Monday, August 22, 2011

Dave Zeltserman Interview

This is a real treat! After posting last week's "Dissecting the Short Story" for Dave Zeltserman's "Hostage Situation", I sent Mr. Zeltserman an email pointing him to the article and asking if he'd like to chat about the story and his writing in general.

I'm thrilled that he agreed to do so, especially since he's got a new novel (A Killer's Essence) coming out next month, and I'm sure he's got a lot on his plate.

Michael Haynes: How did the idea for "Hostage Situation" come to you? Was it one of those "Hey, what if a werewolf happened to become a bank robbery hostage?" type of things or did it develop in a different manner?
Dave Zeltserman: Pretty much that. The idea that popped into my head was what if a guy who is going to turn into a werewolf is stuck in a hostage situation and is desperate to get out so he doesn’t kill the other hostages.

MH: Was the story essentially fully formed in your mind before you started writing it or did you start with the basic idea and see where it took you?
DZ: Fully formed.

MH: Is that typical of your short story writing process?
DZ: Yes. Every story and novel I’ve written is fully formed in my mind before I start writing. "A Hostage Situation" was short enough where I didn’t have to write an outline, but I usually have a detailed outline before I start writing.

MH: In my write-up about this story, I noted that the "Lawrence Talbot" name was a really big clue. Did you have any reservations about using that name, and possibly giving the game away too quickly for some readers?
DZ: Nope. I figured it would be a fun story for any movie buff who recognized the name, although I only used Talbot once in the story so I wouldn’t beat people over the head with it.

MH: I didn't notice any out-and-out misdirection in the story, such as giving the reader a false clue to another possible explanation. Did you consider inserting anything like that?
DZ: Nope. I never add any intentional misdirection in any of my works. I believe in having my stories and my character’s behavior and reactions have a strong sense of truth to them. For a story to be ultimately satisfying you need that level of honesty, and the twists need to be natural.

MH: The goal of the "Dissecting the Short Story" series is to help other writers see what worked for stories accepted for a "big" digest magazine. Are there any specific tips you'd like to share with writers who enjoy working in the short form and are looking to improve their craft?
DZ: I thinking you’re going about this the right way, which is reading and understanding the markets that you want to sell to. Beyond that, reading the best short stories in the genre you want to write. For sci-fi/speculative fiction, that would be writers like Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury, for crime, you want to read and study all of Hammett’s Continental Op stories.

MH: "Hostage Situation" is a crime/horror crossover. Looking at your other publications, it seems that you've written some other genre-blending fiction, including your upcoming novel A Killer's Essence which your website describes as a "crime novel with supernatural element." Is this something you set out consciously to do or did you just sort of stumble into it?
DZ: I’m not concerned with writing formulaic genre pieces, but instead in writing the stories and novels I want to write. Because of that my writing tends to be all over the place, from lighthearted + charming mysteries with my Julius Katz stories to intensely dark  + brutal crime noir, like with my novel, Pariah. I don’t bother with genre boundaries. My novel, Blood Crimes, for example, is a mix of noir and horror — think vampires in a Sin City world. My novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which was shortlisted by the ALA for best horror novel of 2010, confounded editors, because on the one hand it’s quiet horror, and on the other it’s a parable. Same with A Killer’s Essence, which is just so different than the typical crime novel. Fortunately, there are still a few publishers (not many) willing to publish works that are different from the norm.

MH: Is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers?
DZ: I’ve gotten to know both Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan, editors of Ellery Queen [Mystery Magazine] and Alfred Hitchcock [Mystery Magazine], respectively, and both of them are just great, and very fair in evaluating every story that’s submitted. If you ever think that Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock are closed clubs, they’re not. Both Janet and Linda are looking for the best stories they can find to publish. So while the competition is fierce, every writer has a fair shot in getting published by them. You’re going about this the right way — first understanding the market and the editor’s tastes before submitting, but also just make sure to send them your very best. And if you get a rejection with a personal note, that means you’re close, and make sure your next submission is even better.

MH: Thanks for sharing your time and your experience. It's been great talking with you!


  1. Great interview! Thanks for sharing. I think the assumption that certain areas of the publishing industry are "closed clubs" is a common one, though false. It's all about the writing and knowing what is professional.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lisa.

    I agree, complaining about "closed clubs" is the resort of someone frustrated who isn't willing to re-examine their own efforts.

    There's also a benefit to having "connections." But that doesn't mean sleazy back-room, handshake deals. Building "connections" is what we're doing when we blog/tweet, go to conventions, join critiquing groups, etc.

    Almost every issue of these major digest magazines that I talk so much about has one story by a new or relatively-new author. If you have the right stuff (the "write" stuff?) and present yourself well, you give yourself a good chance.

    Thanks again for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed reading the interview!