Friday, December 25, 2015

A Very Zandri Christmas 2015

A very Hemingway Christmas...

I don't want to fall into that, "It's Christmas and time for reflection thing," because it seems that's the general article every writer no matter his or her politics, religion, and or sexual preference writes on a nice day like today. But having spent the past two months in Italy touring a new Italian edition of MOONLIGHT SONATA and rewriting my newest stand-alone, THE DETONATOR, along with a full first draft of the newest in the Chase Baker action/adventure pulp series, CHASE BAKER AND THE DA VINCI DIVINITY, I have come to just a few conclusions that will propel me into the new year, not necessarily as a hard working writer (I always work hard), but a writer who will work smarter.

Some adjustments I'll be making for 2016:

--As a hybrid author, I enjoy contracts with several publishers, big and small. But this year, I'm going to pay special attention to growing my own, Bear Media, list of books. This was the first year where I saw significant sales in my indie novels. Namely, the Chase Baker books of which the first in the series, THE SHROUD KEY, was named One of the Best of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. Now that writer/journalist Ben Sobieck is also penning original episodes of the series, I expect to see significant growth in Chase Baker world.

--Less journalism, more fiction. Back in 1999 when I signed my first big contract for my first big novel, As Catch Can (now THE INNOCENT), I chucked journalism altogether, thinking I would nail a 250K contract once per year. What a dope I was. That said, I've always believed a writer needs many outlets for his work in order to make a nice living. That includes journalism outlets. I still write some journalism and maintain my membership with SPJ, but while I'm paid for my time as a journalist, the work isn't the gift that keeps on giving. That means, more fiction. Think the 80/20 principle here. 80% more time spent on scalable fiction projects, and 20% on the journalism.

--Blogging. Was a time when writers were encouraged to blog constantly, since the posts would inevitably lead readers to your books. That basic premise still holds true but blogging doesn't quite have the "Buy Me" power it once did. Let's face it, there's so much noise out there in the blogosphere already that chances are, your words are only making things worse. Again, write more fiction, less noise.

--Word Count. I'm not one of those Bananaramo writers, nor do I feel the need to state a specific word count for any given work day. But I do feel I the need increase my word count this year. I generally write between five to seven pages per day when writing a new book. But this year, I'll try increasing that to ten pages.

--Readings. I dreamt last night that I was giving a reading to a student body. I take that as a sign that I should be out there doing more readings and speaking engagements. Therefore, if you're reading this, and you want me to read and/or speak at your school or function, just email me at and we'll set a date.

There's probably more things I'm going to try and improve upon this year, but I drank way too much wine last night in beautiful Florence, where the smells of roasting garlic pervades the air and the Christmas bells are ringing in the cathedral towers. I think I need to head out for a run and then open up some gifts with my family who have flown over the Atlantic to enjoy the holidays with me. I might be an ocean away from my American friends and fans but that doesn't mean you're not always in my thoughts. Thanks for making it a spectacular 2015!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

World Wars a Sad Democratic Legacy

Say what you want about conservatives, but up to and including now, it has traditionally been a liberal Democratic President who's presided over the United States while the planet became engulfed in a World War.

Woodrow Wilson, a far left Democrat, refused to get involved in the First World War until it was obvious that Germany's unrestricted use of submarine warfare would starve Western Europe.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, also a Socialist Democrat, stood by idly during the Spanish Civil War while Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy murdered thousands of Spanish innocents. He still refused to fight Fascism when the Second World War broke out, and he knew full well that Jews were being relocated to concentration "death" camps. Only when America's mainland was struck in 1941 did he have no choice but to declare war on the Axis powers.

Now we have Barack Obama, a leftist Democrat, who has forcibly made the US withdraw from its responsibilities on the world stage over his own political agenda--a dangerous policy that has directly resulted in thousands of Christians being slaughtered overseas.

Unlike the previous two aforementioned Presidents, he's gone a step farther than merely avoiding war with an obvious enemy like Radical Islam. He has signed treaty-like agreements with our enemy, Iran and taken great pains to empty out the GITMO detention center in Cuba. He's also made decisions of staggering ineptitude, like trading several major Al Qaeda players for a treasonous Bowe Bergdhal.

