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Welcome to The Wormhole and my stop on the tour.
It is my pleasure to feature Charles Salzberg and Devil in the Hole.
Charles has stopped by for an interview:
? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I must have been seven or eight years old and, being a shy kid, I found and got lost in the world of reading. There was a drugstore downstairs and almost every day I haunted the rack of paperback books, filled with enticing covers and titles like, The Moviegoer, Seize the Day, and Catcher in the
. I would spend most of my allowance money
on books and slowly I realized this is what I wanted to do with my life: write
and create worlds in which I’d like to live. Rye
? How many jobs did you have before you became a writer?
Other than summer jobs when I was a kid, the only jobs I held as an adult were teaching, typing invoices for a Norwegian furniture store and working in the mailroom at New York magazine. Once I left the mailroom, I became a magazine journalist, then wrote books, my own, ghostwritten and co-written, all the while continuing to write fiction, my first love.
? How long does it take you to write a book?
It varies. My first novel, Swann’s Last Song, took several years, but that’s because I put it down and picked it back up again. Swann Dives In took a year. Devil in the Hole took longer, because again I started it, stopped it, then got back into it. Probably ten years altogether. Swann’s Lake of Despair, which will be published next year, took only 9 or 10 months. But when I was writing non-fiction, and I’ve published over 20 books, on assignment I could do a book in six months.
? What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I don’t think I have any interesting writing quirks, unlike Goethe who kept rotten apples in his desk drawer, or Hemingway who would stop in the middle of a sentence if things were going well. The most interesting quirk, I guess, is what I’ll do to avoid writing. Almost anything.
? Where do you get your ideas or inspiration for your characters?
I wish I knew. They come out of thin air, sometimes, and sometimes I’ll notice something in someone I know or someone I’ve met that I unconsciously file away and it usually just comes out when I least expect it. Or, in the case of Devil in the Hole, it was a newspaper story that set my imagination afire.
? How do you decide what you want to write about?
Whatever happens to interest me at the moment. With Devil in the Hole, I read about the murder case it was based on and I was fascinated at how someone could plan so meticulously to kill his entire family, to the point where he gave himself a several weeks head start on the authorities. I had to know what could his possible reason have been for committing such a horrible crime. With Swann Dives In, I just wanted to learn more about the rare book business, so that’s where I set the plot. Swann’s Lake of Despair takes place in the world of photography, another subject that piqued my interest.
? What books have most influenced your life?
I would have to say Catcher in the
, Lolita, Portnoy’s
Complaint, Seize the Day, The Adventures of Augie March, Huckleberry Finn,
and The Naked and the Dead, anything
by Dashiell Hammett. But I’m sure I’m
forgetting plenty of others. Rye
? What are you reading right now?
A Brief History of Nearly Everything. By Bill Bryson. I want to become smarter than I am, which shouldn’t be too difficult.
? What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Meeting up with friends. Plays. Reading
? What is your favorite comfort food?
Burger and fries. And ice cream cake.
? What do you think makes a good story?
Pretty much anything. I found when I was a magazine journalist that everyone, and I mean everyone, has a good story to tell, though sometimes they didn’t know it. It was my job to find that story and get it out of them. Same with fiction. A good writer can make a good story out of anything and anyone.
? Who would you consider your favorite author and why?
I’ve got so many, but probably Nabokov because of his incredible ability to use and play with words. But other favorites include Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.
Fun random questions:
- dogs or cats? Both
- Coffee or tea? No coffee, ever, I just don’t like hot drinks, and only iced tea.
- Dark or milk chocolate? Milk, but I wouldn’t turn down chocolate, or any sweet, for that matter.
- Rocks or flowers? Flowers.
- Night or day? Day
- Favorite color? Blue
- Crayons or markers? Crayons
- Pens or pencils? Pens
Genre: Literary psychological crime fiction
Published by: Five Star/Cengage
Publication Date: July 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 253
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.
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.
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.
Giveaway: 1 ebook of Devil in the Hole by Charles Salzberg