Hello BookHive readers!
I’m today pleased to present an interview with Charles Salzberg. Salzberg is a freelance writer for various publications, the author of the Henry Swann detective series, nominated for the Shamus Award, and the co-founder of the New York Writer’s Workshop. The New York Writer’s Workshop is a program dedicated to teaching aspiring authors at all steps of their process. Visit their website here: http://www.newyorkwritersworkshop.com
He was kind enough to provide us the following interview:
Kim Batchelor: I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about your latest book and what you feel its role is within the series?
Charles Salzberg: Swann’s Way Out is the fourth in the series and to be honest halfway through I thought it would be the last. It wasn’t because I was bored with the character or the stories, but more because I thought I’d taken him about as far as he could go. I didn’t see how I could do anything more with his relationship with his friend, Klavan and Goldblatt, his partner (a disbarred lawyer) and I didn’t have an idea for other plotlines. So, writing this one was a different experience from writing any of the others. One thing I did want to do is make sure that he was working on three cases at the same time—I think that’s more realistic, especially for someone who’s struggling financially, as Swann always is. One of the cases, art fraud, is based in New York, while the main case, embezzlement and fraud, is based in Hollywood. I wanted to explore the world of the movies, because I know a little about it and because I’m especially fascinated by a part of it that’s not very well known: the Christian film market.
Since I thought this would be the final Swann, I wanted it to be a little more personal. Over the years, people have asked about his son, from whom he’s estranged—his wife died in a freak accident and Swann gave up his son to his in-laws who are raising him in the Midwest. Women readers were especially interested in this, so I made the third case he’s working on very personal: his son goes missing.
KB: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience writing this book or the series as whole?
CS: It’s been a great experience. The truth is, I never meant it to be a series. I wrote Swann’s Last Song as a stand-alone, as you can probably tell by the title. But much to my surprise it was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel and when I lost I got a little pissed off and decided to keep writing them until I won something. But that wore off pretty quick when I also realized I could write about so many different issues through Swann, and explore so many different worlds. Now I half-joke that I’ll keep writing them until I run out of “cute” titles.
And now I’ve actually started on a fifth Swann, it’s tentatively called, Swann’s Down, and the only reason I’m writing it is because two new plot lines came to me plus I realized that I hadn’t really explored the relationship between Swann and Goldblatt enough. So one of the cases involves his partner.
KB: What do you feel is the most difficult part of seeing a book come to fruition?
CS: It’s all difficult for me, but the most difficult is actually getting me to sit down at the computer and write. It was tough enough but several years ago due to the result of knee surgery, I began to suffer from chronic pain and now I have an excuse not to sit at the computer for too long. Fortunately, I’m a very fast typist and I can focus quite well when I actually do sit down to work.
The other part of a book that’s most difficult for me is the plot. I’m not an outliner. I just start writing with a character or character in mind, and a general direction, but I don’t know what’s going to happen on the next page, or even the next paragraph, until I write it. So, I’m always kind of challenging myself. And that can be a little scary at times. Fortunately, at least so far, I’ve been able to get through each book without knowing where I’m going.
KB: Do you have any advice for those looking to publish a book?
CS: Other than writing a good book (and reading good books so you know what good writing is all about, and also what bad writing is all about) the best advice I can give is never give up. Be persistent. You’re going to get plenty of rejections. I still get them all the time. And people will tell you all these things you can’t do. For instance, I was told over and over again that I couldn’t write a book with multiple points of view—i.e., over twenty different narrators, as I did in Devil in the Hole. “The reader won’t be able to follow it.” “It’ll be too confusing.” I knew they were wrong, and I eventually got it published and it was not only named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense magazine, but it was also optioned to for a movie or TV series (which I don’t think will ever get made, as most don’t.)
Keep writing, because the more you write the better you’ll get, and don’t be afraid to submit your writing, and don’t be afraid to take classes and share your writing. Develop a thick skin, because you’re going to need it.
KB: Can you tell us a bit about New York Writers Workshop and your role there?
CS: I’m one of the Founders of the New York Writers Workshop, which has now morphed into what we call New York Writers Resources. There are three divisions. New York Writers Workshop is our teaching division, we run classes all over the city, and give free workshops for the New York Public Library system, and we have fiction, nonfiction and small press pitch conferences throughout the year, always including an agent’s panel.
Then there’s Greenpoint Press, our publishing arm, and I’m the Editor-in-Chief. But the heavy-lifting is really done by Bob Lascaro, our design expert, and Gini Kopecky Wallace, our hands-on editor.. We’ve published about twenty books so far, most of them nonfiction, with a few novels sprinkled in. We like to think of ourselves as a place writers can get published who’d have trouble finding a commercial publisher. We’ve got some name authors like Patty Dann, author of Mermaids (we published her sequel, Starfish), John Bowers (Love in Tennessee and The Colony) and, Ross Klavan’s novel, Schmuck), Dan Wakefield (New York in the Fifties.) And our nonfiction includes memoir and books of interest on aging and 9/11 First Responders. You can check out our authors at Greenpointpress.org.
And finally, there’s PrisonWrites, our program that offers writing classes to incarcerated young men and women, as well as those who have recently been released from prison.
KB: Why do you think programs like New York Writers Workshop are important?
CS: Because they help support the arts and help people communicate. It’s not all about publishing your work, although that’s nice, but it’s also about being able to think and articulate your ideas better. We’re particularly proud of so many of our students who’ve gone on to publish their work, like Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada), who was my student. And other students like Jessica Alexander, Chasing Chaos, Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family, and this month my student Marcia Butler is having her memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, published by Little, Brown. That’s all very exciting for me and for NYWW.
KB: Any parting words to the readers on our site?
CS: Yes, and I’m not just saying this. I think Bookhive and Jennifer Bowen have come up with a great idea and a great service for writers. We need impartial readers. It’s fine to give our work to friends, but we can’t trust their criticism. Not because they’d lie, but we’d never know if they were saying nice things about our work because they believed it or because they’re our friend. That’s why Bookhive provides such a valuable service.
And my last word is that if you do read any of my books, I hope you enjoy them, but even if you don’t I love hearing from readers. It’s always a thrill for an author to know people other than our close friends and family are reading our work.
Thanks for this opportunity!
Salzberg’s fourth book in the Henry Swann series Swann’s Way Out comes on February 20th. He will be appearing on March 1st at 7 pm at Book Culture in New York, on March 15th at 6:30 pm at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, and March 30th at 6 pm at Page & Palette Bookstore in Alabama.
Thank you to Mr. Salzberg for his time and continued support for BookHive. Check out his website at http://www.charlessalzberg.com
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