February 23, 2011

Made It Moment: Dave Zeltserman

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:43 am


The books showcased here on Suspense Your Disbelief are ones I hope will appeal to a broad range of readers–and book lovers have the most varied tastes of any group I’ve ever known. Most of you know that I don’t usually review books–I leave that to those who have a great talent for it, everyone from Oline Cogdill to Kevin Tipple, and many, many others inbetween.

But every now and then a book just happens to be one that I’ve adored, that turns me on to a whole new-to-me writer, even one that changes my life in some way–at least during the time that I’m reading it.

One that makes me, as a writer, sigh and say, I wish I had written that.

Dave Zeltzerman’s THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD, which I read on my birthday this year, is a novel–small, lovely, chilling–that did all four. You can imagine how eager I am to read this next book of Dave’s, and to introduce him all to you.

Thank you Jenny for inviting me to contribute here. Like other guests, I don’t feel as if I’ve made it yet, more as if I’ve had a series of ‘getting closer to making it’ moments. In my case (and I suspect other writers also) it’s because my definition of ‘making it’ keeps changing, and the whole idea of making it becomes more of a journey than one particular defining moment.

I’ve been writing fiction since I was in fifth grade, but for a long time I had no goals or thoughts of ever making it. I always read a lot, and I loved writing—loved the storytelling and the creative aspect of it, but my main interests were in math and computer science, and a career as a writer never entered my mind as a possibility. I followed the path that seemed most obvious to me and I majored in Applied Math and Computer Science in college. While I still read a lot on the side and still worked on short stories, I never entertained the thought that I could ever be published.

In 1990 while I was working as a software engineer something changed. For the last ten years I’d been reading mostly crime fiction, and in my own writing I was trying to ape Ross Macdonald’s style and not doing a very good job of it. When I discovered Jim Thompson’s noir classic, Hell of a Woman, it was almost like a religious experience. He did things that I’d never seen before—not just in telling the story from the mind of a psychotic killer, but in the chances he took and in the rules he broke. But what struck me the most was how he made it all work so brilliantly, and I started seeing how I could rework a failed story idea into a novel and do it in a way that would be exciting for me. For the first time I had a goal for ‘making it’, which was writing this book (which would become Fast Lane) and seeing it published. While I was working on this book I was beginning to find my own voice instead of aping other writers, and along the way I sold my first short story submission for $35 to New Mystery Magazine. This $35 sale was maybe one of the most exciting moments in my writing life, and if I didn’t have my other goal, this probably would’ve been my making it moment but instead it was one of those ‘feel good about it’ moments. A year later I finished Fast Lane, and it would later take me 12 years to sell it, and that would be to an Italian publisher, and by that time my making it goal would’ve changed to something completely different.

Let’s fast forward to 2005. At this point I had written 3 other novels: Bad Thoughts, Small Crimes and Outsourced, and was having no luck in selling any of them, although I was getting close calls with Small Crimes and Outsourced with editors taking them to their boards with the hopes of acquiring them. Even though Outsourced didn’t have a publishing home yet, my agent was able to get a top film agent interested in it, and he started pitching it to the major studios giving me another of those ‘getting closer to making it’ moments. In 2006 I sold Small Crimes to a top London publisher, Serpent’s Tail, and early on that would’ve been my making it moment, but not any longer. In 2007 I started selling short stories to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine—again, several years earlier this would’ve been my making it moments but now they had become more ‘feel good about it’ moments. In 2008 Small Crimes is published, it gets a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly comparing it to the best of James Ellroy, a rave review in The Washington Post, more rave reviews in other papers including my hometown Boston Globe, is named by NPR as one of the top 5 crime and mystery books of 2008 and is picked by the Washington Post as one of the best books of 2008. I also sell French and Italian rights, as well as two more books to Serpent’s Tail (Pariah and Killer). Any of these are far more than I expected when I started writing, but at this point I’m getting jaded and these had become only more ‘feel good about it’ moments. Over these last two years I see four more books published, get more foreign deals, more rave reviews in major newspapers, both here and in the UK, Australia and South Africa, have Pariah make the Washington Post best books of 2009, make many other best of the year lists, see Small Crimes listed as one of the 100 best crime novels of all time, get a film deal for Outsourced with a major player, see The Caretaker of Lorne Field get nominated for a Black Quill Award for best dark genre book of the year with other nominees Stephen King and Peter Straub, win a Shamus Award, other awards also, and I still haven’t have had my making it moment as my destination keeps moving further away. I probably never will have my one defining making it moment because the struggle to make it keeps me stretching and growing as a writer, and that’s probably the reason my destination keeps moving further and further out there. But all of this has given me enough of those necessary good moments to keep me on my journey.

Dave Zeltserman began life as a software engineer before selling the Italian rights to his first novel. He’s had stories published in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines, and is the author of nine other collections and novels. Dave lives in Boston. He holds a black belt in Tiger-Crane style of Kung Fu.


  1. Loved reading this — thanks for introducing me to this new guy (or, new to me!).

    Comment by Jody — February 23, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  2. If Jenny says it’s good, I believe her!

    Comment by Judy — February 23, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

  3. Congrats! I really identify with your statement that it’s “more of a journey than one particular defining moment”

    Comment by Savvy — February 23, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  4. Hello Dave, I’ve written my share of code, and still work high tech only now it’s on the network side. It looks like you’re writing full time now, though.

    Terrific post, thanks for sharing. And congratulations on the success, all the hard work has come to fruition.

    Comment by G Thomas Gill — February 23, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  5. Thanks, everyone, and G. Thomas, yep, after 20+ years building networking devices and network management software, I’m now trying the full-time writing gig.

    Comment by Dave Zeltserman — February 23, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

  6. I keep hearing good things about your novels, and I’ve added you to my list. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Comment by L.J. Sellers — February 24, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

  7. I’ve got to read Small Crimes. I like and relate to the “feel good” moments.

    Comment by Dorothy Hayes — February 9, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

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