Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Death of the Indie Publisher is Upon Us





Not to be all doom and gloom lately folks, but now that 2019 is half over, it's become plainly obvious (or maybe I've just woken up to the sad reality), that what I once was able to count on as a steady, almost passive income from my indie books is rapidly eroding.

The big question is why.
The simple answer is ads (and this only one part of the answer, but for now, let's focus on this).

I've been using paid Amazon ads for a while now. I've also used Facebook and Book Bub ads. In fact, I just spent over $200 on a Facebook ad that ran just last week for maybe five days (don't tell the wife. Oh wait, I'm not married), and it hardly moved the needle. I'm not entirely sure what distinguishes a good ad from a bad ad, but if I had to guess, successful ads are the ones authors pour tons of money into (I'm talking thousands), as opposed to the ones authors put only hundreds or less into.

In other words, if you're not breaking the bank by upping your ad spend by thousands each month, your books are going to go unnoticed. My guess is that indie authors are also competing with ad budgets of medium and major publishers. For the first time in a long time, I'm beginning to think that what was once the savior of the fiction writing industry--the one thing that could provide an author with a steady income stream that would keep him writing for a living forever and ever, proved but a dream.

No way can I compete with the ad budgets of those who can afford to spend five, six, or even ten thousand per month on ads. Ain't gonna happen. I suppose I could invest in one of those $600 courses some authors are offering up for learning how to use Amazon Ads, but I can bet this will only serve to confuse me more. Besides, if an author is really doing that great with the ads, why go to the trouble of creating time consuming courses? Maybe the question answers itself.

So where does this leave me (us!)?

I guess I could go wide, and move all my indie books back over to Draft2Digital. I already have all my short stories there. But, lets face it, iBooks, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo, and the like don't have nearly the selling power of Amazon, even without the ads.

I could invest more in monthly promos like KND and Book Bub. I already spend hundreds per month on a marketing dude, and he does a great job getting me all sorts of promos. But even during a year where I've enjoyed several Book Bub promos, you can only go to the various wells so many times with your $0.99 promo books. You can only give away so many free books, and believe me, I've given away hundreds of thousands.

Maybe I could increase my subscriber list. I'm steadily doing this, but now Mailchimp is charging even for those who unsubscribe which is like tossing salt in the wound and then viscously pinching it.

I could write more books and just try to win the battle with the power of numbers. But producing a great book not only takes time it takes cash, and now that the return on investment for said book isn't half of what it was even three years ago, it's a speculative gamble at best.

Or, I could make a profound return to the traditional way of doing things, and once again rely on advances and the marketing prowess of a publisher. I'm already doing that, but rather than place a major portion of my energies on the indie side of things, I might concentrate more on the traditional. Like I said, I'll soon have news of a new deal in the making, and without that, I might be ready to pull my toe nails out.

2019 has definitely been a watershed year thus far for the indie publishing world. I predict thousands will drop out, hang it up, and look for work. Luckily, the economy is booming. Luckily I invest in Bitcoin!

I also predict many will once again go back to seeking out an agent who will hopefully nail a book deal or two. Personally, I'm going to stick to hybrid publishing, and continue trying to take advantage of both systems. I do this in the hope that eventually, things will change for the better. Hope is a four letter word, folks.

These are the times that try writer's nerves and separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls. Who's got staying power? Who will survive the storm? Methinks the casualties will be staggering.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
   
  

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Luck





Yup, I'm back at Blogger. I thought the change to Wordpress would be worth it, but it turns out most of my subscribers are present on this portal, and it's like starting all over again using a new platform. So there you have it.

I read an interesting blog recently by JA Konrath, arguably one of the pioneers of the indie movement. After selling millions of books he started taking on deals (or a deal anyway) with one of the Big Five pubs, and he sort of disappeared from not only the blogosphere but also from the indie publishing community altogether (I could be entirely wrong about this, and forgive me if I am, Joe, but that's the way it appeared to me). But recently he made a return with some very interesting blogs about the state of the industry including the state of his personal publishing career.

