"Trent Zelazny is off and running. I have someone new to admire." -Joe R. Lansdale
High Praise from a Master, please welcome Trent Zelazny
Tell us about To Sleep Gently. How did the character of Jack Dempster emerge?
To Sleep Gently was my first serious try at writing crime fiction. I’d decided that True Love equaled Film Noir, then from there the books that inspired it. Jack Dempster had been a character in my head for a while, just kind of putzing around. Maybe he was serving time, I dunno. He evolved into a character that was much of who I actually am, and who I want to be. I did terribly in school, not because I was stupid but because I hated school. I hated the school I attended and eventually dropped out, but somehow there were people who believed I had some sort of college degree—go figure. So, like me, Jack is very smart, but also incredibly stupid. He’s a lot tougher than I am. I’m kind of a pussy. I was glad he finally got out of stir or whatever and tapped on my shoulder and said, “Hey, okay, ready, gotta story to tell you.”
The story of Blake Gladstone moves from Fractal Despondency to A Crack in Melancholy Time. Was this planned, or were you just not finished with the character?
Long story. I’ll try not to be boring about it. Initially I wrote Fractal Despondency and sent it to my agent. While she had it and gave it a look-see I wrote a novella called Shadowboxer. My agent got back to me and said she liked Fractal, but thought it was very bleak, and that the length was not a very saleable length, which figures, as it’s probably my favorite length to write. So I’d finished Shadowboxer and sent it to her, and got the same feedback on that one: bleak, weird length. Then she suggested putting the two together and working it into a novel. That’s where A Crack in Melancholy Time came from. When she suggested it, ideas bloomed, and I worked both novellas together, using Blake Gladstone as the lead and Kealan Donovan from Shadowboxer as a secondary character. As a full-length novel, A Crack in Melancholy Time was the end, and I thought it was pretty cool and sent it to my agent. She did not think it was pretty cool, and thought I had good stories in there than I had now screwed up. So I pulled them all apart again. If you read Fractal Despondency and then A Crack in Melancholy Time, you’ll see there is a gap between stories. A few people have asked me to write more about Blake, but he’s obviously not a series character. I think about writing what happened to him while back in Florida, which would be the middle, but it seems like a strange way to do a quasi trilogy. But I was glad I wrote Melancholy Time. It gave me a bit of peace giving him an ending like that, rather than the one in Fractal.
Your latest Novella Butterfly Potion begins with the character of Perry waking up in a strange place unsure how he arrived there. For this story did you have the answers Perry was seeking, or did you uncover them with Perry?
I uncovered them with him. I wrote the first quarter or so really excited, and then the thing just stopped dead. I remember the exact paragraph it stopped at, and I’d thought Fuck, I was really digging this one. I let it sit for about a week and looked at it again, and Perry wanted to go again. So I let him, and he took me on a journey I didn’t really expect but related too very well. The rest of it pretty much wrote itself from there.
Your work seems very character driven. Is this an intentional choice?
Good question. I don’t think it’s intentional but it’s the way I write, I guess. The characters take over. Seems the more I concern myself with plot, the more often I wind up putting the piece away, unfinished. I’m not anti-plot or anything, but my characters don’t typically give a rat’s ass about whatever plot I’ve come up with.
Who working today are you most eager to find new releases by? Why?
Top of my list is Joe Lansdale. Man, that guy can write. I just read his newest, Edge of Dark Water, and it’s awesome. He’s the guy who showed me that I could write anything I wanted, that I could be honest with my fears and my anger and so on. My early stuff, a lot of it is very derivative of Lansdale. Also Kealan Patrick Burke (yes, he’s the namesake for the character in Shadowboxer). He has a great way of writing unsettling things with a very touching whisper to it all. I love that about his work.
What fictional character had the greatest impact on you?
Parker. Richard Stark’s aka Donald E. Westlake’s Parker character. I’ve read them all, many of them multiple times.
What writer has had the greatest impact on your style? How So?
There are a couple. Lansdale is one. David Goodis and Cornell Woolrich are the others. What Lansdale showed me about honesty and so forth, Goodis and Woolrich (especially Goodis) showed me in ways I personally related to, big-time. I think if you read my more recent stuff, you can very easily see their influence. More than their stories, however, it’s the way they write, the language that really grabs me.
Do you have anything new coming down the pipeline you would like to share?
I recently wrote a short play called “Not Any Little Girl”, which will see its first performance here in Santa Fe at the end of April. I’m really excited about that. Got an email yesterday from one of the actors saying it reminded him of Raymond Chandler. Needless to say, I was tickled about that. I have a short story called “The Digital Eidolon that Fits in Your Pocket” coming out in Warren Lapine’s anthology Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and am about to start reading Fractal Despondency for an audio release. I’m also getting near the end of editing my first anthology, A Splintered Mirage, which has a lot of great writers in it. Too many great writers to only list a couple here, but I think it’s going to be a fantastic book.