A Russian jet fighter was shot down over Turkey earlier today. Some are already saying that the incident is a part of Putin's overall strategy to see the world engulfed in a World War in which the Russian leader feels confident he can crush an ineffectual NATO and at the same time, rebuild the Soviet empire.

Why does NATO stand the chance of being ineffectual?

Because Barack Obama is ineffectual and the USA needs to lead NATO. 

The world security slope is indeed slippery. And the world is currently sliding rapidly down into a Third World War which presents the very real possibility of being fought with nuclear weapons.

Mr. President, wake up and be a leader before it's way too late. 


Thursday, November 19, 2015

On the Ground Observations from Terrorist Rattled Europe

Papa defends freedom with a pen and gin in his canteen.
Couple observations.

First, Bloobmberg reports today that Hemingway's 1964 posthumously published memoir about Paris is flying off both the digital and paper shelves in France, particularly Paris. Amazing the support for Papa's romantic vision of the City of Lights as A Movable Feast all these years later during such complicated and dangerous times. A time in which, like during WWII, the Russians are allying with France to eradicate a common enemy as murderous if not worse than Hitler's Nazis.

According to Bloomberg, the renewed interest in the great work is a "show of defiance" against the recent Radical Islamist terror attacks and Radical Islam in general which would do anything possible to eliminate a way of life for drinkers, writers, poets, artists and more. Let's face it, the bastards would make a mosque out of the Deux Magot.

Papa would love the renewed interest in the wake of this new war of freedom vs. terror. Speaking of another time in history he famously stated, "Fascism is a lie told by bullies." No writer can truly write under Fascist law. Same goes for Sharia Law, as well as the Political Correctness which has afflicted the USA and been perpetuated so dangerously by Barack Obama and his mainstream media minions.

So Papa would be proud.

One wonders however, what he might have thought (off the record, of course) of the present POTUS. My guess is he would have smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "You get what you goddamned pay for, pal." He then would have belly laughed and poured another glass of vino rosso (or rouge). "Don't take life so seriously," he would have said, slapping me on the back. "You never know when that old whore death is gonna come knocking at your door."

In other matters, today, I came face to face with a group of Muslim young men freshly transplanted from their home territory. I stood in line at the grocery store with them. They seemed giddy and relieved to have made it this far. They had a leader with them. A fixer. A man who was about my age, and who was coaching them on what to buy and how to buy it (no pork products). They spoke in their native tongue, and looked healthy and fit and not to badly attired with nice watches and jeans. The leader, who spoke very little English and zero Italian, was confused when the cashier wanted to know if he wanted a plastic bag with which to carry his purchases. He just looked at her like she had two heads. I reached out, grabbed the plastic bag, and gave it to him. He smiled. I wondered if these transplants had wives and children waiting for them somewhere. But there was nothing in their food and supply purchases that would have indicated as such. No baby cereal or diapers. Just stuff a grown young man might want to eat and utilize. And certainly no booze.

Syrian refugees come up from the south?

Almost certainly.

But the refugee part might be misleading. More like young men fleeing a civil war in which they would have to choose between one of two evil sides. I could only hope their intentions were benign. But I can only wonder considering the recent events in Paris. Vigilance is key here. This world war is only just getting started. 

Oh, and by the way, the fixer attached to the young transplants paid with a Mastercard.

Go figure...

UPDATE 11/20:
 As of this morning, the US State Department warns American travelers that Florence's "Duomo Cathedral" and Rome's Vatican are now listed as viable ISIS targets based on recent intelligence reports. Italian military and police have now ramped up security accordingly.



Monday, November 16, 2015

Is President Obama in Control?

I (try to) approach my politics as an indie. Despite what writer/journalist and Ernest Hemingway's 3rd wife, Martha Gellhorn, opined a long time ago about "Fuck all that objectivity shit," I need to keep an open mind to both sides, resist the Fascism of political correctness, and go with my writing gut.

But watching today's Barack Obama press conference--subject ISIS and the Paris attack--broadcast from the G20 Summit in Turkey (and doing so from Europe) was a very painful experience (one journalist cavalierly queried, "Why can't we take out these bastards?"). The leader of the free world not only seemed out of touch with reality, his answers were filibuster-long, disjointed, devoid of hard facts, defensive and, in a word, rambling.

