Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thriller Author CJ West's "Hollywood Rollercoaster Ride!"

"A singing frog, hmmm? You don't say. Who did you say your agent was again?"

Whenever I think about Hollywood I can't help but be reminded of that old Looneytoon cartoon where the desperate construction worker discovers a singing frog locked inside a "Pandora's box" buried in the rubble of a demo'd building. After he opens the box, the frog appears. It dons a top hat, cane, and starts belting out a version of "Mammy" that would bring tears to your eyes. The construction worker literally sees dollar signs floating around his brain. He quits his job and takes the frog to every agent and producer in town. Problem is, the frog just won't sing for anyone but the construction worker. In the end, the guy gets drunk, and ditches the frog. So much for the dream of getting rich and famous in Tinseltown. But hey, that's showbiz folks.

Like my guest blogger today, bestselling indie author and all around super-talented young man, CJ West, I too have had my share of Hollywood close shaves. The first came when my novel As Catch Can (now THE INNOCENT) was first published by Delacorte Press back in 1999. It got reads from Clooney, Dustin Hoffman, DeNiro, and other top tier actors. The most promising reads however were coming from DreamWorks who read the original script, then the galley and finally the finished book. My agent at the time told me to "keep you phone on you all weekend, bro, cause we're gonna get a deal." I did keep the phone on. It didn't ring. DreamWorks never made an offer. Life went on.

Some months later in NYC, said agent tossed a copy of Variety or some sort of Hollywood rag in my face. "Hey bro," he says, "Oh ah, I've been sort of writing my own script on the side and jeeze, wouldn't you know it, I scored big. And ah, hope you don't mind, but I used one of your titles!" My own agent sold his own freakin' script for 600K to Kevin Spacey when I was paying him to sell mine, and the SOB had the coyones to lift one of my titles. I almost decked him right there in his Broadway office. Oh well, later on the deal fell through and the option ran out and so did said agent. Word up is he's on the run from the FBI for extortion. Hey, you can't make this stuff up if you were writing a grade B script know the town...
But that's show biz folks.

Here's how CJ West is about to make his mark on the movie scene, and it's got nothing to do with slick agents and false promises. It's got everything to do with his talent:

My Hollywood Rollercoaster Ride

In October 2008 I received a Myspace message that made me stand up, pace around my office, and consider that my writing life had changed forever. I Googled “Marla Cukor” and discovered she was an award-winning journalist who worked for In Touch Weekly and wrote short films that starred actors whose names I knew.

You might think I’m easily excited and you might be right, but this was big news.

By the time Marla optioned my book Sin & Vengeance for film, I had been writing every day for nine years. I wrote because I was addicted to the sheer joy of writing. Bestsellerdom was beyond my wildest expectations, but suddenly the idea of writing success was thrust upon me. What if the movie was made?

Marla’s offer to write a script that could bring my book to the big screen ratcheted me up the first hill on my rollercoaster ride one clink at a time, but the drop came quickly. Once the paperwork was signed, we talked about how the book would be adapted to the screen. The uninitiated might think the screenwriter simply takes the book and reformats it for the actors. (If you are curious about the process, I plan to blog about my experience sometime soon.) I wasn’t that naive, but I had no idea what Marla had planned until she started asking questions like, “What happens if we get rid of the money?” The money in Sin & Vengeance is a major subplot that ties much of the book together. I felt queasy after our first consultation. I owned the book, but Marla owned the screenplay. There were going to be changes. Big changes.

Luckily Marla wanted the screenplay to be true to the book and went to great lengths to capture the relationship between Randy Black and Charlie Marston. She dialed in while I visited two book groups so she could ask what elements of the book the women wanted to see on the screen. One of the book club members came up with an idea for a scene that is still in the script.

When Marla was done with her second draft, we brought together a focus group of readers who loved the book and were curious about the movie. They read the screenplay and came to my home with pages of notes. Marla listened to their ideas and the screenplay reached a new high.

The next hill came when we “went out” in Hollywood and got immediate interest. We waited and waited but the phone didn’t ring. Finally after a few months Marla told me about the owner of a small production company who previewed an early version of the script and loved it. I met with their director and approved an option to send the film into development. They weren’t a big Hollywood studio that could bring high impact special effects to my story, but they truly loved the script. A few months later they called to tell me they’d upped their budget from $1 million to $3.5 million. That meant better special effects, better actors, a better film. I was jazzed. All we needed was an investor with $3.5 million and I could watch a film based on my book.

