Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Social Media Balancing Act: Author Bri Clark Chimes In!

So I'm always either being applauded or spanked for utilizing social media for selling my novels like The Remains or The Innocent (see how I just did that?) But then, how else can one get the word out about one's new book? Rather, what better, more efficient medium is there to help spread the word? Yet authors who utilize this all important if not miraculous tool must realize that specific written and unwritten rules of engagement must be adhered to. Or else, you're nothing more than a spamaholic.

It is with this marriage of marketing and internet magic that I give you a guest post by up and coming writer, Bri Clark.

Bri or, Brick, is a young (not even 30 young), talented, energetic, new author. Wife, Mom, businesswoman, former repo chick, advice giver, and all around literary tyro, there's pretty much nothing she can't do. She hails from Boise, Idaho. That's right, Boise, which these days is emerging to be the new literary Paris or maybe New York of the early 21st century. Maybe the aforementioned destinations still reign as a romantic ideal, but consider this: in Boise you can purchase a three bedroom house with some land and a majestic mountain backdrop for less than the price of renting a space in a parking garage for your Beemer in Manhattan. No wonder writers are flocking there in droves. But then, I've been ordered not to tell anyone about "the secret!" Oops, cats our of the bag so to speak.

Bri has books coming out from both StoneHouse Ink and Astrea Press and promises a brilliant literary future. She's also got her finger on the social marketing pulse as demonstrated by the following guest blog (P.S. The Golden Girl Pic was her idea!):


How do you find a balance between being social and genuine when having dual interests in social media?

The same way the women of Steel Magnolias balanced gossip and friendship.


Now I don't really have the answer to this...although I am very good at gossip...any reputable southern belle is.



Here are some experiences and examples of how I have balanced my established relationships with my budding fan base of supporters.

1. Interest--I glance at links and post as time allows. I read blogs, skim comments and respond as I feel compelled to. I absolutely do not care about football of any kind...yet here I am in the heart of Bronco nation. One of my closest online friends is a total NY Giants fan and when they are having a bad game I can't even talk to them. While I empathize with their frustration I have no interest in football therefore I won't fake it.

2. Reciprocation-- If I read something I feel that is worthwhile or interesting I will retweet it or post a link or email a link to those that I think would appreciate it. In exchange my friends do the same for me. However, I have never asked someone to repost something of mine. That should be their own desire.

3.Manners-- I am often asked to comment or give feedback on stuff that people send me links to...poems, blogs, and novels. There are times that I am not really into what they have done. However, that could only be me. I have always found something positive to say about all those works so far. Even if they say brutal honesty....noone really wants that kind of truth unless its from someone close or a professional...even then you tread lightly.
4.Boundaries--Most of this information pertains to facebook...I do have pictures of my children and my family on my page. However on my blog I don't use my family's real names. I use nicknames. I feel like I will probably end up setting up a separate fan page for my stuff. For now I will stick to the one page.I do not post deeply personal thoughts or feelings...there is a message feature or just plain email for that. There are customizable features that you can use in privacy settings on most websites. And lets just tell it how it is people....Common sense....use it...if you don't have it I'm sure there is a book on it...read it.

So these are a few of my own personal experiences and feelings on the whole social media network. We all love gossip, humor and scandal...when it comes down to real people and their struggles great or small like the ladies of Steel Magnolias we in the publishing industry are there for each other.

Well so far in my experiences...
Bri


Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Innocent is Released!!! Oh How Sweet it Is!!!!






It's been ten years since the publication of my first major thriller, As Catch Can. Back then it was called, The Innocent, but the publisher decided to change the title at the last minute since a sister publisher had an author with the same title, and the editor was very afraid the Bertlesman boys might leave a severed horse head in his bed one night if he were to put out a novel with the same title. So it was changed to As Catch Can.

Now, I'm not complaining. I actually like the title, for a jazz standard. But for a book, it's a tough one to remember. That is, unless you add the "Catch" to it, as in "Catch As Catch Can," which is most definitely not the title. When asked the title of my new novel and I'd respond, "As Catch Can, most people would peer at me quizically, and with upturned brows respond, "Say what?"

So now here we are ten years later. As Catch Can which received awesome reviews from the New York Post, The Boston Herold, etc. and authors like Harlan Coben (see below) and was translated into several languages, was quickly pulled off the B&N front shelves after 6 weeks to make room for something else. That's how the big monster bookstores work (what a joy it will be to see them crash and burn!) It also was remaindered within a years and half of its original pub date. In other words, dear reader, it was never given a chance (and here the pub was cutting checks for a quarter of a million bucks for me. You explain the logic!)

Now, with the advent of the new indy publishing, EBooks, Kindle and the new digital age and my new awesome publishers, StoneHouse Ink and StoneGate Ink, As Catch Can or, The Innocent, is alive and well again, and destined to become a bestseller. Some fans still think of it as my best book. Even DreamWorks thought so when they gave it three reads in anticipation of purchasing the movie rights. Too bad my agent at the time was on crack and busy writing his own novel and negotiating his own deals with Holywood.