One of his pieces spoke about how he spent a full year working on a huge project which he sent out to some of the Big Five, plus a couple Amazon Publishing imprints (like me he's been pub'd by Thomas & Mercer a bunch of times). He was surprised to find all the pubs rejected his new project. He offered up logical reasons for why this happened, but it came as a shock to me. Here's a guy who was making upwards of $800K per year, until Kindle Unlimited tore into his profits in a big way. Still, he's allegedly moved more than 3mil books (no reason not to believe him), won some awards, done major book tours, has a huge following for both his blog and his fiction, and yet he gets rejected across the board. Huh?

It gave me pause, let me tell you. That's when I proceeded to another blog that talked about what it takes to actually make it as an indie author (as a hybrid author the rules also apply to me). According to Konrath, it's not paid advertising, or relying on "How to Become a Kindle Bestseller" books (the authors are "full of shit" he says, and I tend to believe him), or social media posts that get your books noticed and eventually purchased. These things help get the word out and therefor have their place, taken in moderation. But the key, aside from hard work, consistent output, talent, and focus on one series and one genre, is pure luck.

Take it from me folks when I tell you, Mr. Konrath is spot on. I've been lucky in my career, and I've been unlucky. Generally, the bad luck comes in long streaks, with occasional breakouts of good luck. That said, the bad luck is usually a direct response to a stupid decision or decisions on my part. For instance, the past couple of years I experimented with shorter books and novellas of which I'm proud. But readers don't want short reads. They want 60K words minimum. I also delved into taboo areas like erotic noir, and those projects stunk up the joint (although the reviews were rave). I was putting out books with a medium sized crime imprint also, but it became frustrating since those titles were competing with my own. I also parted with my long time agent, thinking a new slick outfit would be just the boost I needed to get back on track.

But it was all pretty much a disaster. Over the past two years I've seen my income cut in half if not worse. What's it all mean? Going back to what works (just like coming back to Blogger). By the grace of God, my agent took me back and already, we've been making deals, and making some money too. It never really dawned on me until recently, that my agent isn't just an agent, he's a manager. There's a big difference. I also made the commitment to write thrillers and only thrillers, both stand-alone and in my numerous PI series. If I'm experimenting with anything, it's my cyberpunk book, Primary Termination, which will be out soon. A new genre yes, but trust me when I tell you the book is pure Zandri thriller, nonetheless.

I've also decided to pick up some freelance work again...something I'd always enjoyed but got away from over the past couple years. Lastly, I'm not going to put out one book per month (even though I can pretty much write a book per month). Instead, I'm going to stagger my publications (the indie ones anyway), every two to three months. Taken altogether, this is turning out to be a far better year than than the three previous years. My goal (and as Joe points out, it's important to have goals, not reliance on hopes since you have no control over the latter), is to head back into six figure territory this year. Not an unrealistic goal by any means. Chip has already secured me a "nice" offer for a two book deal (more on this coming later), but we're waiting to see what the other interested pubs say. We've done some non-fiction stuff together, and we have solid movie interest in at least two of my projects. That's a huge step up from the big nothing of last year.

All this involves a lot of hard work, but it also involves luck. I was smart to make the adjustment back to what works. I was lucky I realized it before it was too late.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM





  

     

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Vincent Zandri Vox Site has changed addresses

Hey guys and gals, I'm shutting down the Google Blogger version of the Vincent Zandri Vox starting today and switching over to a work-in-progress Wordpress site...same great content, fun and games, but new formatting and a fresh look. So please, subscribe to the new site!!!

https://vincentzandri.wordpress.com/2019/03/25/primary-termination-chap-9-the-love-scene/

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Chapter 8 of Primary Termination:True love never dies...

"What the hell is it about true love that it refuses to go away?"

That's a direct quote from the latest installment of Primary Termination. Yeah sure, true love never dies is more or less a cliche nowadays, but when Tanya and bestselling Cradle author, Tony Smart, hook up for an Everest Starbucks coffee date...their first face to face in over 20 years...Tanya realizes just how much she still loves her ex. Or put another way, she realizes how much she never stopped loving him. 

But their little idyllic encounter is about to be shattered when Matt with two Ts, re-enters the picture. 

I give you Primary Termination Chapter 8 (Note: I'm probably gonna break this up into two chapters during final edits. So consider this long piece a real gift!)