In my opinion, we see a foreign policy failure unmatched since Chamberlain in the months leading up to WWII.
But don't take my word for it. Catch the full press conference here.

Critical questions loom:

--Is the US prepared to handle an attack like that which has consumed France?
--Is taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees, 90% of whom are fighting age young men, really a good idea at this time?
--Since we know precisely where the majority of ISIS members live and thrive, shouldn't we enter into a series of decisive blows that obliterates them, and neutralizes their capabilities overnight, despite the President's sentiment of not wanting to engage in an "immediate solution"  (Huh?)?
--Is the President, not pushing moderate Muslim nations in the Middle East to both fight Radical Islam and take in Muslim refugees because of his new alliance with Iran?
--Was it wise of him to release more Gitmo detainees only a couple of days after the Paris strike (Is this the result of his new alliance with Cuba?)
--Is the President truly concerned with the safety of America, or with his own political (philosophical) agenda?
--Is Barack Obama in control?


Saturday, November 14, 2015

France's Hollande Says Attack an 'Act of War'

Despite a US State Department claim yesterday that ISIS is being "contained," a massive terrorist attack was carried out in Paris last evening killing upwards of 158 and wounding scores more.

Get the full story here from the Reuters.

In a statement just moments ago, French President Hollande  stated that the attack was an "act of war" and that France would show no pity for those responsible. While an ISIS cell has been identified as that responsible party behind the attack, the President has declared a state of emergency, closed all borders, and initiated the first curfew in the country since WWII.

This is a developing story...



Saturday, November 7, 2015

Killing O'Reilly (By Sheer Force of Will)

I've been out of the country for a while but I happened to catch the cage fight between Bill O'Reilly and George Will over the latter's recent review of the former's newest addition to his "Killing" series, "Killing Reagan." I haven't read the book yet, but I have read a couple in the Killing series and I can tell you this: they are fun. But I never once took them seriously as historical fact. I merely enjoyed them as a kind of alternative history told in journalistic fashion. For anyone who kindly reads the Chase Baker books, don't look for fact. Just look for fun, told in a fictional, almost pulpy comic book manner. You see what I'm getting at here.

But apparently Mr. O'Reilly takes the books very seriously. As serious as a heart attack, because anyone who witnessed the exchange between he and Will on Fox News probably thought the 'No Spin Zone" host was going to double over from cardiac arrest. Here's the clip.

Listen, I'm not about to take sides here. But as far as I'm concerned, I see O'Reilly as more of an entertainer. A conservative one at that. However, I also know as a writer, that he probably pens very little or any of the text in his books, and more than likely, doesn't participate in the research one iota. He's got like a billion bucks and he can pay to have the dirty work done for him. See an interesting Washington Post piece by my old friend Erik Wemple in which he illustrates O'Reilly's research process (keep scrolling down until you find it), which apparently is to give his subcontractors one week to come up with information he requires to support his thesis. For their time he pays $5K. Not a bad take home for a week's work. But you can't fence in the time needed for serious research that, if not conducted properly, could do unseen damage to a man as iconic and well respected as Mr. Reagan.

George Will has also entertained me over the years. But he is a serious intellect unmatched by O'Reilly. If the two were to enter into a battle of wits, O'Reilly would come off as being unarmed. Hey, I'm not knocking O'Reilly here, I'm just telling the truth without any spin in the end zone whatsoever (haha).

At the end of the interview, O'Reilly calls Will a hack. That's like me calling Jonathan Franzen or Tim O'Brien minor talents who will soon be forgotten. Will handled himself well in the interview and I think, in moral terms, he had an obligation to write the review of his co-worker's book, knowing with every keystroke the shit storm it was going to cause. But hey, sometimes you gotta take the video game controller out of the hands of even the most brutal brat. Tantrums be damned.

It turns out Mr. O'Reilly has a thin skin. I suggest that in order to avoid any further criticism of his Killing books by serious historians and/or veteran political thinkers, he take the time to write them himself, even if it means he take a two or three year sabbatical from the No Spin Zone. The alternative is for great minds like George Will to  keep on Killing O'Reilly.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Papa's Advice for Traveling and Working and Living

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."--EH
Last night I packed my bag (that's right, bag, as in one carry-on bag or in this case, ratty old backpack) and my laptop for what will be an extended trip to Italy (and points beyond). For two months I will be working, touring the Italian edition of Moonlight Sonata, eating, drinking, playing, and whatever else I feel like doing.

