I book blog for JKS Communications occasionally, so when Swann’s lake of Despair first caught my eye, I thought, why not interview the author behind this book? I published a review of Lake of Despair yesterday. You can read it here. In the meanwhile, let’s get to know Charles a little more than what his bio offers. Join us below.
Me: Hello Charles! Honored to have you visit To Be A Person. Please tell us something informal about yourself. And, Coffee or tea?
Charles: I’m a writer and I teach writing and I live in New York City. I don’t have a dog or a cat or a goldfish or even a plant, but I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (I was born and raised in New York City, but on the East Side) and there are plenty of dogs and cats and even grass and trees. I began wanting to be a fiction writer, but when I saw I couldn’t make a decent living from that, I stumbled into magazine journalism after working in the mailroom at New York magazine for three months. From there, without knowing what I was doing, I wound up ghostwriting books, writing my own non-fiction books, while still interviewing celebrities for magazines like Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times, and Elle; and I began teaching writing. I was fortunate enough to have many students who became a lot more famous than I, like Lauren Weisberger who took one of my classes and came in with her first essay about her first day at work and called it, The Devil Wears Prada. No need to say more, right?
Now I solely write fiction, right now it’s crime fiction with a twist that there are no murders to solve. I deal with other kinds of crimes, which I find are much more fascinating. Besides, how many of us in a lifetime actually come across murder?
I love to go to the movies—I see practically everything, good or bad—and I never rent movies or see them online. I like to actually go to the theater and sit there in the dark with other people, but not too many other people, and watch on a big screen.
Me: Haha! I’m glad to learn more about you. Also, I really like your sense of humor—there’s an edge of ho9nesty to it that makes me chuckle.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Charles: It wasn’t so much inspiration as destiny. It’s what I do, what I can do, and probably the only thing I can do reasonably well—other than play sports. I was a shy kid who lived in something of a fantasy world, so putting it down on paper really helped. I thought if I make up stories I never actually have to speak to people. Of course, I wound up in a profession—journalism—where you have to talk to strangers all the time, but somehow I evolved to the point where I could do that.
But I suppose it was reading authors like Mark Twain, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and detective novelist like Hammett and Chandler that really inspired me to become a writer.
Me: A great list of authors there! I can see why you write the way you do. Also, what an irony that you ended up having to talk to strangers all the time.
In what way do you believe writing can make the world a better place?
Charles: Writing can take us places we’ve never been before. It can introduce us to people we’d never meet. It can show us that we’re all not that different from one another, that we have the same problems, the same feelings. It connects us in ways that nothing else can.
Me: “It connects us in ways that nothing else can.” So true!
You have mentored some great writers. Could you please mention a few, and, tell us your greatest satisfaction in mentoring these writers?
Charles: Lauren Weisberger, of course, as I mentioned earlier. But she’s only one. Lately, it’s Jessica Alexander, whose book, Chasing Chaos came out of her work as a humanitarian aid worker. Mindy Greenstein, whose hilarious, yes, that’s right, House on Crash Corner came from her experiences as the child of holocaust survivors. Harry Getzov, whose book, Gold, inspiring interviews with people over the age of 70. Ellen Schecter, whose memoir, Fierce Joy, chronicles her overcoming of chronic illness and pain. Ross Klavan, one of my best friends, whose hilariously funny and literary novel, Schmuck, wouldn’t have been published if it hadn’t been for the Greenpoint Press, the publishing wing of the New York Writers Resources. And there are so many others.
A friend of mine jokes that I’m the king of Acknowledgments. I just moved and found that I have almost three bookshelves filled with books written either by friends or students and I’m much more proud of that than anything I’ve written.
Me:That is a wonderful achievement, Charles—to be a wonderful writer, and be able to lead others into great writing, as well.
You co-founded Greenpoint Press. What need did you see in the publishing industry that made you go into publishing? In your opinion, is your publisher fulfilling this need as much as you hoped it would?
Charles: I was seeing so many sensational manuscripts cross my desk that I knew would never find the light of day in commercial publishing. I had a student, Richard Willis, who was almost 80 years old when he came to me. He was writing a book about his experiences growing up on a farm in Iowa during the Depression. I’m a city kid, but I found it fascinating. I sent him to some agents and they all said the same thing: great book, but we don’t see an audience for it. Well, I did, and it was the first book we published, if you don’t count How Not to Greet Famous People, which was a compilation of the best of our webzine, Ducts.org (the second edition, The Man Who Ate His Book, is out now. To our surprise, it did amazingly well, well enough to earn him a little money. Richard is pushing 85 now and he’s thrilled about its success and so are we. We’ve now published close to a dozen books and as long as the money holds out—we live on donations and people buying our books—I’m going to keep doing it.
Me: What an amazing story! I’m glad publishing worked out for Richard and you. Great work!