Ok, time to let go of the past and embrace the now and the present. I hope you dig The Innocent as much as I dug writing it!!!!

To order click on the word "Catch!"

Accolades and Sling Blades:


It's been a year since Jack Marconi's wife was killed. Ever since, he's been slipping up at his job as warden at an upstate New York prison. It makes him the perfect patsy when a cop-killer breaks out--with the help of someone on the inside. Throwing himself into the hunt for the fleeing con, Jack doesn't see what's coming.

Suddenly the walls are closing in. And in the next twenty-four hours, Jack will defy direct orders, tamper with evidence, kidnap the con's girlfriend--and run from the law with a .45 hidden beneath his sports coat. Because Jack Marconi, keeper of laws, men, secrets, and memories, has been set up--by a conspiracy that has turned everyone he ever trusted into an enemy. And everything he ever believed in into the worst kind of lie.

Reviews for "The Innocent" (formally, As Catch Can)

"If you want a novel that runs wild like a caged beast let loose, Zandri is the man."
--(Albany)

"Sensational...masterful...brilliant."
--New York Post

"Probably the most arresting first crime novel to break into print this season."
--Boston Herald

"A thriller that has depth and substance, wickedness and compassion."
--The Times-Union (Albany)

"Vincent Zandri explodes onto the scene with the debut thriller of the year. As Catch Can is gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting. Don't miss it."
--Harlan Coben, author of The Final Detail

"A Satisfying Yarn."
--Chicago Tribune
"Compelling...As Catch Can pulls you in with rat-a-tat prose, kinetic pacing...characters are authentic, and the punchy dialogue rings true. Zandri's staccato prose moves As Catch Can at a steady, suspenseful pace."
--Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"Exciting...An Engrossing Thriller...the descriptions of life behind bars will stand your hair on end."
--Rocky Mountain News

"Readers will be held captive by prose that pounds as steadily as an elevated pulse... Vincent Zandri nails readers' attention."
--Boston Herald

"A smoking gun of a debut novel. The rough and tumble pages turn quicker than men turn on each other."
--Albany Times-Union

Please turn the page for more extraordinary acclaim...

"The story line is non-stop action and the flashback to Attica is eerily brilliant. If this debut is any indication of his work, readers will demand a lifetime sentence of novels by Vincent Zandri."
--I Love a Mystery

"A tough-minded, involving novel...Zandri writes strong prose that rarely strains for effect, and some of his scenes...achieve a powerful hallucinatory horror."
--Publishers Weekly

"A classic detective tale."
--The Record (Troy, NY)

"[Zandri] demonstrates an uncanny knack for exposition, introducing new characters and narrative possibilities with the confidence of an old pro....Zandri does a superb job creating interlocking puzzle pieces."
--San Diego Union-Tribune

"This is a tough, stylish, heartbreaking car accident of a book: You don't want to look but you can't look away. Zandri's a terrific writer and he tells a terrific story."
--Don Winslow, author of The Death and Life of Bobby Z

"Satisfying."
--Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bestselling Thriller Author Jason McIntyre Speaks Out about Suspense




My great white north bro, Jason McIntyre, is a young thriller novelist who not only knows how to keep the thrill in thriller, he also writes some of the most beautiful sentences being published today.

Reminiscent of Michael Connelly on literary steroids, the dedicated Indy author has greedily occupied the number 1 Spot on the Smashwords Thriller Bestseller's List with his debut novel, On The Gathering Storm, since it was released this past summer. This is the story of a young, beautiful adventurer and photographer, Hannah Gerretty, who makes her way to a secluded island paradise to live the romantic bohemian life, only to find herself lost inside an impenetrable forest, and the target of the worst kind of evil. This is not the kind of story you start at ten o'clock at night. That is you want to get any sleep at all!

McIntyre is a literary thriller writer who is not afraid to utilize the accurate metaphor and imagery that only a photographer who thinks like a photographer, can invent. From the novel's opening pages:

Hannah Garretty sees things. She’s always seen things. She’s a photographer and a good one too, so she sees regular, everyday things in a different way than most. But this is different. Tiny stolen moments like these are more than creative vision, more than simple daydreams. What Hannah sees are glossy postcards of the Yet to Come, held before her mind’s eye for a fraction of a second, then yanked from view without reason and never seen again. But they stay with her, these fraction-grasps of second sight, like the bloody spot burned on a retina after staring right at the sun: not a perfect reproduction, but a blurry and pale recording of the original.


So how does the master manage to invent nail biting suspense? He is kind enough to reveal some of his trade secrets to us with this brand new blog that pays homage to another lit-thriller great who bears the last name of King and who reigns as one as well. In the thriller world that is. That said, I present to you my guest, the distinguished bestselling author, Jason McIntyre:

A Non-Genre Writer's Look at Suspense
Jason McIntyre

Years ago, a film-maker friend of mine told me he wanted to try something radically different with his next project: he wanted to shoot a story that had absolutely no conflict.

