Thursday, November 2nd, 2023
Jake Lamar's Viper's Dream A Success in Three Markets
Cover image: Jake Lamar
Photo by Ulf Andersen
When I learned that People magazine ranked Jake Lamar's Viper's Dream Number 6 out of 35 books to read in October 2023, I immediately contacted Lamar to ask for an interview. I've read - and loved - all his books, and Viper's Dream was no exception.
Read on to learn what Lamar shared with me.
ETBP: It’s been 17 years since you were last published stateside. Congratulations on your return to the U.S. market with Viper’s Dream! How important is it to you to have your books released in the U.S.?
JL: I've had an unusual career. Between 1991 and 2003, I published five books in the USA: a memoir and four novels. I arrived in France in 1993, having no idea that I would stay for thirty years and counting. In those early years, I lived in Paris but my work as a writer was only available in English, in the USA.
I found that the longer I stayed in Paris, the less interested the New York publishing industry was in me. In 2003, I published my fifth book in the USA and that same year, for the first time, published a book in France. The enthusiasm of French critics and readers for my work was very gratifying.
So just as avenues were being closed off to me in New York, great big boulevards were opening up for me in Paris. Over the next several years, my back list of novels would be published in French. I started working in French theater, writing for French radio, teaching at French universities. My life as a writer was in France. An African American writer in France.
Viper's Dream was first published in France in September 2021. The response was very enthusiastic. I think that was the moment when I felt that this very American, specifically African American, story should be published in English.
So it's definitely important for me to publish this particular book in America. Jazz is an original American art form. The hard-boiled crime novel is an American literary genre. French and British readers have responded enthusiastically to this story. So far, the response in America has been positive as well.
People magazine book list
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ETBP: What was it about this book that got the U.S. market interested?
JL: For me, the important thing is to connect with an editor. In France, I've worked with Jeanne Guyon of Rivages Noir for 20 years. Today, she directs the house. In England, I've worked with Ion Mills, founding publisher and editor of No Exit Press. In the USA, it was Toni Kirkpatrick of Crooked Lane Books who responded enthusiastically to Viper's Dream and decided to publish it.
In each case---France, Britain, the USA---an individual editor needed to respond to this story and its specific vibe. First Jeanne, then Ion, then Toni: they all "got" the book. Not everybody does. That mix of jazz with the hard-boiled style of Dashiell Hammett and Chester Himes is not for everyone. But people who "get" jazz noir love this book.
ETBP: In the past, you’ve talked about how book covers are designed for different markets. I’ve seen a couple of covers for Viper’s Dream. Please share what you can about why these covers were designed as such, and which markets they target.
JL: There have actually been three jackets for Viper's Dream: French, British, American.
The French jacket features a photo by the great Robert Capa: the portrait of an impossibly cool Black man, in fedora and spats, perched with feline grace on a balcony railing, taken in Harlem in the 1930s.
Viper's Dream - French book cover
Even though the image didn't necessarily resemble my protagonist Clyde "The Viper" Morton, it somehow represented his spirit for me.
The jacket for the British edition was Ion Mills' idea. It very consciously, reverently yet wittily, evokes the great album covers by jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Verve in the 1950s. Once again, the photo---silhouette with hat brim and cigarette---evoked the spirit if not the precise image of Viper Morton. I loved it.
Viper's Dream - UK book cover
The jacket for the US version goes in a different direction. Every noir novel needs a femme fatale. Viper's Dream is a deep dive into genre. Yolanda "Yo-Yo" DeVray is a jazz diva and the archetypal femme fatale.
To me, the image on the American cover represents the spirit, rather than the exact description on the page, of Yolanda. I love the resemblance with Nina Simone. And the dreamy look of her. Yolanda is Viper Morton's ultimate dream. In so far as this cover evokes Yo-Yo emerging from the Manhattan skyscape as Viper's dream, it's pretty great.
Viper's Dream - US book cover
ETBP: Which cover do you like best?
JL: Really, I love all three covers. I don't have a favorite.
ETBP: How does the reception of Viper’s Dream in the U.S. compare to its reception in France and the U.K.?
JL: Viper's Dream has had enthusiastic receptions in France, England and now the USA. The difference is that America is so huge, so many books come out there, it's much harder to break through.
Being picked as one of the four choices for the month of September by the New York Times crime fiction critic Sarah Weinman was a huge boost. As was the critique by crime fiction specialist Kristopher in BOLO Book Review. It's very gratifying when a reviewer grasps what you're trying to do and conveys it as well as he did.
And then People magazine ranked Viper’s Dream near the top of its picks for October. It was also a pick of the month on the highly regarded Murder & Mayhem website.
Back in the spring, when the book came out in the UK, it was a pick of the week for The Sunday Times and The Times of London in crime fiction. It was also pick of the week for the London Book Review bookshop.
I'm happy if this novel is considered both good and populaire.
ETBP: You traveled to the U.K. to promote Viper’s Dream. Please share details of your book tour there.
JL: In May, I was interviewed at Waterstones Islington bookshop in London by journalist and crime fiction expert Paul Burke.
Paul also has a podcast called Crime Time FM. Back in January, he interviewed me at the Café Flore in Paris for his podcast.
I was invited to one of Britain's biggest crime fiction festivals: CrimeFest in Bristol. Participated in panel discussions. Met great colleagues.
In addition to the The Times of London, the book got great reviews in The Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Daily Mail and The Sun. I've also done several interviews with BBC Radio.
Next summer, I’ll be giving a lecture at a crime fiction festival in Oxford.
ETBP: I LOVED your article in CrimeReads! What inspired it?
JL: Thank you so much! I really enjoyed writing that essay.
Illustration for CrimeReads essay
Screenshot from CrimeReads.com
It was inspired by something that has fascinated me for years and years. The way people judge books by their gut reactions to characters. They embrace a book because they say they found the characters “likable” or “relatable.” Or they reject a book because they couldn't “identify” with the characters or “didn't care” about them.
So I wrote this essay for the CrimeReads site called "The Four Corners of Subjectivity." The piece is a bit satirical. It takes an analytical approach to the way readers make these snap judgments based on four factors: Likability, Identification, Relatability, and Caring.
But it's also an exploration of the literary anti-hero. And Clyde "The Viper" Morton is definitely an anti-hero.
ETBP: It may be too soon to ask this question, given the very recent release of Viper’s Dream in the States. But I’ll ask it anyway – “What’s next for you as a seasoned writer?”
JL: I am already two and a half years into "the next project." All I can tell you is that, once again, the story is set in the past, in New York City in 1958. And it will be one of my thriller-ish books. It will have a strong plot and suspense. But it will not be the same sort of deep dive into the hard-boiled crime genre that Viper's Dream is.
Find out more about Jake Lamar at his Website: https://jakelamar.com/
Purchase Viper's Dream by clicking HERE.