Friday, February 14, 2014

Q & A with Charles Salzberg

I discovered Charles Salzberg work via Facebook and figured I would like his work and so would you.
To get an idea about his stuff, here's an interview.

Q: What makes Henry Swann different from other hardboiled characters?  
Although Henry Swann purposely shares a number of traits of the classic American PI—a loner, living on the margins of society, perpetually broke, cynical and a little self-destructive—he also differs somewhat.  For one thing, he’s not particularly brave—he doesn’t go out of his way to engage in conflict, in fact, he’ll do practically anything he can to avoid it.  Also, he’s very well-educated, not that the classic detective isn’t intelligent, he or she most certainly is.  But Swann was educated to be something else, anything else.  He’s literate, can quote poetry and prose, and he likes putting together puzzles.  And yet he will do practically anything for money and he isn’t above occasionally stretching the truth, shall we say, to get what he wants.  For another thing, he isn’t strictly speaking a detective or a private investigator.  He’s a skip tracer, someone who looks for folks who’ve skipped on their obligations, financial or otherwise.  He’s good at finding things.  I like to think of him as a journalist who happens to get involved in all things criminal.

Q: How did you come up with the character?  
The character really grew out of an idea.  I realized that as one critic said, detective fiction is very theological in nature.  If you follow all the clues you’ll wind up with a solution.  In religion, that’s God.  But what, I thought, if the world isn’t so rational and is, instead, messy and chaotic?  And so I created a character, Henry Swann, who at first does think the world is rational but soon learns otherwise.  I made him a skip tracer simply to set him off from both amateur sleuths and the classic detective.  He’s just a working class stiff who happens to find people.  He’s actually based on a fellow I interviewed, a real skip tracer, when I was first starting out as a magazine journalist.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution? 
I love physical books.  I love to touch them, hold them, read them.  But I think is a real place for eBooks.  For one thing, they’re cheaper, which means more access to readers.  For another, they’re much more portable than physical books.  When I’m traveling I can take my Ipad or my Kindle or my phone, and with them have access to scores of books, which means I don’t have to make choices and worry about carrying more than one or two books in my bag, or in my case, knapsack, since I travel almost anywhere and for anytime with just that to hold all my things.

Q: What's next for you and Henry Swann? 
I just finished a non-Henry Swann novella for a company called Stark Raaving Group.  It’s a wonderful idea.  The fellow who came up with the concept has rounded up a whole bunch of crime writers and we’re all writing novellas that he’s going to offer by subscription to readers.  I believe for the first year, he’ll issue one a month, and then after that, two or three a month.  It’s a great opportunity for readers to be exposed to a number of wonderful crime writers and an even better opportunity for writers to reach a new audience.  The name of the novella is “Twist of Fate,” and the protagonist is a female TV reporter.
I’ll also have a third in the Henry Swann series out in October, first as a hardcover.  It’s called, Swann’s Lake of Despair,” and it takes place in the world of professional photography, as well as adding an historical angle—trying to solve a real life crime of a woman named Starr Faithfull, who died in the ‘30s under suspicious circumstances—and also a romantic subplot of a man who’s girlfriend disappears.  While I’m waiting for that to be published, I’m working on the fourth Swann, Swann’s Way Out.  I guess I’ll keep writing them till I run out of catchy titles.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
Which is way too often. I love going to the movies.  I’ll see one or two a week.  Having lunch with friends is also crucial to a writer, since we’re isolated much of the time.  I have a weekly lunch with my good friend, novelist and screenwriter Ross Klavan (author of Schmuck) who also happens to have two brothers who are crime writers: Andrew Klavan and Laurence Klavan.  I actually use Ross as one of the characters in the Swann series.  He appears in the second book, Swann Dives In, and he was so much fun to write that he’s in all my others. He’s also the voice of Henry Swann on the videos another friend of mine produced, which can be found on the website. I also use my friend, Mark Goldblatt, as a character.  It’s not really them, just the names, though certainly parts of them are incorporated in the characters. There’s also plenty of time to watch TV, read, and I teach three writing classes a week, which keeps me pretty busy reading students’ submissions.

Q: How do you promote your work?   
It’s the part I hate most, but we have to do it.  Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and I do as many readings and bookstore appearances as I can.  I used to get very nervous before readings.  I still do, but not nearly as much.  And I love meeting people who like to read and like authors.  I also do a lot of blog posts for others and write essays, which also helps promote the work, as do interviews like these.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?  
My first love is literary novels.  I’m a big fan of Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer and others.  I also read a lot of non-fiction.  Lately, true crime, espionage and biographies of people like Arnold Rothstein, Billy the Kid and Jesse James.  And I’m hooked on the New Yorker and several other magazines, which is probably why I drifted into becoming a magazine journalist.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?  
I love sidekicks, psychotic or not.  Some of the best parts of reading these novels are the characters created to populate the world of the detective.  That’s what keeps these books interesting, at least to me.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation? 
That’s really tough to answer, especially since I now know a bunch of crime writers personally, having met them through Mystery Writers of America and from being on various library panels.  It’s tough to beat the names of those you’ve mentioned, but there are so many good crime writers out now.  But as far as influencing us, gee, it’s tough to be more influenced than our generation has been by the people you mention.

Q: Why do you write in this genre? 
I fell into it accidentally, but I’ve found that crime is so universal that I can write about any theme I want.  In fact, with the Swann books, ever since the first one, I’ve shunned murder.  There is no murder in Swann Dives In, nor is there one in Swann’s Lake of Despair, or in any the three Swann short stories I’ve written (“A Starr Burns Bright,” in Long Island Noir, Train to Nowhere, in Grand Central Noir, and “The Duke Steps Out,” in How Not To Greet Famous People.  That’s purposeful because I think murder is too easy.  I’m more interested in the non-lethal crimes, crimes that can be almost as serious, especially crimes of the heart.  You watch TV and the movies and we seem to be a nation of twenty, thirty murders a day.  But most of us bump up against the non-murderous kinds of crime, and those are the crimes I’m most interested in.


Dana King said...

I saw Charles at a Bouchercon panel last year and added him to my To Be Read list. This interview makes me want to read him even more, as I like some of the differences he talks about in his books from standard PI fare.

Charles Salzberg said...

Thanks, Dana, and now we wind up working on the same book project. Very exciting.

Brynne said...

What a great interview! I recently read Devil in the Hole and loved it. This guy knows what he's doing! And with no murders in his books, a task difficult for anyone to pull off I'm a huge fan.