Over the next two years we had a few close calls. Marla and I were asked to prepare material for interested investors. Respected directors expressed interest. Actors wanted to play Randy Black. With the film on the edge of being made, each piece of good news got my blood pumping, but in the end the pieces never came together and the option expired. Even though my ride had come to an end, the experience transformed the way I think about my writing. So many people invested their time and money in this project that I can’t help but be proud of what I created in Sin & Vengeance and hopeful that one of my future books may make the leap to the screen or even better, the bestseller lists.

A few weeks ago I got a call to let me know an “important” Hollywood producer was reading the script. It seems once you get on this ride you can’t get off, you’ve just got to learn to enjoy the breeze.

For all things CJ WEST visit his official website!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Author Steve DeWinter is One Hot Indie Author

"Don't mess with this chick!"

His name might literally mean "of Winter" but this bestselling indie author is becoming hotter and hotter with books like Inherit the Throne. I met Steve DeWinter in person at the recent ITW Thrillerfest in NYC and we hit it off smashingly as they say in Londontown. We tipped a few, cruised into the heart of Hells Kitchen for some Asian along with my girlfriend and publisher Aaron Patterson, and just generally laughed a lot at some silly stuff. Oh, did I tell you that despite his serious talent, dude's as silly as I am?

Ladies and gentlemen I'm happy to introduce to you for the very first time, Steve DeWinter:

Publishing is a lot like baseball.

There are seasoned professionals who have been playing the game for a long time and then there are the rookies who are just starting out. The same can be said for published authors.

For the sake of argument, let’s consider those authors who go through publishing houses as seasoned professionals. Now before you get your panties in a bunch, let me just say that the reason I have put authors who have signed on with traditional publishers (and a growing number of indie-publishers like StoneHouse Ink) in the professional category, is that these publishers invest in the books they publish. Money has been spent, prior to publishing the book, to ensure that all the spelling, punctuation, grammar and word usage (hear vs here) errors have been vetted and eradicated. These books are put through a rigorous editing and proofing phase before they are released for public consumption.

Now that I have qualified the professionals, I'm sure we can all guess who the rookies are? I'm not saying that a rookie author can't write a great story, but if you are the type of reader who is jarred by the occasional misspelling, and cannot enjoy a book because of it, you will want to stick with the professional authors. But here is your quandary. With online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble opening up the floodgates and letting just anyone publish their eBooks for Kindle and Nook, how can you, the reader, tell the difference between the seasoned professional and the rookie?

By the editing.

There are two forms of editing that can be done for a book. There is objective editing and subjective editing. What’s the difference you might ask, editing is editing. Not quite. Objective editing is based on hard and fast rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar. As an author, you will never find yourself arguing with an editor over the spelling of a word. There is only one way a word is spelled correctly; and that is that. It is the subjective editing that pits author against editor all too often. Subjective changes (story flow, funnier dialogue, etc.) are changes that all boil down to a matter of personal taste. And these changes are not necessarily improvements, just changes.

If an author has done their homework and learned the craft of writing, all they really need is an objective edit by a proofer. Someone who will check to make sure that the spelling, punctuation and grammar (the objective and unquestionable changes) is perfect in their book. Everything else is subjective.

But what if I don’t want to waste my money on a rookie author’s book filled with spelling and grammar errors, what do I do? One of the easiest ways is to read the comments written by other readers and reviewers. Don’t worry about how many stars someone gave in their rating, which is all subjective anyway, just read the comments. All the comments. Even the comments on the comments.

And here is what you are looking for: Feedback about spelling and grammar. Look for this type of feedback even in the five-star reviews. I can guarantee that if there are no mistakes, it will not be mentioned. Nobody ever puts in their review, "I was pleased to find that every word in this book was spelled correctly."

In baseball, it takes years of practice for the rookie player to become the seasoned professional.

Thank goodness publishing is not exactly like baseball.

After being dinged by reviewers early in my published career for the handful of spelling and grammar mistakes in my debut thriller, I realized I needed to elevate myself above rookie status and invest in my books. I needed to be more than self-published; I needed to be a self-publisher. By hiring a solid objective editor (a proofer), I would propel myself out of the ranks of being another rush-to-self-publish rookie and into the professional category of authors.

