Thursday, September 5, 2013

Devil in the Hole by Charles Salzberg: Interview

Welcome. I'm so happy to host you for this stop on your tour. Thanks for agreeing to answer a few of my questions.  Tell us about your current release.

 I began writing Devil in the Hole almost twenty years ago. At the time, I was a magazine journalist and I came across this horrendous true crime—a man killed his entire family, wife, three kids, mother and the family dog, and disappeared. It fascinated me because he didn’t just snap and kill them, he planned it methodically, so much so that he gave himself a three week head start, before the murders were ever discovered. I wanted to write it as a nonfiction book, but publishers weren’t interested because there was no ending—he was gone, vanished into thin air. But the case haunted me, because I needed to know how someone could commit such a horrible crime and then live with himself. And there the seed of the novel was born. I had to figure out a motive, but once I did, I could start writing. Over the years, I would pick the book up and put it down, while I made a living as a writer, but finally it just grabbed me, held on, and I finished it.

Tell us about your next release.
I’ve just completed the third book in the Henry Swann Detective series. It’s called, Swann’s Lake of Despair, and it’s more complicated than the other two Swann books, because he’s working on three cases at once. In fact, the first chapter was a short story I contributed to Long Island Noir. Waste not, want not. I’m now working on a fourth Swann, Swann’s Way Out, but that might be the last because I’m running out of catchy titles.

 What was your first sale as an author?
I received ten bucks for a review I wrote for Kirkus Reviews. I was thrilled. It made me a real writer. It took years after that, but my second was an article I wrote for New York magazine on agoraphobics. I believe I got fifty times more for that one.

 Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they? 
Sit your ass down and write. Just get something down on paper and then rewrite it. And rewrite it. You’ll never get it perfect, but you’ll get it as good as you can at that particular moment. Then move on.

What would you consider to be the best book you have ever read?
This is a tough one, because I’ve read so many terrific (and a lot more not so terrific) novels over the years, but I’d have to Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s an incredibly brave novel, even now, and it’s so rich in wordplay and nuance and allusions, that you can read it over and over again and never master it.

  Are the names of the characters in your novels important? How and why?
Yes, because I often use names of real people—my friends, never my enemies, though I’d like to think I don’t have any. It started off as just being too lazy to come up with good, meaningful names, and then it became fun, especially to use the name and then write against type. My friends love it, but they all want to be the bad guy (or girl.) Haven’t quite figured that out, but there’s plenty of bad to go around.

Tell us about the absolute BEST fan letter you have received.
For a while, I taught magazine writing as a Visiting Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University. Several years after graduation, I got a letter from a former student, thanking me for the class. It seems he was in a company and wanted a job at that company in communications. They wanted a writing sample but the only one he had was one he’d done for my magazine writing class. The assignment was to write a profile. I used to give them incredible leeway, urging them to be as creative as possible. He chose to profile the fraternity bong. He wrote a great piece and I gave him an A. That’s the one he used as his writing sample and that’s what got him the job! I just hoped he didn’t show his parents, who had spent a hundred grand on his education.

Use no more than two sentences. Why should we read your book?
Because kidnappers are holding my family hostage and will kill them unless you read my book. There, I did it in one sentence.


Devil in the Hole

by Charles Salzberg

on Tour September 1 - October 31, 2013

Book Details:

Genre: Literary psychological crime fiction
Published by: Five Star/Cengage
Publication Date: July 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 253
ISBN: 978-1-4328-2696-3
Purchase Links:


Devil in the Hole is based on a true crime that occurred over 40 years ago in New Jersey, wherein a man murdered his entire family, wife, three children, mother and the family dog, and disappeared. My novel uses that event and takes off from there, following the murderer on his escape route. Using the voices of people he meets along the way, and people who are affected by his crime, the reader starts to build a portrait of the man and why he did what he did, in addition to following those who are searching for him.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 5-17-2013
This title publishes JULY 2013

“In this smartly constructed crime novel, Salzberg uses multiple viewpoints to portray an unlikely killer who methodically slaughters his family . . . an intriguing collage of impressions and personal perspectives for the reader to ponder.”

Devil in the Hole by Charles Salzberg.
          ISBN 978-1-4328-2696-3

In this smartly constructed crime novel, Salzberg (Swann Dives In) uses multiple viewpoints to portray an unlikely killer who methodically slaughters his family. When James Kirkland, a neighbor, notices something odd going on at the Sedgewick, Conn., home of the Hartmans, he calls the police. Inside the Georgian-style mansion, police find the neatly executed bodies of Adele Hartman, her three teenage children, and her mother-in-law. John Hartman, Adele’s husband, is missing. Salzberg adroitly creates the voices of Hartman as he tries to establish a new life for himself; Charles Floyd, a senior police investigator who becomes obsessed with finding Hartman; and Kirkland, whose discovery changes his life. A slew of other characters who knew Hartman or who encounter him as he moves around provide snippets of information. The result is not a finished portrait but an intriguing collage of impressions and personal perspectives for the reader to ponder. Agent, Alex Glass, Trident Media Group. (July)
Reviewed on 05/17/2013 | Details and Permalink (July)

