Saturday, February 25, 2017

Coming Up for Air: Notes from a Hybrid Author (Part ???)


I think it was late August of 2016 when I was informed that my services would no longer be required at the one trade journalism gig I maintained outside of my fiction career. It was a sweet gig that ran for ten years, an absolute lifetime in the fickle world of freelance journalism. I wrote architecture and construction related pieces, and it paid well and I won a bunch of awards along the way.

But after the new owners came in and cleaned house, I searched for another similar job, but my heart wasn't in it, so I abandoned the search almost as soon as it began. Which lead me to the realization that I should be putting that extra time towards creating more fiction in the form of serial novels, stand-alone novels, short stories, and novellas. Material that would provide passive income for years and years, as opposed to journalism in which you get paid for your time.

That said, since September '16, I've written and completed two novels. The Ashes and the forthcoming The Embalmer, the pilot novel in what will be the new Steve Jobz PI series. I've written the pilot episode in a new CIA-inspired series called Assignment Rendition, and completed two new Chase Baker pulp thrillers, Chase Baker and the Dutch Diamonds and Chase Baker and the Spear of Destiny. At present, I'm closing in on the half-way point with another stand-alone thriller, The Girl Who Wasn't There.

Also completed are several short stories, including Moonlight Gets Served which appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine and Dressed to Kill (A Jack "Keeper" Marconi PI Short Shot), among them. The latter was also serialized in Pulp Metal and will be published in its entirety under my own label, Bear Pulp next week sometime. Add in maybe half a dozen essays for the Vox, and several guest posts and pieces, and it's been one hell of a busy six months.

In the midst of all the new work, I also managed to rewrite The Corruptions several times in preparation for its late January '17 publication (Polis Books), along with a new stand alone, The Detonator, which will appear in January '18 in hardcover (also Polis Books). Amazing when you stop to think that I consider this part-time work.

So, with all this material needing homes, kind of like lost, wayward orphans, I will have to make the decision on who will publish what and when. In the old days, you wrote maybe one book per year, and hoped your publisher would push the crap out of it (which they usually don't). But now you have options. You can maintain your own list of titles of which you control the writing and the marketing.

But I'm a strong believer in having your books in the bookstores as well, and that's where the traditional market comes in. I enjoy seeing my novels come out in hardcover and reviewed by the major trade journals and papers. It gives me professional satisfaction and the respect of my peers. But there's nothing like having total control over your books as well, and that's where the beauty of indie publishing becomes self-evident.

I guess some authors choose to go hybrid because they feel it's smart to take advantage of all the publishing options out there in this, the new golden age of genre fiction writing. I do it because I really have no choice. Just make a quick count of all those books and stories I mentioned above. No way a publisher is going to take on all that work. They wouldn't be able to keep up, nor would they want to. I'm curious to see how the next six months goes, and how many more stories and novels I can produce. At 2,000 words per day (good words), I suspect it will be quite a few.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM







 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Rise of the Machines


I'm a little disturbed right now because I just witnessed something at the grocery store that took me aback. Rather, it was more like a swift punch to the gut. Shoppers were waiting in line to use the automatic robotic cashier machines while right beside them, stood a human cashier just twiddling her thumbs.

Now I have to admit, I had every intention of using the robots as well. But when I saw the young woman, or girl, standing there gazing at her newly polished fingernails, I made my way over to her, set my groceries on the belt and thus began my transaction the old fashioned way.

"It's a terrible thing for humanity when people choose the robots over the humans," I said.
But she just looked at me like I'm one of those middle-aged dudes who still smokes pot.

But it got me thinking. The rise of the machines is really upon us. I just had a book released in hardcover (The Corruptions), but I spend most of my marketing time setting up promos for the eBook or electronic versions of my books. I sell far more eBooks than paper and I sell them all over the world right from the laptop set up in my home office. Home, being where ever I choose to be at any given time.

Publishers now consult computer algorithms when deciding to take on a book or not. The computer can't be wrong, can it? New artificial intelligence programs are being developed that not only help us write faster, but help us plot our books. Soon, they will be relied upon to write them. You just wait and see.

I heard recently that a law is being enacted in the UK granting a specific set of rights to AI. Can you imagine your digitally enhanced toaster possessing the ability to sue you if you mistreat it?

The machines are taking over. God save humanity.  Think I'll go back to using my typewriter.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM



    

Sunday, February 5, 2017

True Lies: Real Life Prison Break Makes for Good Fiction


Is there anything more inspiring than the local news headlines when seeking out an idea for your fiction? Who doesn't like true lies? This is not to be confused with "fake news," which seems to be all the rage these days, because this ain't about politics. It's about where ideas come from. After all, if only I had a nickel for the many fans and/or interested parties who ask me, seemingly on a daily basis, "Where do you get your ideas, Vin?" 

