Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Commenting on the commenting...

Over at Jason Pinter's blog he has some people expressing their ideas on how to fix publishing. There's some interesting stuff being written, mostly about things publishers need to do surrounding marketing, promotion, business models, eBooks, etc. There very well might be some good ideas to be be pulled out of these suggestions but I still have to think the biggest problem is the big houses move towards "safe" books. Books like the Harry Potter series, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo prove that there are readers who will flock to exciting, compelling books if they're published. The problem is the large houses need to be willing to step outside the lines more often, trust their readers more, and quit feeling the need to only publish the "commercially relentless" cookie-cutter genre books that they're mass producing in droves. Anyway, I'm going to comment on some of the comments on Jason's blog, but first I want to make one obvious observation: indie bookstores are crucial for the health of publishers and the future of books, and right now they're struggling. A few years ago NY City had 4 mystery bookstores, which for a city of over 8 million people doesn't seem like that much. Now they have 2. When Small Crimes came out I had an event at Robin's Bookstore in Philly (the oldest bookstore in that city), and the owner, Larry Robin, impressed me as being someone passionate about books. A few weeks after the event, he announced he was shutting down, saying it's impossible in today's climate for a retail bookstore to survive. This same scenario is playing out everywhere. If you truly care about books and their survival, buy your books at your local indie bookstore--even if it costs you an extra buck or two. When the people who are the most passionate about books are out of the picture, then we're really in trouble.

Now for commenting on the commenting:

Author John McFetridge suggests that all formats of a book be released at the same time: eBook, hardcover, paperback, etc. As an author I hear John, especially with the price of hardcovers they're mostly only for collectors and libraries these days. But publishers have a good reason for releasing paperbacks a year or so after hardcovers, and that's so that the reviews, word-of-mouth, etc., generate interest for the paperback, so I think this would end up sabotaging paperback sales. Putting out eBooks and hardcovers together does seem to make sense.

Sarah Weinman is asking the industry to take a bottom up approach, make the reader more involved in the process. I think that's already happening. 100s of thousands of books are being either self-published or given away free on peoples web-sites/blogs, and the few that garner attention have been getting bought by NY. Again, the real issue is if NY could move past "safe" and commercial books and trust their instincts and readers, more of these books would be published by them initially, instead of going the route they've been going.

Scott Siglar talks about using podcasting to generate large audiences for books that were ignored by NY, and later was able to get contracts for. His point is that publishers need to watch the free content out there and see what books are proving themselves. I think NY is currently doing that, as Scott and Seth Harwood have proved. The problem is the "free content" will soon become a mess as 10s of thousand try to duplicate the success of Scott and Seth in podcasting, and David Wellington in blog serializing. The real issue again is NY taking more risks and not rejecting these books in the first place.

David Montgomery suggests the industry promote reading as a leisure activity, I guess sort of like a "Got Milk" campaign. While authors like Ian Flemming and Walter Mosley were helped a lot when John Kennedy and Bill Clinton were seen with their books, that was more readers finding out about those authors as opposed to new readers being created. Ads featuring celebrities reading books or "the cool kids" reading aren't going to get kids away from their video games. But again, as the Harry Potter books show, if publishers put out compelling books, readers will flock to them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Charlie Stella on Pariah

I sent Charlie a copy of Pariah knowing he'd get a kick out of the South Boston mob angle of the book, and yep, Charlie liked it enough to write the following review:

Evil incarnate …

Evil comes in all forms. The Hitler prototype is perhaps the one we’re all best familiar with, but there have been others we can confidently label evil (even if their kill totals are on a much lesser scale). Certain serial killers fit the description and/or sociopaths in the business world guilty of bankrupting the elderly without an iota of remorse might qualify. There have been bad guys out on the streets, whether acting solo or in groups (organized or not) who’ve more than qualified (and some who’ve managed to bilk the system one further and cut deals to walk free again—trading off 20 or more murders for a little inside info the helpless feds might need).

It happened in Boston when Whitey Bulger in a deal to aid the FBI gave up the New England Italian mob. Later, with a little help from his friends (the FBI), Whitey went on the lam and hasn’t been heard from since (and remains on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list). His FBI handlers didn’t fare so well and are doing time, but that’s a whole other enchilada.

