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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Honored to be included

I'm honored to have Monster mentioned on this list of recommended horror novels from the Lawrence W. Tyree Library at Santa Fe College, which also has many of my favorite authors, including Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and Mary Shelley.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thinking about Amy

There’s no question that my sister was the best of my family. Beautiful, smart, generous and selflessly driven to help others, Amy also ended up with mom’s boundless energy. Myself, I inherited a little bit of my mom’s drive , but I mostly tend towards my dad’s more slothful nature. Since my brother is now a lawyer, I’ll just say he’s also more like my dad. But my sister was something completely different.

During the first Gulf War, Amy was a captain in the army and was one of the first US soldiers in Iraq where she was responsible for setting up the army’s medical labs. There was an accident where a jeep overturned in a minefield, and Amy risked her life to save the people involved. She was a recipient of the Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award, and when she returned from Iraq, the army sent her to work on her Master’s Degree in Medical Lab Technologies. While she was fulltime at school, she joined the Big Sister program, was helping out local hospitals in improving their medical labs, as well as being involved in several environmental charities.

My sister’s one failing was during a bad point when she was a teenager and suffering low self-esteem, she let this utterly worthless piece of shit (who I’ll refer to in the rest of this simply as UWPOS) get himself entrenched in her life, and later she let UWPOS convince her to marry him. UWPOS was a low-level con who peddled drugs and was involved in other lowlife behavior, which he unfortunately was able to hide from my sister. When Amy went to Iraq, UPWOS got more emboldened in his activities. Before the war, Amy was stationed in San Antonio, and my parents moved there to be with her. One day after Amy had left to Iraq, UWPOS invited my parents for a day trip, during the course of which my sister’s brand new jeep (which she bought right before the war and was the first new car she ever owned) was stolen. It turns out UWPOS had arranged the jeep to be stolen, and used my parents as unwitting alibis. The police caught him, though, when he was chopping the jeep for parts, but instead of notifying my sister, they made him a snitch, and my sister never found out about it.

Twenty years ago Amy was supposed to come up and stay with me the day before Mother’s day so that we could all take my mom out. She didn’t come, and she didn’t answer her phone. While Amy was in school in New England, UWPOS was supposed to be finishing up his college degree in San Antonio—at least that’s what he convinced my sister. In fact, Amy was planning to buy him a sailboat as a graduation present. Of course, he was never in college—it was just a con he had sold my sister—and he was instead simply doing his lowlife criminal shit. But as I mentioned before, he had gotten emboldened. Several weeks before Mother’s Day he was trolling other lowlifes at bars in San Antonio, trying to find someone to help him murder my sister. He found one. The Friday before Mother’s Day 1993 he drove up from Texas with his POS accomplice and murdered Amy. Two women sharing an apartment above where Amy was living heard my sister screaming for help for over five minutes but didn’t bother calling the police. They never gave the police or DA a reason why they didn’t do this. Supposedly UWPOS killed Amy for her life insurance, and while that was part of it, I’m sure he did it more because it was killing him how well Amy was doing in life while he was nothing but a miserable lowlife UWPOS.

Twenty years later it’s still maddening when I think of all the ways Amy could still be alive if someone had acted with just a tiny bit of human decency. If the San Antonio police had notified Amy about UWPOS stealing her jeep. If those neighbors had called the police. If one of those lowlifes UWPOS approached to help him had called the police. But none of that happened. 

Bad Thoughts was the first thing I wrote after Amy’s death, and I started the first draft in 1996. It was too bleak and grim and violent a book to dedicate to my sister’s memory, but it was the most personal book I wrote. All my rage and anguish over Amy went into the book. Astral projection plays a key role in it, and after Amy’s death I read several books and took classes in the subject. I badly wanted to learn how to do it, if it was at all possible, for the obvious reason. The techniques that the books and classes gave were basically waking yourself up after a few hours of sleep (when you’d be most susceptible to having an OBE—Out of Body Experience), and then giving yourself the suggestion that you’re going to leave your body safely. I had several experiences where I was obviously dreaming that I was leaving my body. It had that unreal dreamlike quality to it. But then I had one experience that was very different. In this one I felt that ripping-out-of-my-body sensation that the books and classes talked about, and then it was as if I was hanging over my bed in this hyper-sense of reality with nothing at all dream-like about it. As I hung over the bed I was afraid I was going to fall to the floor and wake up my wife, and all at once it was as if I was sucked back into my body. Was this a real OBE or did I self-hypnotize myself to believe I was having one? Hell if I know. I quit trying soon after that. It was doing a number on my sleeping, and I was working at the time as a software engineer, and I couldn’t go to work exhausted every day. I figured if the books were right, I’d have my chance to see Amy again later.

It took ten years before I could talk about Amy to my closest friends. The thought of ever writing something like even a couple of years ago wouldn’t have seemed possible. But she’s been on my mind so much lately, and I’ve had this compulsion to write this. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because the twenty year anniversary of Amy’s death is approaching. Maybe it’s because with both my parents now gone, there’s no one really left to talk about Amy. Maybe it’s because it’s because I want her to exist, even if it’s only in a blogpost.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stuttgarter-Zeitung (translated) review of Pariah

(my good friend Alan Luedeking translated the following review which appeared in the Stuttgarter-Zeitung)

On a trip to New York Kyle Nevin gets in a bad mood. Just so, after eight years of incarceration, he recently goes free again alone through Central Park at night in the hopes of getting mugged by someone. More “would be better” as the first person narrator of Pariah says. Yes, this habitual criminal from South Boston solves not only money problems but also emotional crises by force.