The answers is, some shit I make up, others I rob from the headlines.

The Corruptions, now out in hardcover, eBook, and audio (Polis Books) is one of those stories I robbed from the headlines. It all began when two cons made a daring Hollywood-like escape from Dannemora Maximum Security Prison, or what's officially known in New York State Department of Corrections circles as the Clinton County Correctional Facility. It's also known as "Little Siberia" to its 3,000 or so inmates due to its location very close to the Canadian border. I've been up there and it's pretty much a castle surrounded by thick forest. Like the real Siberia, it's super freaking cold in the winter and super hot in the summer, and no one...not a soul...has escaped the joint in its 150 or so years of existence.

That is, until June of 2015 when two inmates, David Sweat and Reginald Moss, crawled their way through a steam pipe out into the Dannemora sewers. From there they popped a manhole cover, and waited for an escape vehicle that never arrived. What to do then?

Head for the woods.

What followed was a massive manhunt that lasted for days upon days, involved more law enforcement agencies, both federal and state (and Canadian), than you can shake a prison guard's baton at, and that reduced the governor of the Empire State to fits of rage and perhaps even tears...Hey, it's entirely possible. 

The story was covered on nationally and perhaps even internationally. The residents of the little town of Dannemora which surrounds the prison took up arms, and it all made for some great television and Internet watching. It was like a Hollywood picture playing out in real time. Of course, what we were all waiting for was the inevitable showdown between the cons and the police, which came weeks later during a shootout that left one of them dead, and the other wounded.

We all wondered how this kind of thing could happen in this day and age of hyper security, but deep down, despite the crimes of the perps (and they are significant), we were all sort of rooting for the bad guys. So this is the story that fascinated me enough to wrap a big fiction around it, much like I did with the first Keeper Marconi PI novel, The Innocent (Delactore and Thomas &Mercer). In this case, The Corruptions is based on the true story of the Dannemora escape, but my imagination takes over and hopefully I was able to make a fascinating story even more fascinating by imagining, what if? The Innocent has sold hundreds of thousands of units. Let's see what The Corruptions can do. Let's see if it captures the frantic spirit of two cons on the run.

Speaking of escaped cons, here's a quick joke. Two escaped cons are running down the road, when one of them spots some roadkill. "I'm freakin' starving," he says. "I'm gonna eat that." "I think I'll wait," the second con says. The first con fills his face with the roadkill, but immediately pukes. That's when the second con drops to his knees and eats the puke up off the pavement. When he's done, he stands, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "I was waiting for a hot meal," he says. 

If you like a cool, relentless, cat-and-mouse thriller, you'll want to check out the newly released The Corruptions (A Keeper Marconi Thriller No. 4). Think Fargo meets The Shawshank Redemption. My thanks to the cons who dared escape those prison walls. I know they hoped to make it to the border. It didn't work out that way, but at least they gave it one hell of a shot. In doing so, they captured the imaginations of thousands of people. The Corruptions will too.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
     

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Risk: Real and Imagined


Playing with a big knife in the African bush country.


Recently, an ITW Roundtable asked me and several other authors, this question:  What's the riskiest thing you've done in the name of research?

Knowing that a whole lot of peeps don't get to see the Roundtable, I though I'd publish my answer here at the Vox. So without further ado (Did you know the word "ado" can be traced back to the 1300s? As in, Much ado about nothing, which might actually be a more apt title for this piece...).
 


Risk or danger is relative of course.
Hemingway needed to place himself in some of the riskiest situations possible in order to write his fiction. War, bullfights, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and eventually, a double-barrel shotgun barrel pressed against his forehead. If it were physically possible to have written about the experience after he depressed the double triggers and blew the entirety of his cranial cap away along with most of his face, with only the lower jaws intact, I’m sure he would have. It would have been the ultimate dangerous research act conducted with the utmost grace under pressure.

Mailer adhered to a different opinion about risk and the human condition. He once said that bravery isn’t just limited to placing one’s self in perilous situations. Ultimate bravery can be the little old lady who is half blind and half hobbled who must walk two blocks in downtown Manhattan in order to purchase food. Every step is wracked with anxiety, every time she crosses a busy street, she fears she might not make it to the other side alive.
 