Dave Zeltserman’s latest entry to the world of noir (Pariah) features the victim of a Whitey Bulger-like character whose just been released from serving out his term (a conviction that was a set up from start to finish). Kyle Nevin is an anti-hero and a half and a weapon of mass destruction in his own right. His story is a train wreck that is very difficult to take one’s eyes from (as I found myself reading forward at every opportunity … on the train, the ferry, the next train … the bathroom, etc.). A page turner from the moment Kyle is met by his brother Danny outside the prison he’s just been released from, Pariah moves fast and furious through a series of events motivated by vengeance and a lust for the old life (and all the power) Nevin’s been missing.

Upon seeing how much his younger brother has yielded to the legit life (i.e., driving the Honda {and brother don’t I know that feeling}, living in a hell hole apartment, living under the bland girlfriend’s rules, etc.), Kyle needs to bring Danny back and fast for he has a game plan that will not only set them both up for life, it’ll facilitate his vendetta for the man that put him behind bars for eight years.

There’s something else going on you won’t get from this review but it has to do with a “fictional” book deal based on Kyle’s game plan gone horribly awry. Author Dave Zeltserman also offers us some of good old fashioned male chauvinist sexual perspectives (what, say, the Queen of Noir, Vicki Hendricks, does for women) and it’s a nice change to read something from a writer unafraid of offending the politically correct.

But back to that hint of the publishing angle to this missile of a read. Wannabe tough guys love to talk about themselves (it’s a fact of street life); the more grandiose the tales, the less likely there’s any validity to them, but talk they will. Civilians call them “tall tales” or “fish stories” … street guys call them “war stories” … but turning such stories (no matter where the genesis) into publishing gold is something special. Think it doesn’t happen? A guy named Michael Pellegrino once passed himself off as a member of the Gambino crime family and got a $500,000 advance for a tell-all book (until he was exposed as a fraud and sued by Simon and Schuster). Somebody forgot to perform the due diligence, eh?

There are notes to an editor interspersed throughout Zeltserman’s Pariah and they will keep you alert as to what is likely going down … except then there’s a sharp turn that sweeps the rug from under some feet (including the readers) and all (in the form of justice—no matter how it comes about) is suddenly not lost.

For those who prefer the darker slice of life, Pariah will keep you glued to its pages. The chain reaction of Kyle Nevin’s release from prison on the world around him is the stuff of nuclear explosions. Violent, sexual and relentless, there are no holds barred anywhere in this wonderful launch into evil. The meek beware … be-very-ware.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Seymour Shubin/Pariah

Seymour Shubin hasn't been as prolific as say Jim Thompson, and that's probably why he hasn't gotten the attention he deserves, but his crime noir novels, such as Anyone's My Name (published the same year as The Killer Inside Me) and The Captain, deserve every bit the attention of Thompson's best. I've read most of the Hardcase Crime books, and by far my two favorite among the new issues are Russell Hill's "Robbie's Wife" and Seymour's "Witness to Myself". Maybe those two are more literary than the typical Hardcase Crime novel, but man they're great books.

Over the last several years after discovering Anyone's My Name (which I believe led Charles Ardai to discover this book, which further led to Witness to Myself being published by Hardcase), Seymour and I have exchanged numerous emails on writing, crime novels and the publishing industry, and this has grown into a friendship that I value greatly, and I was recently honored to write the introduction to Seymour's upcoming crime novel, The Hunch. What I've learned over these years is not only is he a writer of great talent, but also of great integrity, so I can't possibly describe how proud I am when he summed up his thoughts on Pariah with these four words:

"This is a masterpiece"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Small Crimes featured on Thriller Club

Next week Small Crimes will be featured on the Thriller Club which the International Thriller Writers association is doing in conjunction with DearReader.com. If you want to read roughly the first chapters free over 5 daily installments, check out the club here.

Also, I heard from Serpent's Tail that the US release date for Pariah will this October.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Loophole in the system

I got my author copies of Pariah Friday. They look great, Serpent's Tail did an exceptional job with it, and for those who I've promised copies, they should be in the mail Monday.

