I've read and studied them), I set about to write Small Crimes to be very different than a Thompson novel. It kind of surprised me later when some readers and reviewers still compared Small Crimes to Jim Thompson. When I reread Small Crimes I couldn't find a single vestige of Thompson anywhere in it, and Joe Denton is really the antithesis of Thompson psycho noir antihero. What also surprised me was the heavy Dan Marlowe influence that had worked its way into the book. I hadn't realized this while writing it, but I guess it made sense since The Name of the Game is Death is probably my favorite noir novel.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where my book ideas come from: Bad Thoughts

Back in 1996 I was working with an agent who was trying to sell Fast Lane, and he gave me this plot he wanted me write. It was kind of a knockoff of Silence of the Lambs that involved an FBI profiler whose parents were killed years earlier by some nasty serial killer, and she's now hunting down this same killer. I didn't want to do this, and instead reworked the plot significantly to be Bad Thoughts. At the time I was very much into trying to induce an out of body experience and astral voyages, taking Boston Adult Education classes in it, reading books, doing exercises to induce one, etc. and so that whole subject plays heavily in Bad Thoughts. Also, some beyond terrible stuff happened that put me in a really bad state of mind when I wrote it, and that's probably why it turned out to be my bleakest and grimmest book.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where my book ideas come from: Fast Lane

I'm going to borrow from Patti Abbott's blogpost from yesterday, and each day over the next two weeks write about where the idea for one of my books came from, and I'm going to do this in the order in which I wrote these books. So first up is Fast Lane.

Back sometime before 1990 I was listening to the Jerry Williams show (a Boston area radio talk show) where he had a PI on as a guest, and the PI was talking about a young girl who had been adopted and who hired him to find her biological parents, and how things did not turn out well when he found the girl's biological father.

That was what sparked the idea for Fast Lane, which would be my first novel. At the time I was reading a lot of Ross Macdonald, and my first attempts at Fast Lane were to have a Lew Archer-like PI uncover the sordidness and coverup of a fellow PI, but it just wasn't working well. Then I discovered Jim Thompson and saw a completely different way to write this.

What also plays heavily in Fast Lane was at the time that I wrote it (1992) I was kind of annoyed at the direction popular PI novels were heading in, with what I considered these more cartoonish white knight-like PIs who'd carry out their own vigilante brand of justice to the scum they were dealing with, and I wanted to show this type of behavior could also be pointing out a psychotic personality, and this pushed Fast Lane to being both psychotic noir and somewhat a deconstruction of the hardboiled PI genre.

Fast Lane was first self-published in 2002 under the title In His Shadow, and later a slightly altered version was published by Point Blank Press with the Fast Lane title. It was also published in Italy by Meridiano Zero.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Trend Continues

The Trend continues for The Caretaker of Lorne Field (which will be available Sept. 27th as a trade paperback) as it gets yet another very nice recommendation.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another Glowing Review for Julius Katz and Archie

Julius Katz and Archie is a wonderful mix of old school and new. It’s old school in that the mystery is presented in a slight variation on the classic British drawing room setup (the suspects are all gathered together, though not in a secluded location), the violence is minimal and offstage, with the investigator solving the crime through intelligence and deduction instead of car chases, fist fights and shootouts. New school, on the other hand, is well represented by Archie’s very high tech presence (he’s constantly hacking into various databases to gather information) and hard-boiled personality. Indeed, in Julius Katz and Archie author Dave Zeltserman has packaged the best of both crime fiction worlds into one delightfully charming read.

To read Elizabeth White's review click here.