In “Pariah” a huge rage ferments. Kyle wants to revenge himself upon Red Mahoney, his former boss, who betrayed him to the FBI and then disappeared. The author Dave Zeltserman first gives Kyle a tunnel vision, an energy, an unfrayed speech that reminds us of the classics of hardboiled literature. But he refrains from using Kyle’s hardness as a massive shell for a good core, as we are used to in some hardboiled heroes. The egomaniac Kyle, among whose fondest youthful memories consist of beatings of innocent passersby pokes evil fun at himself over this stereotype.

The only rule of courtesy: shut up

Zeltserman is so refined as to very gradually pull the carpet out from under us readers’ feet. Kyle complains initially about the moral decay in South Boston, over the loss of backbone and decency inflicted by Mahoney. Based on these tirades the reader might liken the narrator to a Tarzan of the slums and thus begin to like him as someone who within his brutal world still possesses some values and like all of us suffers from the shrinkage of values. But as to honor among thieves Kyle only understands shutting up when it comes to the dealing with the police.

He is in the worst way egotistical and bullying his raw charm only a means to an end, and whatever love for his brother he evinces only lasts as long as his acts as Kyle wishes. “Pariah” is a monstrous book of self-righteousness in which Kyle propounds the grossest atrocities as the only possible means of behaving.

Blood sells itself finely

But Zeltserman does not dismantle him easily, in a beautiful sleight [or twist (of plot)] he lets the blood tainted fall into the clutches of the publishing business which best knows how to market the creepiness of such types.

When the miserable underworld of South Boston and the lacquered publishing world of New York meet, then Zeltserman doesn’t only ridicule the media and cultural norms. He often puts in question exactly that which he himself bravely peddles, namely the conversion of criminality and horror into thrillers. Whoever reads “Pariah” cannot simply browse away in fascination but must answer his own questions as to why he actually does.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I wrote two novels featuring Bill Shannon, BAD THOUGHTS and BAD KARMA, both originally published as hardcovers by Five Star. I've now put them together as a single kindle ebook.

Bad Thoughts was the second novel I wrote (FAST LANE being the first), and it's my grimmest and bleakest book, as well as maybe my most gripping and intense. The book takes place in the Boston area and, in keeping with the grim outlook of the book, it takes place during the winter months with the weather throughout being bitterly cold, often with sleeting rain. Shannon is a Cambridge police detective who sees his marriage disintegrating, and well as possibly his sanity. To say that Shannon goes through hell in this book is a massive understatement. Even with all the craziness and horror in Bad Thoughts, at its core it's a book about surviving abuse.

Bad Karma was the fifth book I wrote (between OUTSOURCED and THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD), and it's a very different book than Bad Thoughts--even the genres are different, with Bad Thoughts being a mix of horror and crime and Bad Karma being hardboiled PI. While Bad Thoughts might at its core be about surviving abuse, Bad Karma at its core is about healing yourself and moving on in life.

Bad Karma takes place five years later and has moved the action to Boulder, Colorado, with Shannon now working as a PI. The novel takes place during the summer: the weather's sunny, Shannon has reconciled with his wife, and both of them happier and more in love than ever. But just as the weather changes dramatically three-quarters of the way into the book, so does the brutal violence that rolls in. The last 70 or so pages are probably as gripping as anything I've written. Bad Karma also intersects with Outsourced and Fast Lane. The theme of white collar workers (specifically software engineers) being obsoleted and discarded that was written about in Outsourced is carried on in Bad Karma.  Shannon also meets up on the hard streets of Denver with one of the central characters from Fast Lane.

What drove the plot of Bad Karma were two ideas--one, an idea that I tried to write as a short story but just could never get to work right in that form, the other, some people I knew signed up for what they thought were yoga classes at a suburban shopping area with an organization that major news outlets have called a cult in their reports.

As different as both of these books are, they fit well together, both thematically, and because of what Shannon went through in Bad Thoughts you want to see this happier version of his life. And as different as these books are, they're not only connected by Shannon but certain metaphysical elements. With Bad Thoughts, astral projection plays a significant role, and while the metaphysical aspects are more subdued in Bad Karma, they're still there.

Here's what some people said about these books when they were originally published:

"Dark, brutal, captivating -- this is one hell of a book, the kind of book that doesn't let go of you once you start it. Dave Zeltserman is clearly the real deal." Steve Hamilton, Edgar Award-winning author of THE LOCK ARTIST

"This fast-paced, gritty psychological tale balances the fine line between mystery and horror" Library Journal

"Bad Thoughts is an ambitious genre-bender combining the paranoia and existential dread of the best noir with a liberal dash of The Twilight Zone. Not to be missed." Poisoned Pen Booknews

"Detective Bill Shannon is back and a welcome return it is." Booklist, Elliot Swanson

"top-notch P.I. reading" Bookgasm