8

Jogging the remainder of the three mile campus, I can’t help but mull over how this total stranger knows that I’ve just become an Everest Primary Program member. He’s never met me before. He doesn’t even know my last name, or where I live. I mean, he doesn’t even know my credit score, which by now should be near perfect. That is, if Everest kept their promise and wiped out my credit card debt immediately upon my signing on the dotted line…electronically, that is.
I come to the edge of the campus, where it meets the road that separates it from the park and my old neighborhood. Gazing both ways, I cross the road and enter into the park where I try to push out one-hundred pushups and an equal amount of crunches. By the time I’ve finished with the calisthenics portion of my routine, I am sufficiently drenched in sweat and I’m breathing hard. But I feel damn good. I feel fit and confident. What I also feel is a little weirded out by my new jogging partner.
Matt with two Ts.
Taking one last gaze at the massive State campus, I half expect to see Matt jogging towards me. But luck is on my side and he’s nowhere to be seen. I head out of the park then, and speed walk my way back to my folk’s house. Just prior to hopping in the shower, I notice that time is getting tight. Why does washing my hair and shaving my legs have to take so long?
When I head back into my bedroom, I notice a surprise for me laid out on the bed. It’s my new underwear. A lacy black pushup bra and matching thong undies. Frankly I’d rather where boy’s boxer shorts than be forced into wearing a piece of elastic material that rides up my butt crack all day. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, am I right?
“Thanks, mom!” I shout.
“Don’t mention it, honey,” she calls out from down in the living room. “Oh, and I love it when you part your hair neatly over our left eye. Makes you look smart, confident, and gorgeous.” 
“Thanks again, mom,” I say. “Do you want to pick out my clothes for me too?”
I can hear her laughing.
“I’m sure you can do a better job than I ever could, sweetie. And if you wish to purchase new clothing, I’m sure Jacquie would be only too happy to assist.”
“I can certainly be of help in providing you with a more than satisfactory online shopping experience, Tanya.”
“Thanks Jacquie,” I say. “But I’ll make due for now with my present wardrobe.”
I choose a short, brown, summer-weight dress with a V-neck top that shows off the perfect amount of cleavage. For footwear, you can’t beat gladiator sandals. Naturally the entire outfit was purchased from Everest.com back when I was still living in the city. Drying my hair in the mirror, I then part it on the side over my left eye, just like mom suggested. 
“Here’s hoping Tony likes the smart look,” I whisper. “Get it?”
“If you are referring to Tony Smart, bestselling Everest Cradle author,” Jacquie says, “he has dated women in the past who have worn their hair straight and parted on the side. The many photos in his Facebook account prove it. I hope this answers your question satisfactorily, Tanya.”
Unbelievable…
“Yes, thanks, Jacquie.” Then, my curious mind spinning. “Jacquie, without my having to look at it, what’s Tony’s Facebook relationship status?”
Jacquie takes a silent moment to retrieve the information.
Then, “It says, ‘In a relationship.’ I hope I’ve given you a satisfactory answer.”
My stomach drops to somewhere around my ankles. I also feel the pangs of real anger poking at my stomach lining. If the asshole is in a relationship, then why is he so desperate to see me? Or wait just a minute. Maybe he’s not all that desperate to see me. Maybe he truly just wants to get together to catch up and reminisce about old times. I guess I should go over his Everest Facebook page again on my own. But I absolutely hate Facebook now that it’s turned into a surrogate advertising platform for the Everest Corp.
My phone chimes and vibrates. Taking hold of it, I glance at the screen. It’s a new text from Tony. I open it.
Just arrived, he texts.
Glance at my watch. Holy crap, it’s three minutes till ten already. I forgot how punctual Tony Smart is, and how pathologically late I always am.
On way, I text back. Running ten min late
Then I add a frown faced emoji to it.
“Crap, crap, crap,” I whisper. 
Tony responds. No worries. I brought my laptop. I can write while I wait.
Cool, the daily word count…something to keep him occupied…
Pulling off my towel, I slip into my new underwear. The bra feels great and I must admit, it does wonders for my boobs. The thong is a little snug and it feels like there’s something caught inside my ass, precisely because there is. So why am I going through all this if Tony is in a relationship? What the hell, I promised to meet him for coffee and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. 
Throwing on my dress, I then slip some silver bracelets on my left wrist and a matching bird pendent over my neck. A small splash of Chanel No. 5 and I’m ready to go. Racing down the stairs, my mom is already waiting for me with the keys to her three year old black Volkswagen convertible in her hand.
“Don’t speed and please make sure to take care of my car,” she says. “It’s all paid for, finally, now that I joined Everest Primary.”
I grab the keys with one hand, open the front door with the other.
“Don’t be late,” dad says, from the kitchen, a fresh cup of coffee in his hand. He adds a “Haha” after a he says it.   
“Actually, darling,” mom says, “you have the car for all day and all night if you wish.”
I can’t help but laugh.
“Jesus, dad,” I say, “was mom this pushy with you when you were young?”
He smiles.
“You have no idea,” he says. “She had her diamond picked out after the first date.”
“Second date,” she says. “And hey, life is short. Why waste precious time?”
“Well I’m not married,” I say, just to be difficult. “And I like not being married.”
Closing the door behind me, I head down the steps to the street and mom’s parked car.

