Monday 30 May 2011

Dave Zeltserman interview: Julius Katz And Archie

Julius Katz And Archie by Dave Zeltserman

Dave Zeltserman won the 2010 Shamus Award for 'Julius Katz' and is the acclaimed author of the ‘man out of prison’ crime trilogy: Small Crimes, Pariah and Killer, where Small Crimes (2008) and Pariah (2009) were both picked by the Washington Post as best books of the year. His recent The Caretaker of Lorne Field received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, calling it a 'superb mix of humor and horror', and was short listed by ALA for best horror novel of 2010. His upcoming book Outsourced (2011) has already been called 'a small gem of crime fiction' by Booklist and has been optioned by Impact Pictures and Constantin Film.

It seems you've been incredibly prolific of late. Can you give us a list of your published books to date?

Al, here’s a list in order, and the publishing date.

Fast Lane (2004)
Bad Thoughts (2007)
Small Crimes (2008)
Bad Karma (2009)
Pariah (2009)
Killer (2010)
Caretaker of Lorne Field (2010)
Blood Crimes (2011)
Outsourced (2011)
Dying Memories (2011)
Julius Katz and Archie (2011)
A Killer’s Essence (Fall, 2011)
Monster (2012)

You have books available at different lengths and in different genres. What length and genre has been selling best?

With my print books, I’m finding length and genre hasn’t mattered as much as external events. Small Crimes, a crime noir thriller, gets picked by NPR as one of the best crime & mystery novels of 2008, so it sells well. The Caretaker of Lorne Field gets great reviews, so it sells well. I’m finding the same thing true with e-book. B&N recommends Bad Thoughts, so it quickly sells 3000 copies. Same thing with Blood Crimes.

And what's most fun to write?

The Julius Katz and Archie short stories and novels are a lot of fun, mostly because they’re a nice break from the dark depths I find myself in when I’m writing noir. That said, I probably had the most fun writing Pariah—partly because Kyle Nevin is such a beast of a character, and partly because the book is such a fuck you to the NY publishing industry.

How have the ebooks performed in relation to the print books?

My print books are selling far  better than my ebooks, although thanks to a B&N recommendation, my e-book version of Bad Thoughts sold much better than when it came out as a hardcover from Five Star.

Which of your books has sold best?

Small Crimes has sold very well in trade paperback—again thanks to NPR and the Washington Post. The Caretaker of Lorne Field sold well in  hardcover thanks to a barrage of great reviews, and I’m interested to see how it sells as a trade paperback when its out in the Fall.

Which one of your books would you like to see sell better?

In print, Killer, and in e-book, Blood Crimes. I’ve just put Julius Katz and Archie out as an e-book, and I’m hoping that sells well.

Why do you think Killer and Blood Crimes haven't sold so well?

Killer sold about 3000 copies, which while decent for an independent publisher, was far less than Pariah or Small Crimes, and this was disappointing since it’s the best of my ‘man out of prison’ trilogy, best reviewed of the 3, and most enthusiastically received by readers. But it wasn’t reviewed by The Washington Post, and didn’t make their best of the year list like Small Crimes & Pariah, and hence the lower sales.  But I’d love to see this book catch on.

Blood Crimes has sold well as a Nook book thanks to B&N recommending it, but it hasn’t sold much on Amazon. It’s gotten great reviews and a very enthusiastic reader response, but that doesn’t seem to matter with Kindle sales. From what I can tell, it’s a whole different ballgame where reviews and reader responses don’t matter as much as getting on arbitrary “cheap book” lists and getting enough initial sales so that Amazon starts pushing your book and generating an endless loop of sales. Amazon has proven itself very powerful at direct marketing.

What's the most effective way to find new readers?

With print books, it’s developing relationships with bookstores who will then hand sell your books. With e-books, it seems as if reviews and word of mouth doesn’t matter as much as heavy social networking, paid advertising (such as Kindle Nation) and getting enough initial sales so that Amazon flogs your book to death.

Can you sum up Julius Katz And Archie in no more than 25 words?

Julius Katz is a brilliant, eccentric and very lazy detective, and Archie is probably the most unusual sidekick in the history of mystery fiction.

What was your motivation for writing it?

The Julius Katz short stories that Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine have been publishing have been very well received, not only garnering a lot of fans, but winning a Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen’s Readers Choice Award, so it made sense to start a Julius Katz novel series. Archie’s also a lot of fun to write, and these stories/novels are a good break from writing my more bleak crime fiction.