And do you know who really wins? My readers!

I want to write the best stories possible, but I don't want to make it hard for my readers to enjoy my books by publishing them filled with rookie mistakes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Is Indie Publishing Dead? Bestseller Scott Nicholson Weighs in on the Possibility

"Bestselling author, Scott Nicholson...a true rebel."

Bestselling indie Scott Nicholson most definitely falls into that, "If we lived in the same town we'd be steadfast buds" category. Or maybe my association with him, although limited to internet, runs even deeper in a sort of cosmic, old soul sense. We've got more things in common than I did any of my ex-wives before I married them (don't get nervous Scott...). Like me he's journalist, a musician, a lover of adventure and history, and maintains an intense passion for creative writing and genre fiction. He's into some great bands too, like XTC, Elvis Costello and The Beatles. No wonder he's made quite a splash on the Indie scene. Like most successful dudes however, he comes equipped with well honed built-in shit detector which allows him to be realistic about what the future holds for authors and publishing. Like his guest post will reveal, what seems like a great independent publishing opp right now can soon turn into something that won't be indie at all anymore. That is, once the big houses pick up on all that we are teaching them about selling books.
But then, judge for yourself. That's what Scott does.

Take it away Scott:

Indie Publishing Is Dead

By Scott Nicholson

Nobody wants to read yet another blah-blah-blah indie author post unless it’s controversial. So how about this one: indie publishing is dead.

Does that work for you? Or are you an author whose personal identity is somehow tied up in a specific outcome? You know the drill: the NY author under contract who insists NY publishing is the way to go, or the indie author who got rejected a hundred times by NY who says indie is the way to go because NY sux, or the suddenly-hip “hybrid author” who is “taking advantage of both opportunities,” usually because they have a lot of dead backlist but are still stuck in indentured servitude and have no real choice.

Yes, it’s great fodder for forum flame wars, except we all have to mutually agree or risk somebody slamming us with an anonymous one-star review or declining to retweet our hot sales link. So we only hang out where everyone has the same opinions as ours, because we’d rather be validated than right.

We are all equally right and wrong. I’ve been big pubbed, small pubbed, self pubbed, and soon to be pubbed in ways that are only now coming into existence. And all the words are roughly the same, the talent level is the same, the storytelling style is the same. And while the fracturing of publishing methods continues, it will also slop over, in much the same way all the distinct genres of music eventually get lumped into “rock ‘n’ roll” once they lose their freshness.

Indie publishing is dead because we, the current crop of indie authors, are teaching New York how to publish books. I know, that seems crazy, but publishing has always been a crap shoot, with a lot of money backing almost every bestseller and nothing but luck and the author’s tireless marketing backing the other infrequent successes. But corporations aren’t just nabbing superstar indie authors. They are paying attention to how books are presented, where they are priced, what readers really want instead of following outdated Bookscan reports that serve to reinforce the perception that publishers were—surprise!—geniuses at turning bestsellers into bestsellers.

Heck, even agents are rushing to learn the skills we indie authors were forced to develop as survival mechanisms. It’s truly ironic that NY strengthened the enemy by thrusting marketing upon the authors—and marketing is the only skill of value in the world of digital publishing! All else can be purchased cheaply and easily and operated with no overhead but time.

Yes, we are teaching our competition, as we always should. Not that we could help it. If they aren’t watching and learning, they aren’t competition anyway, because they are out of the game. As soon as indie and trad and small press slop together, as they inevitably will, then indies will lose many of their advantages—low pricing, rapid response to changing conditions, innovative marketing that connects with real readers, and the ability to reach niche audiences with narrative voices that have been long suppressed because New York behemoths couldn’t run on niche audiences. Soon, they can, and the niches can look pretty darned big when they are merely one click away, and staff and overhead has been trimmed, and the corporations consist of a half-dozen tech geeks clicking buttons and raking in cash (of course, they will still have a 60-member board of executives and numerous shareholders at the trough, but still….).