So many new authors these days. What difference do you perceive between the old and the new? What advice would you give to the new?
Charles: That’s a tough question, but I’d say the difference is that more people can get published today. That means more good books but it also means more bad books, as well. And I think contrary to what most people think, there is more reading going on than ever. It’s just being read in different ways, on Ipads or phones or tablets.
My advice is simple: read, read, read. Write, write, write. Take classes, if you can. Get in a writer’s group if you can. And never give up.
Me: So simple. Thank you for that.
Is there a new project you’re working on? May we have a sneak peek? What more should we expect from you in the long run?
Charles: I’m working on the fourth in the Swann series, called Swann’s Way Out. I guess I’ll keep writing them either until I get tired of them, I run out of cute titles, or I win an award for one of them. But I’ve got a couple of ideas for other crime novels and I’ve got a manuscript in my drawer, Black Magic, a black comic novel, that I still haven’t given up on because I think it’s my best work.
Me: Hmm. Interesting …
When you finally decide to put your pen down, and you look back on your career, what aspect of your achievements would put a smile on your face—one you hope to pass on as a legacy?
Charles: The fact that I never gave up. That I wrote Swann’s Last Song more than 25 years before it was published, but that I was persistent enough to never just put it away in a drawer, because I knew it was good. And, in the end, I got the last laugh because when it was finally published it was nominated for a Shamus Award and it started me writing a series of Swann novels, the third of which is Swann’s Lake of Despair.
I don’t drink coffee—the only writer in America who doesn’t. And I don’t like hot tea unless I’m sick. But I do love iced tea.
Well said, Charles! I love your answer! Thank you for stopping by today!
And thank you for having me. It was fun!
About the Book
MISSING PHOTOS, A MISSING DIARY AND A MISSING WOMAN: THREE MYSTERIES CONVERGE IN NEW THRILLER
Award-winning novelist Charles Salzberg releases ‘Swann’s Lake of Despair’ Oct. 22
NEW YORK CITY – Where mystery lurks, detective Henry Swann is not far behind.
The offbeat private investigator is back in “Swann’s Lake of Despair,” award-winning author Charles Salzberg’s newest installment in his successful mystery series. This time, Swann is charged with solving three challenging cases when rare photos of bombshell Marilyn Monroe, a scandalous diary and a beautiful woman all disappear. Salzberg’s latest book comes out Oct. 22, 2014.
The story takes off with an offer for Swann to team up with his careless, unreliable frenemy Goldblatt. The disbarred lawyer-turned-“facilitator” would provide the leads and muscle, while Swann would do all the fancy footwork. A missing diary penned by a free-loving jazz flapper is worth enough to someone that Swann takes a beat down on an abandoned boardwalk. Pilfered photos propel him deep into the past of an alcoholic photographer, his wife; and he’s hired to search for a lonely writer’s runaway girlfriend. The cases converge and collide in a finale that lifts the curtain on crucial, deadly facts of life for everyone – including Swann himself.
With “Swann’s Lake of Despair,” Salzberg continues a tradition of weaving a web of intrigue and cerebral crimes that fans have come to crave.
“Swann’s got the smarts and hard-boiled cynicism of Sam Spade, but he’s also got a wicked sense of humor that keeps things cool even when the action gets hot,” says Brian Kilmeade, author and co-host of “Fox & Friends.”
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About Charles Salzberg
Charles Salzberg is a New York-based novelist, journalist and acclaimed writing instructor.
His latest novel, “Swann’s Lake of Despair,” is the newest installment in the Henry Swann detective series, which also includes the Shamus Award-nominated book “Swann’s Last Song” and “Swann Dives in.” His novel, “Devil in the Hole,” is a work of literary crime fiction based on the notorious John List murders.
A celebrated and popular creative writing teacher, he has been a visiting professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and has taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Hunter College, the Writer’s Voice, and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a founding member. He was chosen as one of New York’s Great Teachers by New York Magazine. He is a consulting editor at the webzine Ducts.org and co-host, with Jonathan Kravetz, of the reading series, Trumpet Fiction, at KGB in New York City.
Salzberg was the International Guest of Honor at the Crime and Justice Festival in Melbourne, Australia, in November 2013. He has participated in New York Public Library/Mystery Writer of America Writer panels, a panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, and has appeared twice at Men of Mystery, in Irvine, Calif.
Salzberg has written several celebrity profiles as well as roughly 100 magazine articles on an array of subjects ranging from sports to finance to health to entertainment to fashion. His freelance work has appeared in Esquire, New York Magazine, GQ, Elle, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times Arts and Leisure section, The New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
He is also the author of “From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, An Oral History of the NBA;” “On A Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place: Baseball’s 10 Worst Teams of the Century;” and co-author of “My Zany Life and Times, by Soupy Sales,” “Catch Them Being Good” and “The Mad Fisherman.”