Even though I’m desperately late, I steal two more minutes to put the top down on the Volkswagen. It’s a beautiful day and so what if Tony has to wait a little longer. He’s in a relationship. What difference does it make if I’m not quite on time? Pulling away from the curb it suddenly dawns on me that I haven’t driven a car in a while. I’ve only been home for a couple of days and thus far, I haven’t had a reason to take the car out. In New York City, you just don’t drive. Not with tens of millions people vying for every square inch of space on both the sidewalk and the road.
The morning sun feels good on my face while the cool breeze whips though my hair. The air smells sweet. The smell is not success necessarily, but it is freedom. Maybe I’m still experiencing the high from having run three miles, but I haven’t felt this good in a long time.
“Thanks Everest dot com!” I say aloud, as if it helps me to believe it.
Tony and I haven’t been in a relationship in over twenty years. One entire generation has been born and raised since then. No reason why I can’t be a mature adult, enjoy a coffee with him, a couple of laughs and then politely and confidently be on my way. All it will take is a little strength on my part to pull it off. Like I said, I still love Tony, even if I have gotten over him. Or mostly gotten over him anyway. After we broke up, we went on to live very separate lives in the same industry. But separate all the same.
I went on to writing school as did Tony, and became a writer myself, and then a powerhouse editor. Tony in turn become a New York Times bestselling author, never mind my rejections. He was also famous for something else. He was one of the first authors to refuse a major contract from a major New York City publishing house in order to publish with Everest’s Cradle Direct Publishing Program.
That one, very radical move shook the very core of the New York City publishing establishment, and to this day, I recall thinking that the days of the New York City publishers being king of the hill were most definitely over. Leave it up to the maverick, Tony Smart, to make it happen. I remember reading news of Tony’s decision in Publishers Weekly, and smiled wryly to myself. I couldn’t help but wonder if Tony knew how much his decision would burn me up personally.
In all my years (decades) as an editor, I never did run into him at a writer’s conference, or a reading, or an event. That’s probably because I always avoided him like the plague. If I knew we were both attending a festival like ThrillerFest for instance, I would make sure I stayed away from the hotel bar and for God’s sakes, I would stay away from his panel discussions while he would avoid mine. Far as I know, we never once so much as passed by one another in the corridor or while trying to catch an elevator. Later on, when he stopped working with the publishers altogether, avoiding him was easy since he rarely attended the conferences anymore. Instead, he was home, back up in Albany, writing his books exclusively for Everest.com and making a killing at it.

I pull into the new Everest strip mall that houses the coffee shop. Oh Christ, there’s Tony seated at a table outside. Suddenly Miss Free, Confident, and Strong feels a brick lodge in her stomach. Sweat breaks out on my forehead, and my palms go cold and sweaty. I think I’m gonna throw up. Throw up and feint. Could I be any more of a mess?
“Get your shit together, girl,” I whisper to myself. “It’s only Tony. You went to high school with Tony. You didn’t marry him and/or have his child. You can handle this. What the hell is this, a scene out of that old movie, Bridgette Jones’s Diary?”
Parking the car, I get out. I steal a breath so deep, I grow dizzy.
Dear God do not allow me to pass out in the parking lot…
 I take a step forward and another, and begin my very short, but what feels like a forever journey towards my first love, Tony Smart.