I’m not worried, because I plan on staying one step ahead of everything, even if no solid ground is there, even if it means flying on faith without a parachute. Everyone out there buzzing about John Locke, John Green, J.K. Rowling, J.A. Konrath, or Amanda Hocking has zero chance of duplicating what were outlier successes that defied chance. Buy all the how-to books and diligently copy them and you still won’t be them, because 10,000 people are already doing it. We don’t need a “next Locke” or “next Hocking” anyway. Why not be the first you?

The First You is the one who doesn’t care if indie wins or New York wins or if so-and-so was right. The First You is already right, if you trust it. There are only three questions that matter:

(1) What is the next impossible thing I want to do?

(2) How do I get there first?

(3) How do I inspire people to meet me there?


Scott Nicholson is bestselling author of more than 30 books, including Liquid Fear and Disintegration. He’s also written The Indie Journey: The Secrets to Writing Success, which DOESN’T promise you will sell a million copies. In fact, he’s pretty sure you won’t, but that doesn’t mean your writing isn’t priceless. More at

Friday, July 15, 2011

The New "Concrete Pearl" is now $2.99

"Spike Harrison: one tough but sexy lady!"

Hey guys, for the first time ever, my brand new thriller (the first in aseries) Concrete Pearl, is available at $2.99.

What's the story all about?

Ava “Spike” Harrison might be a beautiful, classically schooled woman, but the single, 38 year old construction business owner is also plenty ballsy. Her late father taught her long ago how to handle the rough boys in an industry that’s almost entirely filled with hard-boiled men on the make. But now, with “the business dad built” from the ground up failing due to an unusual series of job-site injuries and just plain bad luck, Spike has no choice but to take on one last project she believes can pull the fledgling firm from the depths of almost certain bankruptcy and family shame: The Renovation of Albany PS 20. Problem is, Spike had no choice but to take the job on the cheap. To make matters worse, she’s not only hired an asbestos removal contractor who, unbeknownst to her, low-balled his price, but she’s advanced him $10Gs from her own dwindling cash account as a “good faith” incentive to beat the project deadline. Now, when that same asbestos contractor suddenly goes missing and it’s discovered by OSHA officials that he’s cheated on the project exposing more than 300 students to deadly asbestos fibers for months, Spike decides to take matters into her own callused hands and go in search of him. What she discovers along the way however, is a path paved with deception, greed, murder, and eventually, her own ultimate demise. Armed with a framing hammer as her equalizer instead of a gun, Spike Harrison is one hot, but tough as nails amateur woman sleuth. Cross her, and you just might find yourself buried up to your neck in regret.

Immediate Praise for Concrete Pearl:

"Another hole in one!!! Zandri, once again, proves that he is a master story teller. With this book, he lures you onto a Tower of Terror ride and buckles you in before you have the ability to get off. Brilliant!!! This is what I call a "transport" book, whereas I was so engrossed in the plot that I was unaware of my surroundings. Because of his superb writing style, both the characters and settings, I was able to create vivid visualizations in my mind. Gifted!! Ava "Spike" Harrison, the main character, was charismatic who fought on principals but also had to deal with emotions of loss (vague due to not wanting to include spoilers)."--CMASH LOVES TO READ Book Blog

"There's enough intrigue in "Concrete Pearl" to keep you guessing until the very end. That sounds cliche, but it's true. This is Zandri's best novel to date. You can't say it any other way."
--Benjamin Sobieck

"I don't know if anyone remembers a little known novel called THE REMAINS. In that, the man nails down the viewpoint of not just one girl but identical twins, Amazing! So I wasn't surprised he went to the well again and tied that together with something he also has first-hand knowledge of, the construction industry. Your basic win-win for the man. He gets to write about something he has been success with , the women's perspective and the construction industry; we the reader to get to reap the benefits of another intense, fast paced, hard hitting, framing hammer to the skull read from the reigning 'King of Kindle'."--Giovanni Gelati, Gelati's Scoop

Hope you check it out....

Saturday, July 9, 2011

ITW: Day 2.67

"Now on the conference schedule..."

Stole away this morning to grab coffee and fresh bread in Grand Central station. In typical Vin manner, the more things get organized and feel like lemmings being led to the slaughter, the more I break away from the heard and do my own thing (ok, the slaughter thing is a bit dramatic and fictional, but this is ITW after all...).

