Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chianti by Motorbike and a Prayer

Checco and I make it to Chianti in one piece and take in some wine and atmosphere in a typical piazza...

Yesterday I played some hookie from my new book(s) and hopped on the back of a motorcycle for a ride into the Chianti region of Italy. Chianti is about 25 or so kilometers from downtown Florence, and calling it a scenic ride doesn't remotely do it justice, as it is as close to God's country as one can get without dying and taking the high speed express to heaven.

The high speed metaphor is a discriminate since my mode of travel was a motorcycle (they call them motorbikes here which makes them sound cute and fuzzy which they are not). I rode on the back of my friend and all around fixer's bike, Francesco "Checco" Tassi. Checcho loves motorcycles and he owns a bunch of them. He races off road with a core group of like-minded crazies and sometimes will travel across entire countries like Spain on a motorcycle. So when he accelerated our bike upwards of 110 KPH, while I held on with one hand and aimed a video camera in the other, I had to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing and that if we crashed I would die as quickly as an insect goes splat against a speeding windshield.

At one point, a two-point buck jumped out in front of us and for a split second, the old life (or middle aged lives in both our cases), flashed through our brains. Instead of spilling the bike, Checco calmly decelerated and tried to ease us past the frightened deer who suddenly about-faced and made the mad dash back across the street in the direction from which he originally crossed. It was all quite the adventure, and dressed in vintage leather coat, scarf, and engineers boots, I felt like I was caught up in some 1950's adventure movie. Secret of Incas, China, or maybe The Naked Jungle. Of course a Fellini flick would have been more apropos.

One thing is for sure, when you find yourself riding on the back of a motorcycle in the middle of the most beautiful, vine and tree-covered hills imaginable, cruising a gravel-covered road with a slight rain spattering against the translucent helmet visor and dripping down your lips, you come to realize in every bit of that "Eat, Pray, Love" sort of way, that life does indeed not suck. Life is what you make of it. No one is going to make it for you. So if you're reading this on your couch today in your living room, and you want to escape so badly you think you're going to lose your mind, promise me something. Promise me you'll click off this blog and click onto the Expedia travel site (or whichever site you prefer) and book a ticket to some distant land. Doesn't matter where too or for how long, so long as it's far away, and will take some difficulty getting there. I guarantee it will change your life.

Until next time...

 THE INNOCENT, the No. 1 Bestselling, Amazon Kindle is FREE all day, Sunday, 25 March, 2012...Nab it for your travels!!  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Walk With a Writer Over the Ponte Vechhio

My Virgin Video Blog in the home of the Renaissance, Warts and all ... Appropriate I think...

So my friend, publicist, and author, Bri Clark, has been encouraging me to make a shift from only written blogs to perhaps a video blog or two. After all, as I say in this, my first video blog, "this is the 23rd century." Or something like that.

This is sort of a writer-meets-travel-meets-I'm-not-really-fucking-sure video essentially, about something not all that unique, but still romantic and wonderful: The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. My adopted home away from home. Some of you might think me a tool for saying so, but I spend a lot of time here so I think I have earned the right to call it that. And considering I've written some books here and many parts of books, including The Remains, Moonlight Rises and the forthcoming Blue Moonlight, I believe I will keep coming here for as long as the Italian government allows. That said, I will try and be a good boy and not try and create an international scandal by charming the mayor's wife.

So without further BS from my side of of the Atlantic, here is my first video blog, from the land where Dante not only created the first modern novel, he created the modern Italian language.

Ciao Ciao

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Florence Writer's Retreat Report

A room with a view...

Some writers apply to conferences like Bread Loaf or Yaddo where they go to get some writing done in peace and without the day to day intrusion of job, kids, bills, sig other, Facebook, or whatever life-force gets in the way of their creative muse. It's the same for musicians and visual artists too. They apply to elite artist residency programs like the Millay Colony. I've been to Bread Loaf for an extended residency and conference, but haven't applied anywhere else. The application process takes so much time and effort that, in my mind, could be better spent actually writing. Which is why I choose to create a writing retreat of my own. In this case, it's located in Florence, Italy.