He told me he didn't want to have a boy-meets-girl-then-loses-girl-love-story or a man-robs-bank-to-provide-for-his-family morality play or anything else that showed person A coming up against person B or obstacle C or life-changing circumstance D.

I thought about it for a bit, concluding that it definitely would have been unique among popular films at the time, but also would have been maddeningly boring. It might have made a somewhat interesting, avant garde music video done the right way, but it most assuredly wouldn't be a story. Conflict, and by association, suspense, is the very core of a good story. Without it, there is nothing to read, view or listen to that has any real value.

And, it doesn't really matter whether your medium is film, music or literature, holding the audience in your hand and doling out to them enough to keep them glued to your tale, but not so much that they're walking away, is the true test of a good bit of storytelling…and my definition of suspense.

You can write in a horror or suspense genre or you can be entrenched in serious drama, but if you're doing it right, there will always be some level of suspension. Your words are the bridge from the beginning of the story to the other side of a great chasm. How you use them keeps the bridge from falling and the reader held aloft, far above the churning waters, but close enough to feel the spray when it white waters crash on the rocks. The danger of falling needs to always be present, even if it's not a dangerous kind of story -- even if it's only a story about two lovers who are twenty years apart in age.

There, that's suspense. It might not be huge, or life-threatening, but everyone in the room can put up their hand and say that they could foresee some difficulty in that: a man in his twenties, a woman in her forties, the two of them still mad with passion for each other. Roll cameras. And. Action!

I look at suspense in fiction and I say it's well-done if it meets two criteria.

First, has the author created an expectation that something is very wrong?

And, if not very wrong, then maybe it is currently sitting at "not quite right" and he is presently building-building-building with each major "moment" in the story to that spot of being very wrong. If so, tighten the straps and release the button on the drip bag next to your gurney. Things will get pulled out of proportion. And they should.

Good authors do "wrong" very well and the tricks employed come across as natural, so, basically, not as tricks at all. The concept of "building" is also key here. You want to see something amiss right out of the gate, but you also want room to grow the feelings of unease in the opening forty pages of a story. It should rise like the crescendo of a classical piece of music, and, contrary to what some may say, it should build at a predictable rate.

A solid current example of this in pop fiction is the readily available excerpt from Stephen King's new story collection, Full Dark, No Stars. The story is "A Good Marriage" and the snippet is here.

Now, I won't ruin it for you if you haven't read it. Go ahead, if you're curious. I'll wait. There. Neat, huh? Obviously I don't know where this story is going. And I don't want to. But what he's done is a very solid, very suspenseful piece. King is obviously very good at this. I don't need to remind any of you that he's one of the reigning masters, but I don't know if this story will wind up being good in the end. Who knows, right? Not until the final sentence. But at this moment, it illustrates my point very nicely. No one is clinging to the edge of a cliff in a thunderstorm. No one is holding a knife to my throat and threatening to cut. But I'm suspended, nonetheless. I want to keep reading and find out what the bloody hell this wife has found in the garage she shares with her husband.

Second, does the author create a world where we, the readers, do the opposite of "suspending our disbelief?"

The reader needs to believe that what is happening could happen, may have happened, will happen, or, in fact, happens every single day in the world that he calls home. This is done through impeccable research and staying true to what most reasonable people would believe they would do in a similar situation, given the same facts. Even if it's science fiction or dark horror with strange things making scheduled visits in the dark of the night (read my free short novel, Shed, for more of this kind of weirdness), the world should be recognizable, either by its physical make-up or by its characters.

The above example by King gives a good dose of what I mean here, too. Anyone who's ever been, married--even for five minutes--will "get" what King is saying about these two people, their habits, their foibles, there angst and their love. Colliding and sparking and retreating over the course of time, these two people are married. Plain. Simple. Married. And the "realness" of it shows in every sentence. With a set up like this, how can we not believe whatever is about to come next, even if it is at once off the wall and, well, unbelievable?

So my bottom line for feeling appropriately suspended while I read a book (in any genre, not just the suspense genre) or while I watch a tv show, a flick or the top of the pizza box are these two ideas: Is something itching that spot behind my eyes, making me think twice about whether this should be happening? And. Do I truly believe I'm reading or seeing something in the real world as I've come to know it?

Could this really be happening?

And, if it could, then I will immediately be freaked out when the bed moves under me, even if it's only an inch.

* * *
Jason McIntyre is the author of the current Smashwords bestseller, "On The Gathering
Storm". He has also written the acclaimed short novel "Shed" and many other stories.
You can connect with him and learn more about his work by visiting his official website,
http://www.thefarthestreaches.com .

Vincent Zandri is the bestselling author of The Remains and the forthcoming The Innocent.
www.vincentzandri.com



Friday, September 24, 2010

Predictions and Prophecies: Vive le Revolucion!!!




