All this in mind, I thought it might be appropriate to pass on some travel and writing tips to any of you considering the life of the literary expat (even if only for a month or two). But then it kind of dawned on me that you shouldn't take my word for it. Take someone else's word. Someone made famous not only by his words but by his love and fascination with travel.

Ernest Hemingway.

Here's what Birchbox compiled with regards to Papa's love of the road, the air, and the sea, not to mention his never ceasing passion for working while traveling. Something I can relate to as easily as breathing.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Guns Don't Shoot All By Themselves

Yes, Obama, mass shooting occur elsewhere in the world too

Two weeks ago I attended a handgun safety course, which is a part of the overall mandated program for obtaining a pistol permit in New York State. Prior to attending the class I assumed it would be full of young men, all of them filled with piss and vinegar, maybe a few boasting CAT tractor baseball caps, or some others with Dukes of Hazard Ts pulled over massive weight-trained biceps.

I was gladly mistaken. The room was filled with an eclectic assortment of individuals to be certain, more than half of whom were women. Women of all ages. Some in their late 60s, a couple in their 50s, and so on and so forth. The young woman who sat beside me was getting her license so she and her boyfriend could shoot together. She looked at me with brilliant green eyes and said she couldn't wait to get the permit. But many of the older women felt the need to better protect themselves in an America that has grown increasingly more dangerous over the past eight years, due to racial divisiveness and a war on the police.
It's possible this man stood up for his Christian belief and died for it

Little more than a week ago, another one of those horrible and senseless mass shootings occurred at a campus in Oregon. The shooter killed 9 students and faculty, and injured many more. According to reports, the victims were required to state their religion before the shooter pulled the trigger. I won't mention the killer's name here since it doesn't deserve even the time it would take me to type it. But I bleed for the loved ones of the dead and pray that somehow these killings will one day cease.

Within hours of the tragic event, President Obama once again used the sad news as an opportunity to press a political agenda of anti-NRA sentiment and gun control legislation that, if he were to have his way (which he won't), would mandate total confiscation of America's guns and the repeal of the Second Amendment. You've read the novel before or perhaps seen the movie. The one in which the fascist state puts together a kind of SS-style militant organization that pounds down your door, demanding you hand over your weapons. Something that would not only be impossible in this country, but would be severely resisted, by force if necessary.

But what really happens during these horrible tragedies?

Do the guns pick themselves up and do their own shooting? Or does the fault lie elsewhere, like in the brain of the shooter perhaps? Instead of touting his hatred of guns, perhaps Obama should focus on the real tragedy here. The killers are mentally ill and just plain filled with hatred. Or is "politicizing" (Obama's word), the mentally ill not PC in America? Did you know that a mentally ill person cannot be incarcerated until he or she commits a violent crime to themselves or others? Where is the logic in that Mr. Conscious in Chief? Again, am I not being politically correct? Or is political correctness akin to those ten round magazines you wish to abolish? Abide by both principles and you won't see anymore carnage. A naive notion at best, a dangerous one at worst. 
Welcome to Mexico

When President Obama spouts something so wrong as we're the "only nation where this (mass shootings, that is) regularly happens,” I have to to wonder what planet he's from, or who's advising him anyway.

Isn't this the same President who enjoyed a photo op with the three young brave Americans who thwarted an AK47 wielding madman on a train between Belgium and France? And wasn't one of those young men enrolled in the Oregon college where the mass shooting took place? What about the mass shootings taking place in the name of Radical Islam in the Middle East and North Africa?

When I was in Egypt at the end of the failed Arab Spring and the Barack Obama-supported Muslim Brotherhood was walking the streets of Cairo with their AK47s at the ready, I never once bothered to ask if anyone of them had passed a federal background check. Should we ask the families of the Christians who have been shot in the back of the head execution style if the guns were responsible for their murders, or the assholes who pulled the triggers? Should we ask the families of those murdered at Paris's Charlie Hebdo? How about Nairobi in 2013 when dozens of mall goers were shot just for not being Muslim (Trust me, a traveler friend of mine, Fran Strazzella, miraculously lived to write about the massacre in his 90 Minutes in Nairobi) What about down south in Mexico? Surely there are no drug cartel related mass shooting there either (tongue in cheek).