I first came here during my honeymoon twenty three years ago. Then I came back with my girlfriend ten years later. And for a short time I made this a temporary home base while writing and photographing for RT and other world publications. But over the past 4 years, I've been coming here twice a year, sometimes for a month at a time, only to write fiction. Over the past year I've spent more than one hundred days in Italy. At that rate, I will become a resident. Unofficially.

The important thing is that I can escape to place where I can live cheaply yet richly in a city full of romance, classical art, architecture, the memory of Dante, and get lost in my work. I've been close to some visual artists over the past few years and for obvious reasons, it's easier for them to demonstrate the progress they are making at their artist residencies and retreats. But I can tell you this: since having arrived in Florence by way of Rome just 3 days ago, I've written nearly five thousand new words on my fifth Moonlight novel, Moonlight Sonata, and edited twenty pages of my new stand-alone literary thriller, Precious (Aziz). I've also written several design pieces for Globalspec, and reviewed a part of the galley for my novel, Permanence, which I am putting out under my own, Bear Media, label in a month or so.

So I'm working hard in Tuscany and making my time here count. There is no better place to work than in an ancient city haunted by the ghosts of artists, writers, and musicians whose memory and work belong to the ages.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You Know You're in Rome When....

It's tough not to fall in love here.

You know you're in Rome when a businessman crosses a four-lane mine-field of oncoming rush hour traffic while beaming with supreme confidence (or faith?) that the motorists will stop in time to avoid running him down like a lost and confused dog.

You know you're in Rome when you spot an attractive woman wearing black tights and knee high leather boots walking by you on the sidewalk, and as she passes, you turn to sneak one more look, and you find that she is doing the same.

You know you're in Rome when a table full of Rayban eye-shaded priests occupy a table at a cafe and heatedly argue about politics over cocktails and cigarettes.

You know you're in Rome when a woman who loves her husband very much is issuing him an ear-piercing verbal enema at a bus-stop within view of the Trevi fountain.

You know you're in Rome when there are more women's sexy underwear shops than grocery stores.

You know you're in Rome when the taxi drivers go on strike at ten in the morning, and then work out a deal by the time happy hour is about to begin.

You know you're in Rome when, in a laughing fit, you explain to a maitre 'd, "Sorry, I'm a little drunk," and he smiles responding, "But of course," and quickly offers you one of the best tables in the house.

You know you're in Rome when every young couple who walks past, hand in hand, reminds you of a black and white Fellini flick.

You know you're in Rome if it is perfectly acceptable to loiter and keep drinking wine at the a restaurant table for hours and hours.
You know you're in Rome when you discover more real books than e-readers.

You know you're in Rome when "grilled rabbit" is for dinner.

You know you're in Rome when you don't want to leave.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Freedom of Choice

Freedom of Choice or D(e)-EVOlution

We live by them. That is, we want to have a life. A real life free of other people making decisions for us, whether we like them or not. Choice is freedom and anything contrary to that is slavery. Pure and simple.

Just last evening I ran across an interview Pay It Forward author and indie publishing proponent, Catherine Ryan Hyde, conducted with bestselling author, Barry Eisler. The topic of discussion was none other than his now infamous interview regarding indie as opposed to legacy publishing with self-published sensation, J.A. Konrath, which they have since published under the title, Be The Monkey. In this very important interview, Eisler talks about the success he's enjoyed not only as an indie published author, but also as a big six and Amazon-hybrid published author.

If you recall, and as Hyde astutely points out in her piece, Eisler is almost single-handedly credited with giving legitimacy to indie and self-publishing when he recently declined a mid-six-figure advance from St. Martin's Press in order to publish on his own. And in doing so, Eisler freed himself not only of the poor royalties the legacy publishers issue to writers, but he freed up his rights. In a word, Eisler proved that authors are no longer bound to traditional methods of publishing. In a word, we now have choices. And those choices are affording us the freedom to write when and what we want, and they are also making us much more money than we ever dreamed of.

