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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My new crime thriller series, and how I got the deal

Last week I signed a contract with Kensington Publishing for a 3-book crime thriller series, the first of which will be titled DERANGED, published under the pseudonym Jacob Stone, and will be released 3/17. I'm thrilled to have Kensington publishing these books, and I'm especially proud of how I got this deal. Like a lot of writers (and for a number of reasons) I found myself in a position after having my 11th book published where it was going to be almost impossible to get any future books published unless a film got made. Now that SMALL CRIMES is being filmed this July hopefully I'll be able to get my best noir novel, MURDER CLUB published--a book that so far will only be published in Germany and which a Little Brown editor told me was the best crime novel he'd read in years but wouldn't be able to buy unless I had a movie made, as well a several other offstream horror books I've written that I feel rank up there with THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD.

So how did I get this deal with Kensington? Pretty much by deciding it was time I looked at it more as being a professional writer and writing what a publisher wanted as opposed to writing only the books I wanted to write. In 2012 at the Bouchercon conference in Cleveland, I got into a conversation with Michaela Hamilton, who is Editor in Chief at Kensington's Citadel line, and Michaela expressed an interest in publishing me. At the time I'd just had Monster published by Overlook Press, with The Boy Who Killed Demons to follow, and I also didn't know if I wanted to (or could) write a thriller series. All my books had so far been standalones, and I think you'd have to stretch the definition of what a thriller is to call any of my books thrillers. They were crime noir novels, horror novels, dark mixes of crime and horror, and even one allegorical fable. Still, though, I appreciated Michaela's interest, and I stored it away. 

So fast forward to 2015. It was looking more likely that I needed a film to go into production before I'd be able to sell any of the offstream standalone books I was writing. I had three books under film option, and while the film companies were working hard to get them made it wasn't something I could count on. So I had a choice--figure out a way to get published or give it up and go back to software development. I was also feeling better thanks to my Julius Katz mystery stories (most of them really novellas) that Ellery Queen was publishing (8 so far published, 4 more in the pipeline) that I could both write a series, and enjoy doing so. 

So I contacted Michaela to see if she was still interested in publishing me. She was, and I worked on a plot outline for the first book of a thriller series, something pretty wild involving a hunt by a number of spy agencies for missing Tesla papers that had a lot of action and some mindbending scifi elements to it, and Michaela explained the reality of the situation to me--that any thriller I write for them can't merge into other genres. So then it was a matter of nailing down which genre they publish that I should focus on. There wasn't much chance I was going to write cozies (my Julius Katz mysteries might be mostly bloodless and have a good amount humor, but there's a hard edge to them, and they're certainly not cozies!), so we narrowed it down to either a horror or crime thrillers. When I asked Michaela for a list of their books she thought I should read, her list was made up only of serial killer thrillers, so I took the hint. One of the books she recommended was Slaughter by John Lutz, and I quickly fell in love with the wit, humor, and quickness of his style and plotting. I read it in one long afternoon and night (400 something pages), read two more of his Frank Quinn series, and realized I could enjoy writing these types of books. Not a copy of his Frank Quinn series, but fun crime thrillers with a dark edge, lots of surprises and twists, dark humor and rapid-paced plots. So now that I knew what type of book and series I wanted to write, I worked on a profile for a detective/investigator that I would want to spend a series with (as well as his family, associates, and friends), an overarching theme for the series (Hollywood & the desire for stardom/notoriety will lurk under the surface for all the books), and a detailed outline for the first book.

Once I had all this done, I sent it to Michaela. She had some suggestions, but liked it a lot, and told me that this would be the kind of book she'd like to publish. While I couldn't get any more of a commitment than that, I set about writing this first book, and 3 months later had it written (roughly 90,000 words), and a 3-book deal quickly followed!