Lately I feel like I'm at war with the world's bookstores. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it's true I've been social networking and virtual "cyber" pushing the Kindle and EBook sales of my new bestsellers, The Remains and Moonlight Falls (and the forthcoming The Innocent), like a street-corner prostitute on crack, I haven't completely ignored the value and communal benefits of the traditional bookstore. After all, all my books are still published in paper and like any other author, there's no greater feeling than holding your own book in your hand.

However, bookstores if they are to last must face some serious facts, the major one being, if they don't adapt to the new indie publishing revolution, especially EBook/Kindle publishing, they will go out of business, or at the very least relegate their personalized service to the big box Target's of the world. That includes the littlest corner shop to the big B&N stores.

So what's going to happen if bookstores are to survive?
-They will reduce inventory and order on an add needed basis which will fuel the rise of POD and short print runs.
-The old, antiquated, and author damaging return policy will either be abandoned or seriously reduced. In other words, shop owners will no longer be able to depend on this luxury for balancing their bottom lines.
-POD kiosks, like the kind seen in Japan, will become more and more the trend. How's this work? A reader walks into a book store, browses from a list of titles and covers, and orders a copy. It is automatically printed and bound inside the store.
-EBook sections will arise. It will work just like the POD kiosk only you will receive downloads on your EReader.
-Bookstores will become much more communal; meeting places for writers, authors, etc. This is already happening of course, and has been for years. What it means however, is that Book Store Owners will now have to get into the food and beverage business.
-Book Stores will become mini publishing houses. They will begin to offer electronic and POD publication of a few select authors in their communities. They will publish a few traditionally, perhaps even entertaining agented deals. But most will offer publishing services in which wanna-be authors will "pay to play." This is already happening in Albany in a big way!
-The retail space Owners must rent will be reduced to perhaps half of what was once needed in order to house thousands of titles.
-As traditionally published books fade into the sun, much like 8-track tapes, cassettes, vinyl disks, and CDs of old, Book Stores will reply more and more on used and "Rare" book sales.

Paper books will survive alongside EBooks. Book Stores will survive too. But only the ones that embrace the radical changes that have not only occurred in the industry over the past year, but that will come to a head over the next three to five years.

Welcome to the new world publishing order where authors have more control over their own work than ever before!!! Viva le Revolucion!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Innocent (As Catch Can): An EXCLUSIVE Excerpt!!!





It's not often we get second chances in life. But my new indie publisher, StoneGate Ink (StoneHouse Ink), is busy bringing out my two critically acclaimed but long OOP novels, As Catch Can (now re-titled to it's original, The Innocent), and Godchild!!! If you follow this blog you'll know that both these novels were originally purchased in major deal that quickly went array when talk of a corporate takeover infected the office like bubonic plague. The whole ordeal set me back professionally considerably, and many would have quit the game altogether, which I almost did. But you can't hold a Zandri down, and what the hell, I'm a writer; the author of the new bestselling, runaway, Cinderella story, 5-star, Blitzkrieg hard-boiled thrillers The Remains and Moonlight Falls. What else am I going to do with my life????

So without further ado, I give you an excerpt from the forthcoming The Innocent!!!!

PRAISE FOR VINCENT ZANDRI

"If you want a novel that runs wild like a caged beast let loose, Zandri is the man."

—(Albany)

"Sensational...masterful...brilliant."

—New York Post

"Probably the most arresting first crime novel to break into print this season."

—Boston Herald

"A thriller that has depth and substance, wickedness and compassion."

—The Times-Union (Albany)

"Vincent Zandri explodes onto the scene with the debut thriller of the year. As Catch Can is gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting. Don't miss it."

—Harlan Coben, author of The Final Detail

"A Satisfying Yarn."

—Chicago Tribune

"Compelling...As Catch Can pulls you in with rat-a-tat prose, kinetic pacing...characters are authentic, and the punchy dialogue rings true. Zandri's staccato prose moves As Catch Can at a steady, suspenseful pace."

—Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"Exciting...An Engrossing Thriller...the descriptions of life behind bars will stand your hair on end."

—Rocky Mountain News

"Readers will be held captive by prose that pounds as steadily as an elevated pulse... Vincent Zandri nails readers' attention."

—Boston Herald

"A smoking gun of a debut novel. The rough and tumble pages turn quicker than men turn on each other."

—Albany Times-Union

"The story line is non-stop action and the flashback to Attica is eerily brilliant. If this debut is any indication of his work, readers will demand a lifetime sentence of novels by Vincent Zandri."

—I Love a Mystery

"A tough-minded, involving novel...Zandri writes strong prose that rarely strains for effect, and some of his scenes...achieve a powerful hallucinatory horror."

—Publishers Weekly

"A classic detective tale."

—The Record (Troy, NY)

"[Zandri] demonstrates an uncanny knack for exposition, introducing new characters and narrative possibilities with the confidence of an old pro...Zandri does a superb job creating interlocking puzzle pieces."