My friends and yours, the Islamic Brotherhood...Cairo, 2012
Some writers go to dangerous places in order to create, not in the physical sense, but instead, the psychological. Stephen King delves deep into the frightening and the bizarre and I’m sure that, at times, he frightens himself almost to death. There’s serious risk in delving deep inside the over-active imagination. Noir writers like David Zeltserman explore the deep, darkest, places a man or woman can go. His characters are often nonredeemable. Such as the killing of an innocent child and not feeling a thing about it. When you write on such topics, you risk making yourself insane.

Others like Hunter S. Thompson, experimented with drugs and in particular, hallucinogenics in order to come up with his brand of prose…his gonzo journalism. In the end, it left him battered at a relatively young age and like so many writers who have lived life on the edge, he took a ticket to ride by swallowing a semi-automatic pistol barrel.

I’ve taken some risks in order to research my novels. I’m a firm believer that researching on Google just ain’t gonna cut the Gray Poupon Mustard. You need to see, smell, touch, the place you are writing about. The keen reader always knows when you’re cheating (so too do Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Book Reporter, etc.) When researching my first big novel, The Innocent (formerly, As Catch Can), I spent days inside Green Haven Maximum Security Prison and even a full night locked up in a cell at Sing Sing Prison. The novel was praised for its realism by the trades and even the New York Post called it “Brilliant…” An auspicious debut, but at the same time, I’d set the bar high for myself. I could never again research a novel without talking on a certain amount of risk. 

Pretending to be the double-agent.

As time went on I began to take more and more chances. Exploring the bush country of West Africa where my fixer and myself managed to get our 4X4 stuck in a swamp. The temperature was somewhere around 100 degrees F, and the humidity enough to make my bush jacket stick to my skin. The ants were as big as my thumb, and the mosquitos relentless. We were eventually recused by a band of mercenaries who, along with their band of voodoo practicing workers, pulled us out of the swamp with their own 4X4. One of them men was convinced I’d killed many men because of the leather bracelet I wore around my right wrist. When I gave him the bracelet, my fixer got pissed off. “You’ve made a connection with him now,” he said. “A physical connection. He can practice his voodoo on you now.”

Maybe a week later, while travelling the bush country along the Nigeria border during its civil war, a soldier wearing fatigues and wrap around sunglasses stopped out 4X4 which was occupied by myself and three Christian mercenary women. He demanded papers and money. We were surrounded by bush country for miles and miles. If he raped the women, and killed us, no one would ever find our bodies. Not long after that, when I was trying to get the hell out of the country, the soldier at the tin-roofed airport terminal demanded a bribe in exchange for my freedom. I gave him everything I had. It was quite the experience, and worth the risk.

Soon after that I would dodge bullets in Cairo’s Tahir Square at the tail end of the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood and their AK-47 sporting bandits prowled the streets, making the police useless. They were a big fan of Obama, but at the same time, hated Americans with a ferocity that was palpable. I was forced to ID myself on the street as a Canadian to which a native might reply, “Don’t die Canada dry.” Good times. I stupidly went out for a jog in the early morning, and ended up surrounded by pack of wild dogs. One of the policemen guarding my hotel came running out, swiping at the dogs with the butt of his automatic rifle. “Don’t ever go out alone in the morning,” he scolded. I took his advice from that moment forward. Too bad he wasn’t around when my truck was run off the highway by another truck occupied by armed bandits. As we sat in the ditch, the driver desperately trying to restart the stalled engine, I was sure were about to be shot to hell. But even though the truck stopped to check us out, they motored on.  

There were the bomb scares in Istanbul, getting lost in Shanghai, avoiding bombs and indiscriminate stabbings in Jerusalem, climbing a slick cliff-side on Machu Piccu in Peru, breaking my foot in several places in the Amazon Jungle, standing in the cockpit of a prop job as it flew beside the summit of Everest in Nepal, sleeping beside the camels under the open sky in the Sahara Desert, and of course, missing Mr. Putin by only a few moments outside the RT news offices in Moscow’s Gorky Park.

But perhaps the riskiest moment came when I was exploring the upper Ganges by boat along with two other women and a fixer. The wood boat was small and cramped, it depended upon the wind for its propulsion. When there was no wind, which was almost always the case in June, a young man rowed while his fellow workers manned a kitchen boat that followed us. We were camping along the shore for a few days but monsoon season storms nearly blew our camp away during the night. It was a hell of a night, let me tell you. On the final day on the river, the heat was so unbearable, I decided to strip down to my boxer shorts, and jump in, much to the dismay of my fixer. But he too was so hot he could hardly move.
“Let’s do it,” he said. Even the girls stripped down.

