Folks, it’s my joy to have Charles Salzberg on the blog today. We chat about reality in fiction, difficult jobs, tasty libations, and plenty more! Also, don’t miss the GIVEAWAY at the end of the post.
If you could be an extra on a murder mystery movie or TV series, what would it be and what would be your role?
Any crime movie directed by Martin Scorcese, and if I could go back in time and choose one, it would be Goodfellas. I don’t think I have the ethnic look, but I’d rely on the makeup department to make me look like one of the “made” guys.
What makes you cringe?
Bad writing. Bad acting. Blood.
Is there a genre or literary niche that you feel hasn’t gotten its deserved amount of attention?
I don’t think critics take the crime genre as seriously as they should. There’s some excellent writing going on and it’s too often just dismissed because of the category it falls under.
What’s the most interesting gross fact you know?
I try to stay away from gross facts and instead try to make them up. But I’m afraid I fail miserably.
Seize the Day
I invite all three authors: Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. Roth is the only one alive right now, so I’d let him lead the discussion.
What now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?
Elmore Leonard. We’d talk about anything he wanted to talk about and I’m sure it would be entertaining, enlightening and instructive.
Are minions/sidekicks just throwaway devices in a tale? Can they become more? Do they need to become more?
They should not be throwaways. In fact, every character in a book, no matter how “minor” should be an important part of the story.
Goodfellas, Naked City (TV) and Route 66 (TV).
How does modern pop culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?
I’m very big into pop culture. That’s because I grew up watching a lot of TV and reading a lot of magazines and newspapers. I read the gossipy tabloids, like the New York Post, although I couldn’t disagree more with its politics (when I was growing up it was a very liberal paper) and The New York Times. I’d say I’ve got way, way too much trivial pop culture information in my head.
Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?
It’s very important. I make stuff up but it’s got to be credible and real in the sense that the reader has to believe “it could happen.” I love incorporating interesting information in all my novels. Like Swann Dives In was set in the world of rare books, so all the information about that industry is absolutely true. I research all my books and when I set them in places I haven’t been before, I make sure I get them right by questioning friends who’ve been there, using maps, and researching the area so that no one could tell that I haven’t been there.
Over the years, are the changes in society reflected in today’s villains and heroes?
Absolutely. When I was growing up there was the hero and there was the bad guy. Now, sometimes you can’t tell who is who which, by the way, I think is a good thing because it much better reflects the real world. The world isn’t black and white. It’s shades between those, and no one is all good or all bad. Except for me. And I won’t tell you which one that is.
I don’t care what writers tell you, writing is not difficult. Writing well might be, but sitting down at a computer and making shit up is not anything like the hard work so many other people do. I have the utmost respect for people who really do work for a living, meaning holding real difficult jobs like doctors, sanitation workers, cops, firemen (and women), construction workers, mail deliverers. You name it.
What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?
Everything I’ve ever read has been useful and probably is reflected in what I write. I used to be a magazine journalist and nonfiction book writer and that has helped my fiction immensely. As an example, for Swann’s Last Song, the protagonist is a skip tracer. I never would have even known what that was if I hadn’t interviewed a real one for a magazine years ago.
Who are your non-writer influences?
There are so many. Nabokov, Roth, Bellow, Malamud, Chandler, Hammett, and I could go on and on.
Do you have any superstitions? Do you have any phobias?
I’m not crazy about heights, and I’m probably as superstitious as the next person but I just don’t let it rule my life.
I just want my readers to be interested and entertained by them. I’m not one of those people who thinks you have to like a character in order to enjoy the work. In fact, sometimes the more you dislike someone the more interesting they become. I want to make my characters complex, which makes them real.
If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?
“Do not understand me too quickly.” I wish I’d said that but Andre Gide did and I’m appropriating it now.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you chose to do?
I’m much too lazy to be anything else.
What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? Can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?
It’s a little bit of both. And I’d love to be able to write in cafes or outside, but I’d be just too distracted. I’d wind up watching people rather than writing.
What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?