I enter into the outdoor terrace an Everest Starbucks that’s furnished with metal tables and chairs. Tony spots me and waves. The wave feels like a punch to the gut. He’s smiling, and even from a distance of twenty feet, I can see that he’s just as handsome and put together as ever.
Fuck me…
Planting the sweetest smile on my face I can possibly muster, I make my way to the table, hoping to God he can’t tell that I’m trembling. Like a gentleman, he stands. Not only does he stand, he comes around the little table, gives me a hug and a quick peck on the cheek. Damnit if he doesn’t feel good and smell good. Now I’m not only trembling, I feel like my skin is about to melt off my bones.
We both sit down.
“You’re blushing, Taya Not So Smart,” he says.
“Go right for the jugular, why don’t you?” I say. “I haven’t spoken to you in more than twenty years, and you start right in.”
He laughs. “You know me.”
“I do?”
Set before him is his laptop. Set beside that is his smartphone. Set beside that is a cup of coffee. He’s got his whole mobile desk set up. This morning he’s wearing a denim button-down that’s unbuttoned enough to show off a little chest hair and pecs that still don’t fail to impress. Obviously he’s been hitting the gym per usual. His hair is admittedly receding and it’s cut fairly short, but it somehow makes him look more distinguished and mature. He’s wears black, rectangular rimmed eyeglasses now. They only add to the air of maturity that seems to surround him. He hasn’t shaved in a few days. Maybe a full week, and the scruff is sexy as hell.
Ok, Everest.com and Jacquie, thanks for the new underwear delivery, because I’d like to ravage Tony right on the spot…How’s that for jumping right back in?
 He stands, comes around the table.
“Let me guess,” he says. “Black, just a splash of milk.”
“No milk,” I say. “I like mine black and don’t say it, Tony Smart ass.”
Another laugh. He is truly happy to see me. Or so it seems.
“Be right back,” he says. “And no peaking at what I’m writing. Not that you care, Ms. Acquisitions Editor.”
“Former Ms. Acquisitions Editor.”  
He heads into the coffee shop and leaves me alone for a much deserved breath of fresh air and the chance to compose myself. What the hell is it about true love that it refuses to go away? I’ve had plenty of boyfriends over the years. A couple were married at the time. Some were poor, some were rich, some were younger and a lot of them older. I even saw a girl for a while during my senior year in college. Nothing serious, but curiosity got the best of me, and it was some of the most fun I’d ever had in bed with another person. Okay, the wine, the pot, and the ecstasy helped.
In all of these cases, I might have been merely in like with that person. In other cases, I might have been in love. But in none-of-the-above did I actually come to truly love that person. I merely fell in love. There’s a distinct difference. When you’re in love, it wears off, sometimes quickly, sometimes not so quickly. But in the end, it goes away and you’re no longer interested.
But when you love somebody, the way I loved Tony and still do, it never goes away. You can fight it, you can ignore it, you can pretend it doesn’t exist. Most of all, you can separate yourself from the source of that love by eradicating him or her from your life entirely. But then, all it takes is the mere mention of his name, or a quick glance at his photo on the internet, or like now, seeing him right up close and personal, and you’re right back in the shit. You’re no further away from the love than you were the day he walked out on you. That kind of love is an affliction, not a blessing. It is the worst luck any human being can have.
I am a forty-something grown woman and I have loved only once in my life. He is presently buying me a coffee and delivering it to the first table we have shared in more than twenty years. So why do I feel like crying? If I need to explain it all again, you haven’t been paying attention.
I need something to distract me from all the emotions that are swimming through my veins or I’ll just lose it and fall apart even before my coffee arrives. Tony’s laptop. Glancing over both shoulders, I spin it around just enough to get a look at what he’s writing.
I discover the decapitated head under the floorboards of a newly installed, twenty-first century, modern appliance-equipped, eat-in kitchen. The floorboards…and they are expensive floorboards…belong to a vinyl-sided raised ranch nestled inside a brand spanking new housing development that was once the home to a postcard perfect Christmas tree farm. The head belongs to a woman. A woman of maybe forty. Blonde hair (natural, as far as I can tell), blue eyes that gaze up at us, her pretty mouth slightly ajar, her pink tongue sticking out slightly from between two thick, if not sultry lips.
Quickly turning the laptop back around, I consciously try to place it in the exact position it was in before Tony left to buy me a coffee. A decapitated head discovered under the floorboards of a kitchen, uncovered by his most famous private investigator, Dick Moonlight.