—San Diego Union-Tribune

"This is a tough, stylish, heartbreaking car accident of a book: You don't want to look but you can't look away. Zandri's a terrific writer and he tells a terrific story."

—Don Winslow, author of The Death and Life of Bobby Z

"Satisfying."

—Kirkus Reviews

THE INNOCENT (formerly AS CATCH CAN)

VINCENT ZANDRl

StoneGate Ink

Nampa Idaho 83686

www.StoneGateInk.com

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

Copyright © 1999 by Vincent Zandri

First eBook Edition 2010

First Paperback Edition 2000

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

Cover design by StoneGate Ink

Published in the United States of America

StoneGate ink

Other books by Vincent Zandri

The Remains

Moonlight Falls

Permanence

Godchild


FORWARD

Story goes, Vincent Zandri—prominent photo-journalist and globe-trotter—stumbled backwards into the story for this book, back in the nineties. He was working on the memoirs of some guy used to work as a prison guard at Sing Sing or Alcatraz or some such, when the basic premise of the novel As Catch Can came to him.

I don’t know if he ever wrote those memoirs. But in ‘99, As Catch Can was published and got all the accolades that a young writer always hopes for: it sold pretty well, the critics dug it, and there was even some vague stirrings of interest from the Cash Cow we call Hollywood. Riding on the success of As Catch Can, Zandri wrote another two novels and was well on his way to establishing himself as a major name in hardboiled fiction circles.

Then something happened, I dunno what. He dropped out. Some say Zandri—who, remember, is a sort of world-travelin’ action man type—was forced on the lam after seducing the wife of a prominent South-East Asian warlord. Some people were convinced he’d been murdered by a drug cartel after discovering a secret connection between them and the C.I.A. Others still were certain that Zandri had finally fallen into the bottle and was strapped up in some padded room in his hometown of Albany.
Thing is, no one really knew what happened.
Thing is, nothing happened.

Zandri had only been recharging, and re-acclimating himself to the new world of publishing. While he’d been away, working the day job as a picture-snapping super-hero, the industry had changed dramatically and even someone with as remarkable a track record as our hero had his work cut out for him getting a new book on the stands.

So he went to the small press, with his novel Moonlight Falls.

Out of necessity, Vin is a relentless self-promoter. By the sweat of his brow he made sure readers and critics noticed Moonlight Falls and his hard work paid off—Falls actually sold remarkably well for a small press release and was reviewed favorably all over the place. His next small press novel, The Remains, was even better and showed off Vin’s diversity and lean style beautifully.

I’ve told you all that to tell you this: The novel you hold in your hands (or on your Kindle, or whatever) is really As Catch Can, just with a new title and a fancy new cover. Our hero has come full circle, you could say. And I kinda envy you, about to read this book for the first time. It has all the wild enthusiasm of a young writer’s first crack at the genre, and it’s tough-minded and lyrical and unforgettable.

And, as a new starting place for Vincent Zandri, it’s more than a little symbolic. Vin has lots more stories in his head, and this “touching base” with his origins, I suspect, is just a prelude to even more great work.

Heath Lowrance, noir critic and author of The Bastard Hand

Detroit, MI

September 4, 2010

The Innocent

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage. If I have my freedom in my love,

And in my soul am free, Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty. —RICHARD LOVELACE, 1649

BOOK ONE

GREEN HAVEN PRISON

Statement given by Robert Logan, the senior corrections officer in charge of the transportation of convicted cop-killer Eduard Vasquez at the time of his escape:

You wanna know about Vasquez, well I'll tell you about Vasquez. He looked like death twisted inside out. That dentist did a real job on him, or so I thought at the time. What I didn't know was that Vasquez was one hell of a faker, one hell of an actor. You should have seen him sitting in the backseat of that station wagon all bound up in shackles and cuffs—skin white, lips swelled, gauze stuffed inside his cheeks. Blood and spit were running down his chin. His eyes were glazed and puffed up. That toothache must have been a real headache now that A. J. Royale, the butcher of Newburgh, had gotten to him. No way could Vasquez escape. But then how could I make any sense out of the feeling I’d had since we'd started out? The feeling that told me he was going to make the break?

But here's how it really happened:

My partner, Bernie Mastriano, he drove the station wagon while I adjusted the rearview mirror to just the right angle so I could get a better look at Vasquez in the backseat without turning every ten seconds. He was sucking air like there's no tomorrow. His feet and hands were bound up and he was locked up in that cage and you could see the pain all over his face. He just put his head back on the seat, opened his mouth wide, let his tongue hang out like a sick puppy. He didn't seem so tough then. Seemed kind of stupid and pathetic, not at all like the crazy psycho who pumped three caps into the back of that rookie cop's head back in ‘88. Vasquez kept suckin’ up that air like it somehow relieved the pain from the hole Royale left in his mouth. Then out of nowhere he doubled over, threw his head between his legs, started heaving blood all over the floor.

Mastriano screamed, “I think he's having a freakin’ heart attack.”

I told him to shut up, stop the car.