Today however will feature an exciting opp for yours truly while I join a panel of fellow international thriller writers about researching foreign locales. Should be cool. I've not only worked as a foreign correspondent but I spend a couple of months in Florence, Italy every year working on my novels. I've also traveled all over Europe and Asia as a Ghost Writer, a part-time gig I no longer engage in. One person's aesthetic never ever matches up precisely with another's. My ghosting experiences always ended up in a fist-fight or the very least shit storm of slanderous accusations, screams, threat of lawsuit and eventually, only two-thirds of my promised payments.

Some writers have trouble taking orders...

Anyway, I'm off for a run, and a quick subway ride downtown, and then back up to the conference for the panel. Later on, the formal cocktail reception and awards banquet. I've never won an award. But perhaps if I were more of a team player I might win something (the author, thinking about it for a second...Nahhhhh, I'll keep doing my own thing)...

Ciao Ciao


Friday, July 8, 2011

ThrillerFest: Day 1.25

"The Mover and Shaker is again having its day!!!"

Landed in NYC late last evening, but managed to crash the opening cocktail reception on the ballroom floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel beside Grand Central Station. Authors Steve DeWinter and Rebecca Holdsworth were already working the crowd. I bumped into...literally...Mysterious Bookstore Owner, publisher, and all around man-about-town Otto Penzler. When I said, "Hey Otto," he searched for a nametag on my person, but I hadn't yet registered. Finished the reception by chatting it up with Cosmo Editor in Chief and bestselling novelist Kate White, who hails not far from my hometown. What an awesome person.

My publisher and stud man, Aaron Patterson showed up at the hotel bar, and we downed a few while speaking about world domination for our StoneHouse/StoneGate titles. My own THE REMAINS jumped 3000% that afternoon to break the Amazon Top 100 Bestselling Kindle E-Books for the second time this year. Serendipity? Divine Providence? Freaking luck? Hard bloody work? Who knows...Probably all of the above.

Awesome steak frit and red wine at Deux Amis last evening in Hell's Kitchen.

Today, lunch with Abby Zidle of Simon and Schuster at 12:15, and from there, the Photographic Museum which is not far from here. Photo-journalism's home...

I'm hot...I'm on fire...It's my time....Or so I keep trying to convince myself...But that's just silly.
Mostly I'm just humbled by the collection of talent at this thing. Makes me want to write harder...

More to come....

Ciao Ciao

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ITW "Thrillerfest" Report No. 1

"A writer's conference...well, sort of..."

I've never been a huge fan of organized travel tours.
You know, eat when you're told, sleep when you're told, get off the bus and shop when you're told, use the bathroom when you're told.

For me, most of the fun and adventure of travel is getting lost and emersing yourself in the customs and lifestyles of the foreign destination you've landed in.

The same can be said of writers conferences.

I generally avoid them because it's one of those things where you have to be "on" all the time and subject to a schedule. You know, kind of like hanging out at the in-laws for the weekend. Anyone who's ever been married or close to me knows that I abhor schedules. I haven't had a proper job in almost two decades and when it comes to being on-time or one of the go-with-the-flow guys during the weekend college buddy get-together-on-the-golf-course, I can be relied upon about as much as the location of the next funnel cloud. I don't golf. It's too boring.

Ok, that said, I am however looking forward to this year's Thrillerfest in NYC, ITW's featured annual event of some pretty heavy hitting thriller writers. Naturally some of the attraction is NYC itself. The concrete jungle is one of my homes. I'm going to be speaking on the panel for "Foreign Destinations" at 3:00PM on Saturday, and I have a lunch set up with an editor on Friday, plus my publisher will be there, but otherwise, I will look forward to hanging at the bar with a bunch of other cool writers, and taking in some awesome restaurants, like Deux Amis on 51st street and second ave tonight.

This is a great year of change not only for writers but publishers, agents and marketing people also. So no doubt there will be some pretty lively discussions about our future. Things are so hot right now in the industry I wouldn't doubt it if some tempers begin to flair. But I would imagine all arguments will be friendly. Unlike visual artists, writers always seem to be in competition with one another, but organizations like ITW (and believe me, I usually stay away from organizations or any kind, including religious, academic and political) have a real benign way of bringing everyone together for a good cause and good time.

So "solidarity" is the word of the weekend at this year's ThrillerFest!!!!

More to come tomorrow when I will no doubt be nursing one of several anticipated hangovers!

Ciao Ciao for now!