I recall ten years ago when Tony sent me the first manuscript in the mystery series and I rejected it outright without even reading it. It was eventually picked up by a major house in a mid-six-figures deal. It was the talk of the town and I was called into the corporate office and asked why on earth I allowed such a talent to, and I quote, “slip through my fingers,” end quote. I guess I could have told the panel of four women and two young men the truth. That I had lost my virginity to said talent. But instead I lied and told them the story didn’t speak to me. So there, bitches! Months later, I moved on to another house anyway, so no skin off my little behind.
But Tony went on to publish more and more Moonlight novels (plus a bunch of psychological suspense stand-alones) until he shocked the entire publishing community by refusing a mega deal to strike out on his own independent, Everest.com publishing crusade.
“So what did you think?” Tony asks.
His sudden reappearance nearly scares the thong off of me.
“Whatever are you talking about, Tony?” I say in a faux British accent. Something we used to do as kids.
He sets my coffee in front of me, and sits back down in front of his laptop.
“Because you don’t tell a writer-slash-editor of your caliber to not look at a piece of writing and expect her to obey orders.”
I gaze into his big brown puppy dog eyes.
“Snagged,” I say. “So you’re still writing about Detective Moonlight.”
He cocks his head over his shoulder, purses his lips.
“Gotta give the people what they want, Tan.”
“Now isn’t that pretty much the Everest Corp.’s mantra?”
He laughs. I sip some of the still too hot coffee.
“I guess you’re right,” he nods. “I’m officially part of the machine. The more content I write, the more my fans gobble it up. You gotta feed the beast, or else. When I first started in the publishing business, I wrote one book per year because that’s all the publishers could handle. Now I find myself writing one book per month. It’s totally crazy.”
“Feed the beast or else, Tony,” I repeat for emphasis (it’s the editor in me).
“The money is good,” he says, while gently closing the lid on his laptop. “Or the Everest credits I should say.”
“And you’ve become an Everest Primary member?”
“Like I said,” he says. “I’m a writer. Royalties are steady, but up and sometimes way too down at the same time. Primary Membership means I have a steady, guaranteed, stress free income.”
He smiles like he’s super proud of himself and super stoked he can write what he wants, when he wants, and not have to worry about if it sells or not.
“Seems tailor made for people like us,” I say.
I attempt to smile, but I for some reason, I find it difficult.
“And you, Tan?”
“Last night,” I admit. “I’m now debt free and no longer have to worry about finding an editing job that doesn’t exist at a publishing house that also no longer exists in an industry that no longer exists.”
I sip some more coffee. It’s cooler now and the caffeine is already packing a punch. Across the street from the strip mall is a huge plant that once housed the Albany Times Union Newspaper. It had a run of something like 150 years before it was finally put out of its misery by Everest.com’s Cradle News Service, and after the corporation bought out every major print news producer in the business, including Hearst Media. To add insult to injury, the former newspaper plant has now been transformed into an Everest Fulfillment Center.
“Now you can be that great writer you always wanted to be, Tan,” he says. “You’ve got talent. I’ve seen it.”
I nod, bite down on my bottom lip.
“I just might do that, Tony. Finally get down to writing my novel. I think I’ll make it a rom com and call it, In a Relationship.”
Silence. He scrunches his brow, shoots me a perplexed look.
“I don’t get it,” he says guiltily. Or maybe what I perceive as guiltily.
I can’t help but smile. “Isn’t that what your status is these days? In a relationship?”
“Oh that,” he says. “You got me. Facebook, right?”
“Yup,” I say.
“I divorced a couple of years ago,” he says. “My wife, Lori, and I still get along fine, and we have a daughter together. She’s ten. They live in Boston with my ex’s new husband. I see Claudia on holidays and the occasional weekend much to her dismay because she’s not very thrilled with me, seeing as I spend all my emotional time on my writing.” He makes air quotes when says ‘my writing.’ “Lori’s husband, Bruce, is a wealthy Everest corporate lawyer and a total…fucking…dick, if you don’t mind my saying so.” He smiles broadly. “All is well with their world.”
“And you’ve since found someone else,” I push.
He shakes his head.
“I’ve had the occasional girlfriend and fling since then.” Shaking his head. “But nothing that qualifies as a relationship, I’m afraid.” Then, wide eyed. “Wait, why should I say I’m afraid? Actually, I’ve enjoyed not being in a relationship. There’s something to be said about getting out of bed on any given morning, and not getting a dirty look or the cold shoulder from the wife because maybe she had a bad dream about you during the night.”
Now I’m shaking my head.
“I don’t get it,” I say. “Then why state your status as hooked up?”
“Maybe I’m not ready for a relationship right now. Or put another way, maybe I haven’t been ready for the past couple years, but now I am. You could say I’m as fresh and virginal as the season’s first snowfall.”