Very shy. Read all the time. And yes, I don’t think I remember wanting to be anything other than a writer. I probably imaginarily accepted the National Book Award when I was thirteen.
If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in Mystery literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?
Anything by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie and a host of authors writing now, whom I won’t name because then I’d leave out someone very important. Of course, my co-authors Ross Klavan and Tim O’Mara would be high on the list.
Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?
This is slightly different but it does involve dodging a potentially embarrassing moment. I was on a Bouchercon panel a few years ago on writing “grit.’ I was there because of my novel, Devil in the Hole, which is based on a real-life crime. At the end of the panel session one of my fellow panelists leaned over and said, “you reviewed my book for the New York Times.” All I could think was, “please God, I hope I liked the book,” because I was always honest as a reviewer and if I didn’t like something I said so. “What did I say?” I asked gingerly. “Oh, you liked it,” he said. Crisis averted.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Which is most of the time, by the way. I meet friends for meaningless talk. I read. I go to movies—I can average two a week—and I watch TV. I used to play a lot of sports, but due to a pretty bad injury I can’t do that anymore. But I coach softball.
The Goldblatt character in my Henry Swann novels has gotten way out of hand. I think people like that character better than Swann. I’ll get emails like, “I enjoy your books but I love Goldblatt!” He’s a fun character to write. His name is the same as one of my best friends but he’s nothing like Mark Goldblatt (or at least not that I’d admit). And Mark loves having a character named after him.
What is the first book you remember reading on your own?
I think it was either about Robin Hood or a book called, “The Winning Forward Pass.” I actually have two copies of that book that I found in a couple bookstores.
You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?
I doubt I’d run an obstacle course—I’m one of those who thinks “why run when you can walk, take the bus, drive, fly, etc.” But the libation would probably be a chocolate ice cream soda. If I were forced to choose an alcoholic beverage, it would be one of those “girly” drinks with an umbrella in it.
Where to Find Charles Salzberg
CHARLES SALZBERG is the author of the Shamus Award-nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair (re-release Nov. 2016), Devil in the Hole (re-release Nov. 2016), Triple Shot (Aug. 2016), and Swann’s Way Out (Feb. 2017). His novels have been recognized by Suspense Magazine, the Silver Falchion Awards, the Beverly Hills Book Award and the Indie Excellence Award. He has written over 25 nonfiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Life and Zany Times, with Soupy Sales. He has been a visiting professor of magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, and he teaches writing at the Writer’s Voice and the New York Writers Workshop where he is a founding member.
Payback leads to an unmarked grave in Ross Klavan’s Thump Gun Hitched. A freak accident forces two L.A. cops to play out a deadly obsession that takes them from back alley payoffs to hard time in prison, then deep into the tunnel networks south of the border to a murderous town that’s only rumored to exist. Before the last shot is fired, everything they thought was certain proves to be a shadow and everything they trusted opens into a trap.
Life was so much simpler for Tim O’Mara’s marijuana-selling narrator in Smoked when all he had to worry about was keeping his customers, ex-wife, and daughter satisfied. When he forges a reluctant alliance with his ex-wife’s new lover, he realizes there’s lots of money to be made from the world’s number one smuggled legal product—cigarettes. Unfortunately, his latest shipment contained some illegal automatic weapons. Now he’s playing with the big boys and finds the price of the game way over his head. Murder was never part of his business model.
And finally in Twist of Fate, Charles Salzberg follows Trish Sullivan, an ambitious TV reporter working in a small, upstate New York market. She receives a note from Meg Montgomery, a beautiful young woman convicted of murdering her husband and two children. Montgomery claims she’s innocent and Sullivan, smelling a big story that may garner some national attention, investigates and turns up evidence that the woman has, indeed, been framed. What happens next changes the life of both women in unexpected ways.
Get your copy today!
The publisher, Down & Out Books, and JKS Communications are offering up 1 paperbook copy of Triple Shot to one USA winner. To enter, do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1) Do you have a USA mailing address? 2) What makes you cringe? Giveaway ends September 22, 2016, midnight.