Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Dave Zeltserman, author of the newly published Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein, as well as A Killer's Essence and The Caretaker of Lorne Field, talks to The Winged Elephant:

What originally drew you to the Frankenstein story?

When I was a kid I grew up thinking that the Frankenstein novel was the same as the Boris Karloff movie. When I was in high school I heard that the novel is very different and ends up in the Artic, and that Frankenstein’s creature instead of being the lumbering Karloff monster is an intelligent being who speaks eloquently, and that got me interested in reading the book. About halfway through it when the creature is telling his story to Victor Frankenstein it becomes absolutely riveting. In its own way, the story is also very noirish. The creature has every right to make the demands he does on Frankenstein. Frankenstein recognizes that these demands are reasonable, but he also rightfully fears the consequences if he does as the creature is asking. And from there both characters are doomed without any hope.

Did you do much research on Shelley’s 1818 novel, or the many adaptations in film, television, and theater?

I spent nine months of research before writing  Monster. Some of it was on Shelley, but most was on 18th and 19th century European history, the Marquis de Sade and his works, Samuel Hahnemann, E.T.A Hoffmann (which is who I named my creature after), witch trials in Europe, and London hellfire sex clubs.

After a series of critically acclaimed crime-fiction novels you began to include supernatural elements and even horror themes in The Caretaker of Lorne Field. Now comes Monster, something altogether different. How did that come to happen?

I’ve always been focused more on the story I want to tell than the genre. My second book, Bad Thoughts, is actually a mix of crime and horror. With The Caretaker of Lorne Field I didn’t set out to write horror. I knew the book would be taken as horror by most readers, but I was really writing an allegorical fable.

Back in 2008 I had the thought of retelling Frankenstein from the creature’s point of view, but it didn’t go much further than that then. Over the next six months more ideas came to me: making everything a dying Frankenstein tells Walton be outrageous lies to protect his reputation, having the creature be a heroic, yet tragic character, and flipping things around completely so that Frankenstein would be trying to play playing Satan instead of God, and he and the Marquis de Sade would be in league to bring hell to earth. At this point the ideas was still very loosely thought out, but I was excited enough about it to want to start researching it. A friend of mine was working on a PhD in 19th century European history, and he made out a reading list for me, and over the next 9 months as I went through the books on his list the story for Monster took firm shape.

In Monster I have a young man, Friedrich Hoffmann, framed for the brutal murder of his beloved fiancée and sentenced to be broken on the wheel, which was an excruciatingly painful way to be sentenced to death in the nineteenth century. When Friedrich awakens after his execution, he finds that he’s been transformed by Frankenstein into an abomination. While Monster is very much a horror novel, it’s also novel about good versus evil, and a very human story as Friedrich desperately tries to retain whatever remains of his humanity as he also seeks vengeance against the man who has so horribly wronged him.

When you look back on all of your fiction, do you group the books in any way?

All my books are very different from one another so it’s hard for me to group them. Serpent’s Tail published a ‘man out of prison’ crime thriller trilogy, and all three books of this trilogy (Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer) are very different in style, tone and structure. My three Overlook books Monster, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, A Killer’s Essence are also very different from each other.

Do you write every day? Has the process changed from when you began your writing career?

I write most days. I’d spent almost twenty-five years working as a software developer, and back then I squeezed in the writing whenever I could. Almost four years ago when I got my film deal for Outsourced I decided to go for broke and try doing this writing gig fulltime. So now most days I spend 5-10 hours either writing, working on detailed outlines or editing, or a combination of the three. Every once in a while I take a day off.

Do you ever solicit feedback from readers or bloggers who write about your books?

From the beginning I’ve had a core group of early readers made up of my wife and friends from high school and college, and that’s who I solicit feedback from. There are a few professional writers I know who sometimes get added to the mix. What’s good about this group is none of them, especially my wife, are shy about being critical about my work.

What have you learned from the tradition of American crime fiction and noir?

I had read 100s of crime novels from Hammett, Cain, Stout, Ross Macdonald, Spillane, Willeford and many others before I ever thought about writing something that could be published, and what I loved about these books were how strongly plotted they were, how spare and straightforward the writing was, and how there was nothing fake in them—characters acted in a way that was logically consistent and made sense for them. Those were the books I loved reading, so now I try to make sure my own books have those same characteristics—strongly plotted, lean, spare writing with no padding, and a complete honesty with my characters.

Do you ever think about where your creations are coming from while you’re in the process of writing?

My ideas come from all over the place. It could be from newspaper stories, or listening to someone on the radio, or while weeding my front lawn. Once an idea for a story pops into my head, it may stay there percolating for years before I do something with it. When I choose which idea to use for my next novel, I’ll write a detailed outline before I start writing the novel, so most of my creations already exist firmly in my mind before I write the first word of the novel. That said, once I start writing I usually end up in this feverish place where I lose myself in my writing, and my book becomes something organic taking on a life of its own.

There’s much talk about your novels being adapted for the movies. What is in the works at the moment?

Outsourced has been optioned by Impact Pictures and Constantin Film, and A Killer’s Essence has been optioned by Braven Films.  I know both film companies are very serious about getting these films made, so I’m hopeful. I came close last year to also optioning The Caretaker of Lorne Field. I had a very hot award-winning director want to make it, and a producer who was working with him was trying hard to get a deal together for financing. We ended up thinking we had the deal with another film company, but the damn thing felt apart at the last second. Every few months I hear from someone about either Killer or The Caretaker of Lorne Field, so I feel pretty good that one of these days I’ll get deals put together for both of those.

You’ve been publishing e-books and e-stories for several years. Has the e-book revolution affected what you write and what you publish?

I’m really not that aggressive with e-books. I’ve brought back my first two books, Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts, I’ve also put together several collections of short stories that had been previously published, and I’ve self-published two original novels—Blood Crimes, which the best way to describe it is something along the lines of Sin City with vampires, and Julius Katz and Archie, which is the first full-length novel based on my award-winning Julius Katz mystery stories. The one thing I have been doing recently specifically for ebooks is working on a series of 80-120 page novellas. This series is a mix of Parker/Richard Stark-like heist capers and government conspiracy. The first two of these (The Hunted, The Dame) have been published as ebooks, and I’m currently working on the third.

1 comment:

Rabid Fox said...

Really good interview. Loved Lorne Field--and Frankenstein is probably my favorite monster--so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one.