“Heart! Attack!” he screamed.

“Damn it, Bernie,” I said, “pull the car over before somebody gets hurt.” Sometimes you gotta pound things into Mastriano's head. He pulled the wagon onto the shoulder of Route 84, killed the engine. Then he pulled Vasquez out of the car and laid him out on the field next to the road.

I was right behind him.

When I got down on my knees to see if Vasquez had swallowed his tongue, the black van pulled up behind the station wagon. The back doors of the van swung open. There they were. Three of the hugest dudes you ever saw in black ski masks, packing sawed-off shotguns.

Mastriano went for his sidearm. But he took a shot in the head with the butt end of a shotgun, hit the ground cold. I got up and went after the son-of-a-bitch. I guess I didn't see it coming either. I went down, right next to Vasquez. They kicked me in the face, in the forehead. See that purple-and-black welt above my eye?

One of those masked bastards knelt down, reached into my pockets, felt around for the keys to Vasquez’s handcuffs and ankle shackles. But here's what really got to me: When Vasquez was free, he jumped up. When those shackles were off, he spun around to his knees, got up, spit out that bloody gauze, let out a laugh. “Hey boss,” he said, you fell for the whole thing, hook, line, and sinker. Just like that, boss.”

I rolled over onto my side in the high grass, jammed my knees into my chest. I couldn't work up the air to talk. But my ears were still good.

“Lock ‘em up,” Vasquez said.

They cuffed Mastriano and me together with my own handcuffs, shoved us into the front seat of the wagon. Vasquez ordered one of his men to take the wheel. But before we pulled away, he leaned his head inside the open window.

“No hard feelings, boss. Hope this don't screw up the promotion.”

The last thing I remembered before waking up at the gravel pit was Mastriano's piece coming down hard on my head.

CHAPTER ONE

1997 WAS THE YEAR Green Haven Prison went insane. The winter hadn't produced a single snowstorm that lasted for more than an hour before turning to rain and slush, and what should have been covered with a velvety-smooth blanket of white went on being gray and lifeless and pitiful, as if God Himself saw to it that the twenty-five hundred inmates and corrections officers living and working inside nine concrete cell blocks never once forgot where they were and why they were put there in the first place.

But for a man living and working inside an iron house, you didn't take snow for granted. A fresh dose of snow always broke the endless monotony, pumping good vibrations throughout the facility so that even the hardest inmates showed wide ear-to-ear smiles on their scarred faces. And happy faces meant that, for maybe a day or so, you wouldn't have a prisoner shivved square in the chest with a homemade blade or a psyche case tossing a handful of human waste at an unsuspecting officer or an HIV-positive lifer spitting a mouthful of blood at his cheating honey or a nineteen year old scared-out-of-his-wits man/boy wrapping a sheet around his neck and tying it to the overhead light fixture. What you might get instead was two thousand men joining in song, the gentle hum radiating against the concrete walls like music by moonlight while flakes of white snow drifted slowly down to earth.

What we got that winter instead of snow was rain and slush and bone-hard, damp cold. From New Year's to Easter alone, we had six shivvings that resulted in four deaths and two badly rearranged faces. We had seventeen beatings that resulted in one death, and one inmate who (mysteriously) fell from the third-floor gallery in F-Block and who would now do life inside an infirmary, taking his meals through a feeding tube.

That winter we had two ODs, one death by hanging, an inmate who somehow got his wife pregnant during visiting hours, and another who acquired a good old-fashioned dose of the clap. To make a dismal matter even worse, we also had a group of twelve corrections officers who attracted national attention with their own arrests after a bachelor party turned ugly. The short of it was that my COs thought it would be funny to pelt unsuspecting passersby with raw eggs from the open windows of the school bus they'd rented for the occasion. One elderly citizen, who stood outside his car on a side street in Newburgh and protested, was given a special dose of humiliation. (As of this writing, his suit against Green Haven Prison and the State of New York is pending.)

But these were not the most serious things that happened during that winter.

We also had an increase in the inner-prison drug and contraband trade, in the form of pot, crack, heroin, liquid hormones, and assorted pharmaceuticals. I was personally forced to retire a record number of COs, not because I wanted them gone (I didn't have enough support staff to run the prison as it was), but because the Commissioner of Corrections for the State of New York had sent down his official mandate. And what's more, the winter of 1997 was the first I had spent without my wife, Fran, in more than twenty-five years—although by then nothing more could be done for her.

To add insult to an otherwise uncauterized injury, we had been cheated of our spring. Even the anticipation of spring rains and fresh muddy yards and good sleeping weather (there is no climate control inside a concrete prison cell) had been taken from the men who occupied the walls of Green Haven Prison. The heat of summer took over early with all the force of martial law, and what was supposed to be a “green haven” turned into a broiler oven. What little green vegetation there was within the concrete and razor-wire barriers turned brown and died. Even the baseball diamond cracked and heaved, like the blood that thickens and cakes on the upper lip after it oozes from the nostrils of a man's nose when his body writhes and convulses during an execution by lethal injection. (For anyone believing lethal injection is the humanitarian way out, think again. I’ve witnessed three, and during all three, the men convulsed, choked, snapped their own ribs, and bled from the nose and mouth.)