But this is no laughing matter. The US and the world in general has become a dangerous, angry as all hell place. Perhaps it's better to protect one's self than be a victim.

If the POTUS and I agree on one thing it's this: these mass killings must stop. But instead of pointing at the guns as the problem, point your finger instead at the crazy angry lunatics who wield them. Simply ignoring them because it's not politically correct to label them as crazy isn't doing anyone any good. Here's how politically correct I am, Mr. President: Note to all you loons who think you'll become famous for shooting up a school in the US or shooting a Christian in the face in the Middle East. Do us all a favor and shoot yourself first.

The other day, at the police station where I was awaiting being printed for the pistol license, I met an elderly African American woman. She was small, tiny even, with a sweet face and demeanor. We got to talking about guns, and the violence that was seizing our country like a plague. Two young cops had been shot this past month in her community alone. One of them about to become a father. Or course we spoke about the tragedy in Oregon. She told me that she feared for her life in this climate where it's seemingly okay to kill officers of the law. If not for the police, who will protect us? Certainly not Obama (He is, by trade, a professional agitator after all). I told her about the pistol safety course I'd recently attended, how there were several women about her age in attendance. She asked me for information about the class.

"Perhaps it's time I thought about buying a gun to protect myself," she said.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

German Journo Witness to ISIS Planned "Nuclear Holocaust"

Jürgen Todenhöfer, the only western journalist to have been allowed access to ISIS strongholds in both Syria and Iraq and live to tell the tale, has a dire warning for Israel, Christians, and the West in general, and which he spells out in his new book, Inside IS – Ten Days in the Islamic State. The radical Muslim terrorists, who were once referred to as "the JV team" by Barack Obama, plan on slaughtering hundreds of millions of people. Already formidably armed, ISIS is actively seeking out nuclear weapons and other WMDs. Once having acquired them, they plan on using the weapons against Israel and other targets in the West, ushering in a nuclear holocaust of Biblical proportions.

In his book, the author writes, ISIS is a “nuclear tsunami preparing the largest religious cleansing in history.” The army seeks world domination and an eradication of democracy and all religious belief systems that conflict with their radical ideology. Says Todenhöfer, "The west is drastically underestimating the power of ISIS."

For the full story and links from BREAKING ISRAEL NEWS, click HERE

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"I was born, I blinked ..."

You blink and summer, you sadly discover, has passed you by. Actually, it went by faster than a blink, which life in general seems to do, or so I'm discovering now that I'm a 51 year old guy. Time is now akin to sliding down that slippery slope. The descent isn't all that rapid, but you start thinking of things that you never thought about before (if you'll forgive the Yogi Berrasim, may God rest his soul).

For instance, you wake up one too many times at night to take a leak and what flashes through your brain is prostate cancer. There's more hair at the bottom of the shower drain these days. Gray hair. You're still exercising more than ever, but it sometimes leaves you more tired than energized, so you become a fan of afternoon naps (For the life of me, I don't know how folks with traditional jobs get through the day without a nap).

But there's a lot of good that comes with age too.

For the most part, I feel like I'm twenty-one. I eat what I want, drink what I want, go where I want, and, do what I want, within reason. I still get the high hard one up without help from chemicals, and, praise be to God, I don't think I've enjoyed a summer in recent memory where I haven't had even an ounce of women trouble.

Maybe I'm learning something in my dark middle age (it's not really all that dark. I just like the sound of that). Ten years ago this very weekend, my second wife, Laura, and I, split up. I moved out with fifty dollars in my checking account and a whole bunch of debt, and no publishing contracts to depend on. Now, ten years later, Laura and I are back together. I'm about to publish my twentieth novel in Jan. 16 (Orchard Grove, Polis Books), and I make a very good living at what I do. As for debt, I kicked it's big fat ass.

So how did I do it?