Suddenly, what seemed an impossible dream just moments ago, now looks entirely promising.
Easy, Tanya, don’t go getting your hopes up. Have a nice chat with the old squeeze and leave it that…
“The season’s first snow fall, Tony. Wow, this is a rom com.”
Stealing a quick look around the parking lot, I gaze at the people coming and going from the many stores, especially the Everest brick and mortar bookstore. When I was a kid the bookstore was an independently run shop called The Book Nook. Not anymore.
“But what about you, Tan?” he asks. “Why haven’t you gotten married and had six kids by now?”
I shrug my shoulders, gaze back out into the busy parking lot like it helps me to think.
“I guess I never had time,” I say. “Plus, no one interested me that much, I guess.”
Tony grins.
“Once you’ve had the best…”
“Oh my God, you are still such a narcissist,” I say. “No wonder your wife and kid left you.”
“That’s not nice,” he says, pretending to be hurt. “And by the way, while we’re on the subject of rejection…thanks for all those form rejections throughout the years.”
I cross my arms over my chest.
“Had to bring it up, didn’t ya?”
He drinks more coffee, then sits back in his chair, crosses his own arms over his chest.
“Bet you didn’t even read the manuscripts,” he says. “Maybe you thought you might show up in one or two of them.”
“Crossed my mind, I must admit,” I say. “But full disclosure, ex-lover and bestseller, did you really expect me to take on one of your books when my heart was still broken in all the wrong places?”
Nodding slowly.
“I get it,” he says. “But I think deep down, I’d always hoped we could at least work together.”
I drink more coffee, set the cup back down.
“Well now it doesn’t matter anymore,” I say. “The days of big publishing are caput.”
“And here we sit, Tanya,” he says.
Reaching out over the table, he takes hold of my hand, squeezes it.
“I’ve really missed you,” he says, his eyes gazing intently into my eyes. “I mean that with all my heart.”
Talk about getting hit with a bombshell. I feel my hand in his, and the last thing I want to do is remove it. If it were to remain glued to his hand forever, that would be fine by me. But what am I supposed to do? Just melt back into him like twenty some odd years haven’t gone by? My eyes fill up. Damn, if I’m not already embarrassed, now I’m really feeling mortified. Making matters worse, the hand he’s holding is shaking. Now’s the time to take the hand back, which I do.
“Sorry, Tanya,” he says. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Wiping both eyes with the back of my hand.
“I really wanted to make it look like I no longer cared, Tony,” I say, after a beat. “Like twenty years has enabled me to build a solid concrete wall between us. But for some reason, I think all twenty-plus years has managed to do is make me miss you all the more.”
He exhales. “Would it help if I said the same thing, Tan? That I’ve spent a lot of that time missing you too?”
“You got married for God’s sakes.”
“I got married. I thought I could move on. Turns out, I couldn’t.”
We just sit there, staring not at one another’s faces, but into them.
“So what now?” I ask. “We just pick up where we left off as kids?”
He runs his hand over his short hair, like it somehow helps him come up with the perfect response.
“That’s not quite realistic, I guess,” he says. “People change and we really don’t know one another anymore.”
“Yah,” I say, “for all you know, I’ve had a sex change. That would be a surprise, now wouldn’t it?”
“Tanya with a big Johnson,” he says. “Not there’s some instant shrinkage for you.”
We both laugh out loud, and it helps to relieve the tension. I drink some more coffee. It’s getting cold now. I see him then, out the corner of my eye. A tall, solid man dressed in black pants and a black t-shirt. He’s got dark aviator sunglasses masking his eyes. I’m pretty sure he’s the same man who caught up with me while I was jogging in the State campus. My stomach tightens and my pulse noticeably picks up.
“Earth to Tanya,” Tony says. “You look like you just saw your own ghost.”
The man in black is standing in the lot, his gaze locked on me. It’s giving me a real case of the chills. What’s his name again? Matt with two Ts?
“Don’t look now, Tony,” I say, “but there’s a man staring at me.”
“Can’t say I blame him. You’re looking mighty hot these days, Tan.”
Shaking my head. “No, I don’t mean he’s staring at me like that. He’s someone I’ve met already.”
“How?”
“I met him when I was jogging this morning. He seemed to be waiting for me. He started asking me all sorts of questions. If I jogged the same route every day, stuff like that.”
“Ok, you’re creeping me out. You want I should have a little talk with him?” He starts getting up and out of his chair.
“No, no,” I say. “I don’t think that’s necessary, Tony. He works for the Everest Corp.”
“Who doesn’t?”
“But I get the feeling he’s like a corporate guy, like your ex’s new husband. He works in the New York State Everest Corp. headquarters.”
As I say this, the man in black starts across the road towards the coffee shop.
“His name is Matt, with two Ts,” I say, “and here he fucking comes now.”