While many industry players who work in the legacy publishing business, including many agents, have been understandably upset at the power indie publishing has built up over the past few years and the absolute threat it has born upon the traditional establishment, big publishing is still brushing off the digital revolution like it's nothing more than this month's fad. After all, they were the only game in town for an author like myself who doesn't see this as a hobby, but as a means for making a solid living. But what has apparently shocked Eisler more than denial of the obvious, is the resistance, if not outright contempt, he's received from other writers. Writers who apparently do not wish to enjoy the freedom of choice.   

Says Eisler:

"The most surprising negative reaction I’ve received, though, has been from writers.  And the reason this one has surprised me most is because for me, more choice is an inherently good thing.  It’s just intrinsic and axiomatic to my personality—I want choice because it gives me greater flexibility, increased power, and a better likelihood of achieving the outcomes I want.  And my fundamental message to authors is pretty simple:

'Hey, for the first time, we authors have real choices.  We can stay with the legacy model, we can self-publish, and we can go with the Amazon hybrid or ‘new’ publishing paradigm, which is based more on direct-to-consumer marketing than it is on distribution.  We can publish some of our works via one route, and other works via another.  We have more choice, and that’s giving us more power.  Isn’t that awesome?'"

I've said it before and here I go saying it again: for a popular author to maintain a good living in this the digital age of publishing, he or she needs to engage in a variety of publishing options. Legacy publishing (they still distribute and attract reviewers like no other), indie-based-small press (they offer the benefits of self-publishing such as author input on cover art while paying out a 50% royalty for e-Books as opposed to the legacy-based 17.5%), Amazon Hybrid (all the benefits of a major publisher while abiding by the indie model of author input and a 50% royalty on e-Books), and finally self publishing (DIY means you are in control from "Once upon a time..." to publication and beyond).

 I've engaged in every one of these types of publishing except for self-publishing. I just haven't had the time required to do so. But all that will change in the next six months with the re-publication of my literary novel, Permanence, and a handful of short stories that were previously published in small literary magazines like Maryland Review, Orange County Magazine and Negative Capability. For the first time in my publishing history, I'm no longer a slave to one particular form of publishing. Nobody tells me what to do and how to do it. I don't sit up at night worrying myself to death over my next contract and advance, or if it will happen at all. In a word, I could care less. I have choices now and I know my books are going to sell regardless of who publishes them.

I once went five years without a publishing contract because I wasn't aware of the choices. I was ignorant. A slave to an industry that would tell me they loved my books but that I just hadn't proven that I could sell to the reading populace, even after having earned a mid-six figure advance (yup, just like the one Eisler refused) from a Random House imprint. All that changed last April and May when I moved over 100,000 copies of The Innocent, which lead to a "very nice" seven book deal with Thomas & Mercer (Amazon Hybrid). The Innocent is about to see its third printing and will no doubt sell another hundred thousands copies if not more. Not just because another publisher believes in it, but because I chose to exercise my choice of publishing manner. In doing so I seized an opportunity and developed the skill to survive in this, the toughest game in town. Last year I made more money in royalties than your average accountant. And my pocketbook ain't nearly as deep as Eisler's.

Choices are everything in life. Barry Eisler and other progressive minded authors like him have proven it, time and time again. They are not just industry renegades, they are businessmen and women. Like it or not, writing is a business, not just an art. Any writing professor or literary purist who thumbs his nose at indie publishing will no doubt do so while slogging his way through the dreary wet cold of a mid-winter afternoon on his way to teaching yet another class. Ah yes, teaching: the only way many stuck-in-the-past writers can make a living since they can't make one on the paltry royalty system of the legacy publisher. If that teacher would like to get out of the classroom, perhaps it's time to belly up to the future and engage in several forms of publishing. Then he won't be teaching for a living. He'll be writing.