Swimming in the Ganges is a strange experience in that the current is swift but the river is very shallow in places. But then the shallow parts become very deep, dark water pools that can extend for hundreds of feet. Little did I know it, but my fixer was an Olympic swimmer, both girls were also no stranger to the water. When they decided to swim across a deep pool, I didn’t want to be the one to discourage anyone. After all, it was my idea. I run and lift weights daily, but I’m not much of a swimmer, at least when it comes to distance. I didn’t make it half way across the pool when I began to feel myself going under. Panic kicked in and I considered turning about, and going back. But even that was too far away. No choice but to move forward. But I knew I would never make it. Realization took over. Fear and panic was replaced with total peace, if not serenity. I knew I was going to die. Die on the Ganges, the river of death but also the river of renewed life. I had come to India to die.

But then, maybe thirty feet ahead of me, I saw my fixer stand up tall atop a sandbar. Just seeing him standing there filled me with renewed hope. Flapping my arms and kicking my feet, I made it to the other side, exhausted, my lungs straining and burning. But I was alive.

Later on I would write the third novel in my Chase Baker action/adventure series, Chase Baker and the God Boy, and I poured all my life-and-death experiences into it. Was the risk worth it? I think so. Readers can sense that I’m not only writing fiction, but that I’m writing fiction based on a specific reality. If you’re a writer, and wish to be considered the real deal, get out of the house for a while. No one ever wrote great prose by sitting on the couch all day and Googling your research. No one ever wrote great books without taking risks.


So there you have it. My risk assessment. It's funny because I'm not afraid of entering into a dangerous country, or a dangerous situation for that matter, where life and limb could be compromised. But you know what scares me the most? Or put another way, what gives me nightmares? Being married again. No joke. Lately, I've been having this vivid recurring nightmare, where I wake up inside my old house, with my ex-wife (the first one), and she's yelling at me. Screaming. And I'm like, How the hell did I get here? Then she even goes so far to tell me, You're not gonna get away so easily this time, jerk!...I get the cold sweats just writing this. I'd better go do something else, take my mind off the fear, before I reduce myself to a useless heap of rags and bones.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM


Friday, January 20, 2017

Revision

I've been hearing a lot of talk about the revision process lately. Some authors, especially independent ones, are talking up the fact that they don't revise much, if at all. They simply revise as they go. Of course this saves a ton of time and the authors are able to put out more work that way. And work is content and content is money. Or, as the old cliche goes, content is king.

As for me? I come from the old school which pretty much dictated that you spend an entire year, minimum, on a novel of say, 60K words. Never was this arduous process more apparent in writing school (I did my MFA in Writing at Vermont College in the mid-90's) where my writing profs would grill me on a manuscript and all too often I'd be forced to go back to the drawing board starting with word one. This proved an invaluable experience for a young fiction writer of 29 or 30 years old. There is no better schooling than having to take beating after beating yet still persevering when many others would simply pack it up and head out to law school.

For all I know, student enrollments in MFA programs could be down or for all I know they could be way up. Whatever the case, publishing a book is no longer an achievement or at times, a seemingly impossible achievement. It's more a matter of course. Taken a step further, authors have choices like never before. For instance, over the course of the next three years, I will have three books published traditionally in hard-cover. The books will be in all the bookstores, and the novels will receive the usual trade reviews (good or bad), and all will be well. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, I would have focused entirely on those three books and spent the in-between time doing something else, like freelance writing or teaching or even writing a short story or two. Hell, maybe I'd do nothing.

But now, I can publish those three books, sign another contract with yet a second publisher, and on top of that, put out any number of books, novellas and short stories under my own label, Bear Media. My choices at that point are thus: do I go exclusive to Amazon KDP or do I go wide with a distribution outlet like Draft2Digital? In the end, I usually do both.

Choices...as a full-time author, you gotta love them.

But this revision thing bothers me a little. I take my work seriously, and I only want my best work to be published, no matter what form that publishing takes. Sometimes this takes serious revision. Sure, I'm a fast writer, and very prolific, but I also take the time to revise. So much so that I've driven some of my publishers crazy by insisting the galley proofs be gone over again, and again, and again, even if it means pub dates must be extended (in one case I insisted a book be revised post-publication!). In any case, it could be that I publish too much material. One of my publishers recently told my agent that "Vince is over extending himself."

Whatever...

Writing is what I do. I do it fast. But not at the expense of the revision process. Listen up writers, your books will remain long after the worms have had their day. Make sure it's as good as you can make it.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM


Buy my new books. They rock....

THE ASHES   (For you horror fans)

THE CORRUPTIONS  (For you hard-boiled crime fans)