I worked hard at making some serious changes in my life that extended far beyond something as simple as quitting smoking or giving up gluten. I peered into the mirror, and I was honest with myself. Brutally honest. What I came up with is that your life is your own responsibility. No one is to blame for your plight but you. Not society, not race, not political affiliation, not your parents, not the police, not the welfare state...Not even God or the devil. You and you alone are the captain of your ship and you alone are responsible for its course.

So, yes, I have learned some things now that I'm older, the most important lesson of which is this: No matter how bad your situation is, you can change it. You can reverse anything, if you want to. Happiness isn't something you wear like a skin. It's a choice. In making the decision to be happy, you must make adjustments. Some of them difficult, like giving up a job you hate, leaving a harmful relationship, or packing up, selling your shit, and moving to a new state or country. But the changes are necessary if you are going to be happy (yes, in all the Eat, Pray, Love, sense of the word).

I'm reminded of an obituary that recently appeared in a US newspaper. It was written by the woman who was about to die, something for which I applauded her. In it, she wrote, "I was born, I blinked, and it was over." I've never forgotten those words. Nor should you. That is, you want to assume ultimate responsibility for the one life you live and its happiness.



Sunday, August 16, 2015

World War III and More Pleasant Observations

How ISIS has Fun in the Summer Sun

It's been way too long since I've posted here. But if I have an excuse or excuses, it/they are good ones. This summer has been taken up almost entirely with my rewrite for When Shadows Come, my new stand-alone psych thriller coming from Thomas & Mercer in April of '16. Time is also being consumed by my rewrite of Orchard Grove, my new hard-boiled/noir effort to be released by Polis Books in January '16. Both books are major releases for me and represent precisely my evolution as a writer with 20 books to his credit (or discredit, depending upon which side of the fence you're on).
Some common sense observations from the mind of a rugged individualist (card carrying Independent) thus far for summer 2015:

--You don't plead the 5th unless you're afraid of going to prison.

--You don't wipe the personal server clean of 30K emails unless you have something serious to hide.

--You don't make a deal with the Devil unless you have sympathy for the Devil.

--An estimated 50 Iranians who oppose the Iran Nuke Deal have been executed since the interim agreement was signed some months ago.

--"No" means "no," right? Well, "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" means just that...Death.

--The EPA is the new BP when it comes to ruining the environment. Will Obama take time out from his vacation to visit Colorado and the thousands of people affected by this environmental disaster, like he did the Gulf spill? Methinks the photo ops won't work in his favor.

--The national debt is closing in on 20 Trillion. If the debt ceiling were an airplane, 20 T is where we stall out, and begin a spiraling nose dive towards the ultimate calamity.

--Planned Parenthood is now officially in the organ harvesting business.

--Amnesty for illegal immigrants is not about love. It is a power grab for the Democratic caucus. More votes means assured victory, assured big government, assured dependency on government handouts...Oh, and more senseless murders.

--ISIS is not the JV team anymore. They are now the Varsity squad outfitted with WMDs, some of which have been discovered in Iraq.  Go figure.

--"All Lives Matter."

--Russia is on the move, testing NATO's resolve. And remember when North Korea signed a deal with President Clinton back in the 90's assuring the world they would not develop nuclear weapons? It was a deal based not on "trust" but verified inspections. Looks like the bad guys just can't be trusted to keep their word. In the end, it's possible the next POTUS will find him or herself trying to avoid WWIII.

--Is it any wonder that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are killing it in the polls while our professional politicians steer the world towards a disaster no one will be able to avoid?



Thursday, July 2, 2015

KU.2 and More Crimes(S) News!

KU.2 is here it seems to have some authors confused.

Me included.

I get that authors are now paid for what readers read in terms of number of pages turned. But what I'm not entirely clear on is this: Is it better for a write to be producing long books now as opposed to novellas and shorts?

Common sense tells me the former as opposed to the latter. In any case, the few books I have published as purely Indie aren't doing any better or worse with the advent of this new and improved system (it's too early to tell). But my gut tells me to go wide with most of my indie books while concentrating on KDP for longer titles, like The Scream Catcher, for instance (actually, this title was recently purchased by POLIS BOOKS).