The book was just released in the UK Thursday and I don't yet have a US publishing date. It's going to be at least 6 months, probably longer, but there seems to be a bug in the system and some of the online stores like amazon and Tower Records (www.tower.com, which is right now deeply discounting Small Crimes at $7.99) are leaking copies from different UK distributors. They're probably not supposed to be doing this until the book is released in the US, but if you want to take advantage of this loophole and get an early copy, now's the time. I can't guarantee you'll like the book, but so far the reaction I've gotten from my early readers, editor, publisher, and early reviews pretty much matches this sentiment from The Bookbag's review of Pariah:

"It's the kind of book that is going to spoil whatever I read next, as it's going to be found wanting compared to this. This is a book that anyone with even the slightest interest in the crime or thriller genres simply must get their hands on, as it's bound to have a huge impact on you."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pariah released, reviewed

Pariah was officially published yesterday in the UK, and reviewed by The Bookbag:

"It happens rarely, but sometimes you get to the end of a book and what has gone before leaves you speechless. As a reader, this is a wonderful feeling, as you've just been through a great experience. As a book reviewer, however, it presents a problem, as you tend to have to sum up a book in more than no words. My first draft of this review read simply '...'"

You can read the whole review here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Small Crimes on the web

Kingdom Books in Vermont gives Small Crimes a nice writeup in their latest blog entry. I met the owners a month ago at Kate's Mystery Bookstore's Holiday Party, and had a fun time talking crime fiction with David Kanell. David has since read both Small Crimes and Pariah, and sometime in either the Spring or Summer I'll be traveling up to Vermont for a reading at his store.

Corey Wilde also gives Small Crimes the treatment over on his blog, The Drowning Machine, writing both a very flattering review and what I consider a superlative synopsis. I should be hiring Corey to write the back cover copy for my books!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Small Crimes in South Florida

Chancey Mabe reviews Small Crimes in tomorrow's Sun-Sentinel, but his review is online now. Here's some of what Chauncey has to say in a review that gets right to the heart of what I was trying to accomplish with this book:

Small Crimes proves a deft entry in the tradition that goes back to Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and Charles Willeford’s High Priest of California — small masterpieces celebrating the psychopath as a grinning archetype, as American as apple pie.

You can read the review here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pariah's coming

Pariah, my second "man out of prison" novel being published by Serpent's Tail, is only a week away from it's official publishing date in the UK, although I think it has already leaked into bookstores there.

Some very early words on Pariah:

"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." Ed Gorman

"If I told you any more, I'd be taking a lot of the fun out of your reading the book, which is fast, furious, and funny. I haven't even mentioned what goes on in the last third of the story, which was, for me, the most amusing part of the book. I don't mean this is a farce. It's far from a comedy, but it's sharply satirical and mean as a junkyard dog with a burr on its butt." Bill Crider

"Its rare that a meta novel ends up being entertaining as well as clever, but Dave Zeltserman’s excellent new novel, Pariah manages that trick very successfully; at once a noir-ish kidnap novel and an attack on the nature of celebrity memoir, plagiarism and the worst excesses of the publishing industry." Crime Scene Scotland


"Mean like bad whiskey and sophisticated like good scotch, PARIAH is a rare find and a scorching read. This accomplished novel features a great blend of strong narrative voice and a realistic, multi-layered plot that lays bare the dark soul of South Boston's underworld. In Kyle Nevin, his main character, Zeltserman has a dark Celine creation that is as literary as he is noir. To my mind this novel provides the final word on the Southie's demise and does so more artfully than it's predecessors. Brimming with historical anecdote, rife with keen sociological insight, Zeltserman invests his novel with a veracity found mostly in non-fiction. However, this is a novel and a damn entertaining one, one that reminds us that reading the book truly is more informing and riveting than seeing the movie." Cortright McMeel

Monday, January 5, 2009

A few things

My second column is up on DaRK PaRTY ReVIEW, which by the way, is a finalist for a 2008 Weblog Award for Best Culture Blog! Congrats to GFS3 for that!

Bill Crider provides a very early review of my second "man out of prison" novel being published by Serpent's Tail, Pariah. Very early in that the book's not out in the UK until Jan. 15th, and probably won't be in the States until June.

Small Crimes is also in some fine company in the Jan-Feb 2009 issue of Bookmarks Magazine. The six crime novels they rate as excellent:

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen
Trigger City by Sean Chercover (and Sean, still waiting for my signed copy!)
A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre
Cold in Hand by John Harvey
Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman

And their critical summary for Small Crimes:

Published as a paperback original, Small Crimes just might be a small "piece of crime-noir genius," says the reviewer from the Washington Post, and other critics generally agree. Not only does the novel have clean, simple prose, ample suspense and twists, and a fast-paced plot--standard fare; it also offers brilliant psychological insight into tortured souls, and on a deeper level, it is a moralistic tale about how small crimes beget larger ones. A couple of reviewers note some stock background characters, but overall, Small Crimes convincingly depicts the wide-ranging effects of police corruption in small-town America.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


A bunch of stuff to reflect on.