We don't get to choose just one mate. We play the field until we find the right soul mate.
We don't live in a single spot because we're told to do so.
We don't follow a single religion or abide by a single leader because we'll be shot or beheaded if we don't.
We exercise the freedom of choice.
And it makes our lives richer in many ways. The same should be said of how we choose to publish our words.



Saturday, March 3, 2012

First By-Line for Future Foreign Correspondent

Who doesn't want this gig?

Once a year I speak to a class of young would-be journalists enrolled in Albany State's (SUNY) International Journalism class. It's a gig I love since I'm pretty passionate about talking writing, especially when I get to talk about myself. What's the one golden rule of journalism we all abide by? People love to talk about themselves! And anyone who has followed my career and enjoyed it, or anyone who simply thinks I'm an egocentric tool, knows full well how much I love to talk about myself.

But speaking to this class is a way for me to give back and to offer some practical advice about reporting from the field, be it Africa, Moscow, Italy, Turkey, Paris, or downtown Albany. There's no rush like filing a story and seeing it go live on-line or printed in a glossy magazine. It's a rush I truly miss now that I'm once again a full-time novelist.

What you're about to read is a piece that was written soon after my visit to the journalism class. It was originally submitted as a part of a mandatory class assignment, but when the class prof read it and chose it as her favorite, she decided to send it on to me. I liked it so much, and thought it so accomplished for a journalism neophyte, I offered to publish it here. And hey, it's all about me.

So, Kenny Gould, young journalist, congrats on your first, or at least, one of your first by-lines. May you enjoy thousands more. And like me, may you become utterly obsessed with words and lust publication even more than the opposite sex.

Author Vincent Zandri Speaks to International Journalism Class
by Kenny Gould

    It's rather fitting then that, along with sleeping pills, antibiotics, earplugs, and electrical converters, the "Vincent Zandri Survival Kit" conveniently includes condoms. Zandri didn't set out to give a politically correct "how-to" speech on how to be a journalist in a foreign nation. As a matter of fact, he hates the idea of making how-to guides. He didn't talk about the Five Ws of journalism, he talked about the Five Ws of his own experiences as a foreign corespondent. His speech was a bit scatterbrained at times, but it was brutally honest. By his own admission, if you're looking to be anything but lonely, always on the go, and in plenty of debt, you should quit journalism while you still have a chance to do so. Being a foreign corespondent isn't for you.
    You may be a stringer gathering information, a photojournalist grabbing stills, a reporter on camera, or the guy who sits down and write the news story. Whatever you can find work doing, take it. "The world is on a string. Dismiss opportunities at your own peril." In Zandri's experience, there are times where months can go by without getting a break. Other times you're swamped and scrambling to keep up with dozens of other journalists out there just like you, desperately trying to get the next big scoop.
    The world of foreign correspondence has changed, says Zandri. He's hardly the only person to feel that way. He started reporting before the digital revolution took over journalism. Before you needed to have a Twitter account. Nowadays a popular blog can circulate Facebook with breaking news before it hits CNN. "If it wasn't for social networking," Zandri says, "I'd be screwed." Writers are some of the most competitive artists out there. Any edge you can get, you should take.
    When all else fails, take a break. After years in the field, Zandri is using his stories and his experiences as a journalist to write novels. Using the same social media connections you've already established as a journalist makes getting yourself out there that much easier. His son Harrison is now following in his footsteps as a writer because of it. If novels aren't your thing, trade journalism is a great way to pay the bills, says Zandri. "There's always something out there interesting to someone. As a journalist, you need to learn to write interestingly about a tea bag if you need to."
    What should you take away from this? If anything, it's the simple fact that journalism, foreign or otherwise, is not a science. There's no one way to get out there or stay out there. There's no one path to take. Whatever path you do end up making for yourself won't be an easy one, says Zandri. But if that rush, that high, and those endorphins can keep you going, it's all worth it.