He stands up against the decorative metal fencing that separates the exterior terrace with the road and the parking lot beyond it. Removing his sunglasses, he smiles, but it’s not like a real smile. More like the kind of smile a fake Chuckie ventriloquist’s doll might make. How, as a writer, should I describe it? It’s an evil smile. Or perhaps that’s just the defensive me being on guard.
“So what are the chances of my running into you twice on the same Sunday?” he says. Then, gazing at Tony. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything, buddy.”
I make a point of not saying hello to him. Instead I politely offer, “Tony this is Matt. Matt meet Tony Smart.”
Matt holds his hand out like, Put ‘er there.
“Pleased to meet you, Tony Smart,” he says. “You look somewhat familiar to me.”
“Tony is a number one, bestselling Cradle author,” I point out. “Before that, he was a New York Times and a USA Today bestseller. Before Everest procured the papers.”
Matt pretends to be impressed.
“I’m never short of amazed at the success, freedom, and control our authors have enjoyed in the CDP program,” he says. “So that must be where I know you from.”
“Matt is an Everest executive,” I explain to Tony, even though I’ve already volunteered this information in private.
“Guess that makes you my boss, sort of,” Tony says.
Matt issues a fake laugh to go with the fake smile.
“Not at all, friend,” he says. “The point is that you are your own boss, Tony. We’re just here to help you succeed at creating a passive income empire while offering a more than satisfactory, worry free, consumer-centric online shopping experience for our customers. And if you, like Tanya here, has joined the Everest Primary Program, than your Everest credit income potential can know no bounds. Just make sure to shop for goods and services only with Everest and you can enjoy a carefree lifestyle humankind has never before experienced. Consider it nirvana on earth.”
Is this guy for real? I stare into his beady gray eyes, his black stubble-covered long face, his receding closely cropped hair, and I want to punch his lights out. It’s not that there’s something about him I just don’t like. It’s more like I just don’t trust him. He’s like a man who will be nice to you one minute, then wait in the shadows for you the next and physically go berserk on you when you least expect it. A real pathological case. Of course, I could be wrong. But Albany isn’t all that small, so why does he give me the feeling he’s following me?
“Well, it was nice seeing you again, Tanya,” he says. “Maybe I’ll see you hitting the bricks tomorrow. I’m gonna head over to the bookstore and see if I can’t find a couple of your books, Tony Smart.”
“Gee, thanks,” Tony says.
“Don’t mention it,” he says.
Turning, he gives me another quick look over his shoulder that makes my stomach queasy. It’s a look that says, I’m watching you.
“Jesus,” Tony says. “What the hell was that all about?”
“You mind if we get out of here?” I say.
“Not at all,” he says. “Why don’t we head to my apartment? I can fix us some lunch and we can talk more there.”
For long beat, we stare into one another’s eyes. The two of us alone in his apartment. Now that can’t lead anywhere, can it?
I clear the major frog from my throat.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” I say.
Following Tony out to the parking lot, I suddenly realize I might need mom’s car all day and all night after all.
 

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