In May of the year 1997, my prison smelled only of low morale, treason, and pity. And it tasted of sweat, concrete, and human decay. And my God, it was hot. But as for me, Jack Marconi, the keeper . . . the warden ... the superintendent in charge of all things living and dying inside the iron house?

I did the only thing I could do under circumstances best left in God's hands.

I blamed the weather.

CHAPTER TWO

GREEN HAVEN REACHED THE boiling point on a sweltering afternoon in May with the escape of convicted cop-killer Eduard Vasquez. Since I couldn't very well blame the weather on a notorious killer who had practically been handed the keys to the front door, I found myself sitting on the edge of the desk in my office on the second floor of our administration building, holding my head in my hands. I had managed to take control of the situation as best I could so that it had been only twenty minutes since I’d ordered a general lockdown of the nine blocks. Now, instead of holding my head in my hands, I had to take the steps necessary to get my head together.

I’d just seen Robert Logan, one of the two COs held at gunpoint when Vasquez had escaped from their custody four hours before. Dan Sloat, my First Deputy Superintendent for Security and my second in command, was on his way downstairs to meet up with a detective from the Stormville PD. Stormville, along with the New York State police, were making preparations to head up the pursuit for Vasquez, at least to the outer fringes of their jurisdiction.

In the meantime, I had more pressing matters to attend to.

I turned to my secretary, Val Antonelli. “Whadaya mean the file's missing?”

“I mean Vasquez's file is gone, missing, outta here,” she said.

“Jeeze. Stormville’s gonna want information. Photos, rap sheets, next of kin. All of it.”

“Maybe Vasquez signed it out before he left this morning.”

“I don't need jokes, Val,” I snapped. “I need that file!”

“Raising your voice does not change the fact that it's hot in here or that the bacon cheeseburger I had for lunch is coming up on me or that Vasquez's file is missing.”

Val sat in my swivel-back chair in the middle of the room with her legs crossed tight at the knees, making last-minute corrections to her freehand transcription of Robert Logan's statement. “I'll see if a folder was signed out this morning,” she offered. “For all I know it's in the filing bin downstairs.”

“Try to get it before you leave tonight,” I said. Then working up a smile. “I’m asking, not telling.”

“We've got copies on microfilm anyway, boss,” she said. “So it really doesn't matter if the file's missing or not.”

I took a hot, sour breath and stared up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling of my fifty-five-year-old office—a square-shaped room inside a maximum security prison that had housed German POWs during World War II. Now it housed close to twenty-five hundred permanent inmates and transients on their way upstate to Attica or further downstate to Sing Sing.

Most of my prisoners were black and Latino. Kids mostly, with rap sheets so long they'd wear you out just getting past the list of youthful offences. Murderers and gangland killers and torture experts and organized professional killers. Some men with nothing on the outside but poverty and death, but some with beautiful cars and houses and beautiful women in furs who came to visit every day and bank accounts that would make the governor look like a pauper. Evil, mean-spirited killers, but likable killers, too. Tough killers and not-so-tough killers and killers who gave up being men altogether to take hormone injections, as if spending the rest of their God-given days inside five air-plane-hangar-size buildings were enough to eradicate the man, give birth to something distorted and freakish.

Inside the sweat-covered concrete walls and razor-wire fences you'd find weight lifters, junkies, drunks, health-food addicts, junk-food junkies, thin men, fat men, small and tall men, Muslims, Catholics, Five-Percenters, Buddhists, Jews, serial killers, man-eaters, kidnappers and child snatchers. You'd find bankers, accountants, lawyers, professors, teachers, architects, welfare cases, preachers, pimps, and you'd find high school graduates and college graduates and illiterate men who'd skipped school altogether and inmates so out of it they couldn't tell you what month it was. Not far down the gallery from them you'd find the queers and steers and crybabies with long French braids, false eyelashes, thick red lips, and tattoos of broken hearts on their freshly shaved butt cheeks. Men with names like Black Jack, Lizard Leonard, and Ricky Too-Sweet. Butchers with baby-blue teardrops tattooed on the soft skin below their left eyeballs (one for each of their victims); men who'd arrived in the 1940s with all the piss and spunk of youth and who now, in their old age, would never consider leaving the comforting walls behind. There were cons and jokesters and pranksters and victims of circumstance, and men who did nothing wrong at all except hire the wrong lawyer, and kids who suffered so much for their mistakes that at night you could hear the echoes of their sobs as they called out for their mamas and you'd gladly wrench your broken heart out of your chest if only it would get them a fair shake in life.