Chapter One
James Kirkland

I knew something was out of whack, only I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Just something, you know. And it wasn’t only that I hadn’t seen any of them for some time. I mean, they’d been living there for what, three, three and a half years, and I don’t think I ever had more than a two- or three-minute conversation with any of them. And God knows, it wasn’t as if I didn’t try.
All things considered, they were pretty good neighbors. Mostly, I guess, because they kept to themselves. Which is certainly better than having neighbors who are always minding your business, or who don’t mow their lawn, or who drop in uninvited, or who throw wild parties and play loud music all night long. They weren’t like that. Just the opposite, in fact. Why, with that great big front lawn and two teenage boys you’d think they’d be out there tossing a football or a Frisbee around, or something. But no. It was so quiet sometimes it was as if no one lived there at all. Though I did hear rumors that the boys had a reputation of being hell-raisers. Maybe that’s why they kept such a tight lid on them when they were home. Because I can honestly say there wasn’t any hell-raising going on in that house that I could see. As a matter of fact, the only way you’d know the house was occupied was when you’d see the kids going to school, or him going off to work, or her and the mother going out to shop. Or at night, when the lights were on.
Which brings me back to the house itself. And those lights. It was the middle of November, a week or so before Thanksgiving, when I first noticed it. I was coming home from work and when I glanced over there I noticed the place was lit up like a Christmas tree. It’s a Georgian-style mansion, one of the nicest in the neighborhood, by the way, with something like twenty rooms, and I think the lights were on in every single one of them. But the downstairs shades were drawn tight, so all you could see was the faint outline of light around the edges of the windows, which gave it this really eerie look. Maybe they’ve got people over, was my first thought. But that would have been so out of character because in all the time they’d lived there I’d never seen anyone go in or out other than them. And anyway, it was absolutely quiet and there were no cars in the driveway or parked out on the street.
Just before I turned in, I looked out the window and noticed the house was still lit up, which was odd, since it was nearly midnight and, as a rule, they seemed to turn in kind of early over there.
The next night when I came home from work and I looked across the street the lights were still on. And that night, before I went to bed, after midnight, I looked out and the lights were still blazing.
After that, I made a kind of game of it. Under the pretense of getting some fresh air, I walked close to the house, as close as I could get without looking conspicuous, and listened to see if there were any sounds coming from inside. A couple of times, when I thought I heard something, I stopped to listen more carefully. But I never picked up anything that might indicate that someone was inside. And each night, when I came home from work, I made it a point to check out the house and make a note of how many lights were still burning and in which windows. I even began to search for silhouettes, shadows, anything I might interpret as a sign of life. And it wasn’t long before I whipped out the old binoculars to take a look, thinking maybe I could see something, anything, that would give me a hint as to what was going on. But when my wife accused me of being a peeping Tom, I put them away, at least while she was around.
There weren’t always the same number of rooms lit, but I noticed there were always fewer, never more. It was as if someone was going around that house each day turning off one light in one room, but in no discernible pattern. I began to think of that damn house during the day, while I was at work, or on the train coming home. It became a real thing with me. I even kept a notebook with a sketch of the house and notations next to each window that had a light on.
At night, I played a game. I began to think of that house as my own personal shooting gallery and, sitting on the window sill in my pajamas, while my wife was either in the bathroom or asleep, I’d choose one of the rooms and aim my imaginary rifle and pop! pop!, I’d shoot out one of the light bulbs. And, if the next night that particular room was dark, I’d get a tremendous rush of self-satisfaction that carried me through the whole next day. It was kind of like one of those video games my kids play. Pretty sick, huh?
I mentioned it to my wife—not my silly game, but the fact that those lights were going out one by one. She thought I was nuts. “Can’t you find anything better to do with your time?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m entertaining myself. Leave me alone.” Then I asked whether she’d seen the Hartmans lately, because I was beginning to have this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if something was seriously wrong. That it wasn’t a game anymore.
“No,” she said. “I haven’t. But that’s not unusual. Besides, it’s not as if I’m looking for them. If you ask me, they’re creepy. The whole bunch of them.”
“I know. But maybe . . . maybe there’s something wrong.”
“Go to bed,” she said. So I did, lulling myself to sleep with my imaginary rifle cradled in my arms, as if it would actually afford me some protection just in case something was wrong.
A few nights later, I set the alarm for three-thirty and slipped the clock under my pillow. When the vibration woke me, I got up quietly, so as not to wake my wife, looked out the window and sure enough the same number of lights was burning in the house as the night before. I was puzzled and frustrated because I was dying to know what was going on. I even thought of making up some kind of lame excuse to ring the Hartmans’ bell. But I didn’t have the nerve.
Two weeks later, only three rooms in the house were still lit. Down from eight the week before, fourteen the week before that, the week I began to keep count. I asked my son, David, whether he’d seen the Hartman kid in school, the one in his class.
“We’re not exactly best buds, Dad,” he said. “He keeps to himself. He’s weird. Maybe he’s queer or something.”
“I just asked if you’d seen any of them lately.”
“Not that I can remember. But I don’t go out of my way looking for any of them. They’re a bunch of weirdoes.”
I went back up to my room and stared out the window for maybe fifteen minutes, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I wondered if I should do something.
“Come to bed,” my wife said.
“I’m worried,” I said without taking my eyes off the Hartman house. “There’s definitely something wrong over there.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” she said. “Besides, it’s none of our business.”
“No, I can feel it. Something’s . . .”
She sighed, got out of bed and handed me the phone. “Well, rather than having to spend the rest of my life with a man who insists on staring out the window at the neighbors’ house all night like an idiot, I’d just as soon you called the police and let them put your mind at ease. At least maybe they can get them to turn out all the lights. Maybe then we can get some sleep over here.”
So, that’s how I called the cops.


Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, Elle, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times, GQ and other periodicals. He is the author of over 20 non-fiction books and several novels, including Swann's Last Song, which was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, and the sequel, Swann Dives In. He also has taught been a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, the Writer's Voice, and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member.

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