How long did it take you to write?

About three months.

How much difference does an editor make?

All my books have been very lightly edited—if at all. I’ve never had any significant changes made to any of my books—at most, only a few sentences changed. So editors have never made much of a difference, at least with me. I do benefit from copyediting.

Who designed your cover?

A friend of mine, Laurie Pzena.

How much difference does a good cover make?

Well, in print books covers are critically important at all levels—covers influence how many copies bookstores are going to order, for example. And a great cover will help attract new readers browsing a bookstore. I’m not convinced covers are as important for e-books, though.

How important is a good title?

I don’t know if a title has ever influenced me in buying a book. So as much as I’d like to think a great title matters, I’m not sure they matter much at all.

How important is a book's central character?

Well, the story is what’s important, right? So the central character is as important as he needs to be in driving the story.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

I don’t think I was ever given any advice on the craft-side of things. I’m basically self-taught by reading and studying the books I love, so I guess the advice I pulled out from reading Jim Thompson’s is break every rule you want as long as you make it work.

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

Enjoy the ride. Too often in this business we get hung up on what we haven’t achieved yet instead of appreciating what we have.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The actual writing! At some point when I’m working on a story or novel, the work becomes something organic, and at that point I find myself deeply absorbed in the world I’ve created, and that’s when I enjoy this the most.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

Stengths: plotting, characters, writing spare, lean prose. Evaluating my own work honestly and knowing whether or not what I’ve written works.

My biggest weakness is I couldn’t write flowery descriptive prose to save my life.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

I don’t enjoy a single bit of it. Except doing interviews with you, Al!

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

Books with strong, absorbing stories, and written in lean prose.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Readers who want formulaic, cookie cutter books are going to be disappointed me, but readers looking for something different and willing to go places they haven’t gone before in crime fiction tend to become fans of mine.

What was the last good eBook you read?

Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli. Terrific book.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

I have a stack of Richard Stark Parker books that I’m really looking forward to have time to read.

What are you reading now?

A soon-to-be-published crime thriller from Roger Smith titled, Capture. Roger is one of my favourite crimes writers, and like his other books this is terrific.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

The Maltese Falcon. It’s been too long.

Who's your favourite living writer?

Ray Bradbury.

What makes you keep reading a book?

The book has to absorb me into its fictional world. The writing also has to be top-notch.  If either of those are absent, I quit pretty quickly.

Where do you find out about new books?

Trusted booksellers, friends.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

Far from the City of Class by Bruce Jay Friedman

Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

I’m working right now on a screenplay for The Caretaker of Lorne Field, and I expect to finalize a film deal soon for my upcoming A Killer’s Essence where I’ll be writing the screenplay.

Ever tried your hand at poetry?

Fuck no.

Which author should be much better known?

I’ll give you two newer writers: Roger Smith and Paul Tremblay

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

I used to read a lot of differeny genres, as well as literary, but not as much any more.  I have too many crime novels piled up to read.

What was your favourite book as a child?

10 and under: Freddy the Pig books.  11+: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.

Do you enjoy writing?

Hell yes!

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I know some writers are having success with a $0.99 price, but I think that’s short term and will ultimately be destructive to writers, and will help make sure none of us can make a living at this.  I’m guilty of this right now but will soon be pricing my ebooks back to $2.99 and then ultimately to $3.99 and keep them there. As writers we have to value our work more, and also think more long term about what the result will be if $0.99 ebooks become the expected price.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

Publishing right now is in upheaval due to the dramatic rise of ebooks and other factors, and publishers are retrenching and only buying the safest and most formulaic books they can. For the most part, print opportunities are disappearing quickly for those that aren’t already bestsellers, and ebooks is going to be the only opportunity a lot of writers are going to have, and it’s tough—a lot tougher than a lot of people make it sound, with a lot of randomness involved.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I just sold a Frankenstein retelling to Overlook Press, and I’m very excited about this book. Right now I’m working on a screenplay for The Caretaker of Lorne Field, as well as writing a noirish YA horror novel, and I’m in the process of finalizing a film deal for my upcoming A Killer’s Essence, which will also have me writing the screenplay, so I’m keeping myself busy.

Julius Katz And Archie by Dave Zeltserman


  1. Great interview. And thanks for the shout-outs, Dave!

  2. Cracking interview. DZ is one of my favorite writers and th Julius Katz stories are spot on.

  3. Love the interview. Hey, and Dave's right, you can never read The Maltese Falcon too many times!