It was a hot summer night in Vermont on Thursday, hotter than the Boston morning that Dave and Judy Zeltserman had left behind them. They arrived early for the 7 p.m. reading event, which was great, because the readers and collectors pulled in here early, too: To put it in a nutshell, after reading one or two of Zeltserman's quirky crime novels, meeting him becomes a "must" -- to find out how these crazy ideas are spun from a quietly married New Englander who loves the Red Sox almost as much as his wife.
The air conditioner did its best, and the crowd gently dipped into icy lemonade and fresh strawberry shortcakes and Boston cream cupcakes, but every gaze was on Dave Zeltserman. He outlined his plan for his "man just out of prison" trilogy, which SMALL CRIMES opens up as the "search for redemption" in its weird and dark way. PARIAH, coming to the US this October, is the second in the sequence and is the "quest for revenge and to rediscover the self"; KILLER is already done and under contract, and the author says its portion of the quest is to have the ex-con "discover his true nature." In other words, there's an underlying sweetness to where DZ sees the sequence going -- but that won't mean any escape from the violence and tragedy that haunt his tales, along with that dry and wicked sense of humor.
After reading a scene from SMALL CRIMES, Zelsterman tackled the opening of BAD THOUGHTS, a crossover from crime to horror. Again, he's building a sequence: BAD KARMA will come out later, and empowers the victim of BAD THOUGHTS in unexpected ways. (I've had a peek -- too soon to share the details but it's goo-oo-ood.) Then a full-length reading of a "Western noir" tale (creepy cowboy life?) followed. "Emma Sue" turns the tables, and confirmed everyone's opinion that Zeltserman may be a heck of a nice guy, married to a really sweet woman (Judy, a real-life homeopath,, which is NOTHING like a psychopath), but he writes from a childhood obsession with "The Twilight Zone" and other dark and deadly angles of sardonic despair. Love it!
For those who obsess over "process," here's Zeltserman's: He outlines, and follows the outline, even though he sometimes adds characters that weren't in the orginal plan. He writes at all hours, setting a "number of words" goal that comes to about five to ten pages per day, but rarely reaches it until the home stretch. And he sums it up by saying, "I'm trying to make that page count each day, so I fell like I'm accomplishing something."
PARIAH emerged with almost no revision; BAD THOUGHTS had several drafts, thanks to an editor's input, which included adding 50 pages at the start, as the editor told the author, "You've got to let the reader get to know Bill Shannon before he starts suffering his breakdown."
Nope, that's not a spoiler -- BAD THOUGHTS is a lot more complex than that.
And for a final teaser: Zeltserman is bringing out a story called "Julius Katz" in the Sept/Oct issue of ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE. He says, "It's my kind of tribute to Nero Wolfe," where "the Archie Goodwin character is a piece of technology." And oh yes, it's not exactly just a story -- it's a novella, about 90 pages.
Can't wait to read it. Thanks, Dave and Judy, for coming north. Next trip will be our turn.