Usually I try to keep this blog nonpolitical, but have to give my editorial view of the biggest ripoff any of us have ever seen. In 2008 a bunch of greedy SOBs betting on mortgage defaults helped drive the economy into a deep recession and the stock market into free fall, resulting in millions of lost jobs, and millions having their retirement funds cut in half or worse. The bailout plan, which seemed to make sense--buy out bad mortgages so the banks can start lending again, was badly bungled with the plan changing into giving billions to banks without any oversight or accountability. These SOBs should be going to jail over what happened, but they won't. The one glimmer of hope we have is that soon Bush will be out and Obama in. Can't happen fast enough.

2008 was also a year of major contractions and changes in the publishing industry, none of which bodes well for authors. We've heard a lot of reasons why this happening: the bad economy, more people playing video games or spending their reading time on the Internet, people with less free time in general, less readers, the effect of the Internet in creating a massive flea market/used bookstore which is cutting deeply into new book sales, the decline of brick & mortar bookstores. All of these may or may not be real factors. I don't know. My gut tells me that society is better off with brick & mortar bookstores run by people who care about books, and that these stores need to be supported. I also think publishers would do better if they trusted their readers more and tried to publish good books as opposed to what they think are the most "commercially viable". Editors need to be making decisions instead of marketing boards. Somehow publishers need to once again look at books as books as opposed to a commercial packages. Until they do I don't think things are going to get better for these publishers.

I read some really good books in 2008. 4 of Derek Raymond's fantastic factory series books. Crimini, an anthology of noir stories by Italian authors. Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman, as well as the finished draft of very dark but excellent Gold Medal-type book that Ed recently completed, Cottonwood by Scott Phillips, Dirty Money by Richard Stark, Somebody Owes Me Money by Stark's alter ego, Donald Westlake. And quite a few others.

2008 was also my year of living dangerously (and what a year to choose to do this!). I quit my job at the end of 2007 to write full time, more on how I expected Pariah to do than Small Crimes. I always felt readers would like Small Crimes if they knew about it, but it's such a crapshoot putting books out, more and more these days with less newspaper review space than ever before. A lot of good books get published that just never get the attention they deserve. I got lucky, though, with Small Crimes. Good London reviews, great starred review from Publisher's Weekly, some great web reviews, as well as readers who were excited enough by the book to blog about it, and a big thanks to all readers who did this-as well as to all reviewers for taking the time to read my book! I especially owe a huge thanks to Ed Gorman--this was a book he believed in early on, and he's been doing everything he can to get people to pay attention to it, including interviewing me recently for Mystery Scene. Still, even with all that going on it was looking like except for an early review from the Lansing State Journal I was going to be shut out of the US newspapers, but then an extraordinary review in the Washington Post by Maureen Corrigan, then her picking the book for NPR's best crime and mystery novels of 2008 seemed to turn the corner for Small Crimes.

Some Small Crime mentions. I was honored to see Small Crimes top Bruce Grossman's impressive "books that were great in 2008" list on Bookgasm. Also making Juri Nummelin's Best list on his Pulpetti blog, Vince Keenan's Best Books of 2008, C.T. Henry's top 10 reads of 2008 on his Mystery Bookshelf, and a really nice mention on DaRK PaRTY ReVIEW's favorites of 2008.

My writing goals for 2008 were to write 3 books. I slacked off and only wrote 2 1/2. I did end 2008 on a high note when I was approached to write an introduction for Seymour Shubin's next book, The Hunch. For those of you out there unfamiliar with Shubin, his 1953 "Anyone's My Name" is a noir masterpiece, every bit as great as Jim Thompson's "Killer Inside Me" (which was written the same year). Seymour Shubin has written some terrific crime novels--the Edgar-nominated "The Captain", Hardcase Crime's "Witness to Myself", "The Man From Yesterday", just to mention a few. "The Hunch" is a worthy addition to these excellent books, and it was an honor for me to write the introduction for it.