But by 1997 a new breed of inmate had infected Green Haven Prison, a new generation of criminal born of the sewers of New York and raised in the streets. Teenage men who never really had a mother or a father or a home or the chance for an education. Men, not boys, who seemed almost happy to go to prison because, for the first time in their lives, they felt safe and protected by the thirty-foot-high concrete walls. Men who enjoyed the prison life for the free sex, booze, food, drugs, and medical attention. Tough young men who freaked at the sight of a dentist's drill because they'd never seen one before. Young men whose life expectancy shot up dramatically from twenty-one to the ripe old age of forty because they now had iron bars and concrete walls to separate them from the killers they'd dissed along the way.

I was their warden.

I was their keeper, their mother and their father.

Which is why, for me, the matter of Eduard Vasquez's escape was such a serious offense. I had signed the release form allowing him to visit a dentist on the outside. As the keeper of Green Haven, I was directly responsible. It was my decision and my decision only. What I mean is, I could have said no. But then, I couldn't just deny a prisoner his right to proper dental care if that's what he wanted. That was the rule in New York State. As the keeper, my job was not rehabilitation. My job was to see that society was protected from its prisoners. But get this: It was also my job to see that a man who'd shot a New York City cop at point-blank range maintained a pearly-white smile.

I was well aware that Vasquez knew his rights. All the sharp inmates did. Fact is, they knew their rights better than did the men and women who incarcerated them. It was simply a matter of the prisoners knowing more about their civil liberties than did the guards who locked them down every night. At Green Haven Prison in the spring of 1997 ignorance ruled, and ignorance was never bliss.

And when it came to making an executive decision based on an inmate's civil liberties, there was never any right or wrong. There was only wrong and more wrong. But then, Vasquez had been a good prisoner. That is, he didn't go around stabbing or raping anybody. And I'd had no reason to believe he would escape. Anyway, I didn't make the rules in the first place, I only competed with them.

The hot sun poured into my office through the old double-hung windows. Even though Wash Pelton, the Commissioner of Corrections, had declared it a general cost-saving rule to leave the air conditioners dormant until June, I turned mine on and breathed in the cool, stale air.

I turned back to Val, watched her push up the sleeves of her cream-colored cashmere V-neck sweater.

“Okay, give it to me straight. You think Logan's statement is legit?”

Val straightened her legs and spread her arms to catch the cool breeze from the air conditioner. She stood up from the leather chair and stretched her short solid body by reaching for the stars. A habit of hers I never got tired of admiring. “In my opinion,” she said, “Logan is one lying son of a bitch ... if you'll excuse my French.”

I slid off the desk, stuffed my hands into my pockets. “My thoughts exactly,” I said. I was relying on my gut. I’d never had an escape before. I'd never had any choice but to accept the word of my officers as gospel, no matter what I suspected otherwise. Besides the missing file, I thought, the only thing to go on was Logan's unmarked face.

“You notice any marks on Logan's mug?”

“For a man who got smacked over the head with a gun,” Val said, stuffing her notepad under her left arm, “he seemed in pretty good shape.”

“Perfect shape. Other than that small bruise on his forehead.”

We said nothing for a second or two while the cold air filled the room like the invisible vapors in a gas chamber.

The phone rang.

Val took it at my desk. “Superintendent's office,” she said, looking directly at me with the wide eyes that told me someone I didn't want to talk to was on the line. “Pelton,” she said cupping her hand over the mouthpiece.

“Crap,” I whispered. “He wanted two more men cut from the staff by Friday. Two more men when I don't have enough officers now.” I removed my charcoal suit jacket from off the hanger in the closet, held it by the lapel.

“What do I tell him?”

“Tell him I'm not here. Something is definitely not right. I've got a missing prisoner, a missing file, and a possibly phony statement. I might even have a quack for a dentist. What I definitely have is a real problem when Pelton gets word I signed the release for Vasquez to walk.”

“What'll I tell Pelton about the escape?” Val begged, her palm pressed flat over the mouthpiece. “He's gonna want something. An explanation at least.”

I slipped on my jacket, pulling the cuffs to make the shirtsleeves taut. I looked into the small mirror on the back of the closet door, ran my hands through my black hair, pressed my fingers down over my mustache and goatee. “Tell him I had a dentist's appointment,” I said, looking into my own brown eyes but quickly looking away. “Then try to find Vasquez's file, even if you have to get it off the microfilm.”

“I can't tell him you went to the dentist.”

“Why not? I have teeth.”

“He'll know it's a lie. You know I hate it when I have to lie for you.”

“Okay, then tell him the truth.”

“What truth?”

“That I don't want to talk with him right now because I don't feel like firing anyone.”

Val pressed her lips together, stared me down. She knew she had to lie for me whether she liked it or not. She

took a quick breath, composed herself, and took her hand off the mouthpiece. She brought the phone to her face, spoke slowly, barely moving her thick, red lips. “Mr. Marconi just left for the dentist, Mr. Pelton. Is there a message?”

As I opened the door to the office, she stuck her tongue out at me.

“You mad at me?” I whispered.

She raised her middle finger high, as if the tongue hadn't been enough.