In the end, I think we should trust the experts on the matter of the new KU, so let's bring in Hugh Howey...The floor is yours Hugh...Click HERE for his latest blog, The Great KU Flip-Out of 2015


In other News: Richard Matt and David Sweat, the two killers who pulled off the Great Escape from Dannemora Prison in Upstate New York have finally been apprehended. Matt bought the farm after eating a bullet, and Sweat, who also got shot, is currently residing in the Albany Medical Center. 
Some predictions about this case that I got right early on: 
--They would be apprehended relatively close to the joint.
--It was an inside job.
--The tools used in the cutting of the walls, pipes, etc, were easily supplied by COs and other prison workers.
--Security would be lax at the honor block (I've been inside the Green Haven Honor Block where much of the Italian Mob resides and it smells like the best Italian restaurant you've ever eaten in).
--The end would involve a shoot out and at least one them dying.
One thing I got wrong: Neither man sought out an old girlfriend and/or wife. Neither had a spouse, I believe, but things being as they are inside an all male prison, I figured they would want to get laid. But then, I guess Joyce Mitchell, the prison worker indicted for aiding and abetting their escape was giving them more sex than they could handle. 

I'm in debt to these guys not only for putting on a good show, but for giving me the idea for my fourth Jack Marconi novel, THE INNOCENT (formerly AS CATCH CAN) being the first one. How ironic that after 16 years of Jack, he's back to investigating the max security breakout of a couple of killers, one of them a cop killer. Think I'll buy David Sweat some flowers.

Lot's coming up including my nominations for a Shamus Award and an ITW Award, so don't forget to check out WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM  for detes. 

Oh, crap, and also, I'll be signing first editions of EVERYTHING BURNS and MOONLIGHT WEEPS at ThrillerFest this Friday after my 12PM Panel, "MEET THE NOMINEES!" Hope to see you there.


Monday, June 8, 2015

"Little Siberia" Prison Break: A Case for Jack Marconi?

David Sweat and Richard Matt, on the lamb in Upstate NY

More than a few readers have asked me if I'm going to write about the elaborate, "Shawshank Redemption" style prison break that occurred a few days ago at the Clinton County Correctional Facility in Dennemora, NY, which is located approximately 25 miles from the Canadian border at Montreal. Dubbed, "Little Siberia" by the inmates and security guards (corrections officers) alike, the place is pretty much a frozen hellhole during the winter and a frying pan during the summer months. An escape hasn't occurred there in almost a century and a half, so you can imagine the amount of planning that went into this by two notorious murderers and cops killers.

That said, having researched and written about another elaborate maximum security prison break that took place back in 1968 at New York's Green Haven Prison in my novel, The Innocent, I might speculate on the following:

--Judging by the degree of sophistication that went into the breakout...the expert cuts in the walls, the steam pipes, and the overall knowledge of the joint's layout, these two criminals not only had outside and inside help, they had access to facility blueprints.

--Make no mistake, Corrections Offices and prison workers can be bought. They also are human which means it's easy to form emotional relationships with inmates. The prisoners run the show, not the other way around. That means, if the two escapees required power tools to facilitate their escape, they simply found a way to have them smuggled into the prison. Trust me, that's the easy part.

--While the Canadian border is located relatively close by...a forty five minute drive, I'm told...investigators should concentrate first on girlfriends, wives, family members, good friends and the like, before jumping to any conclusions. Sure, the obvious decision for these guys to make is to cross the border and somehow find their way out of the country. But more than likely, they want to get laid and eat a home cooked meal, not to mention down a few beers. Sounds crass and too simple to be believed, for sure, but how's that old song from the 80's go? "People are people," even if they are crazed murderers.
Okay, some of you might have a heart attack over what I'm about to point out, but I'm gonna do it anyway since I'm primarily a hard-boiled author. It is kind of romantic these two guys were able to pull off such a skilled escape in this day and age. The brash manner and style in which they managed to pull it off and, on top of it perhaps enjoying the assistance of beautiful femme fatale working inside the joint, is something straight out of a 1930s noir novel or film. I couldn't outline it any better.

So then, will I write about this case?
I'll ask Jack Marconi, former max prison warden turned PI and get back to you.



Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ten Years Ago...

Nominated for ITW's Best Paperback Original...

Ten years ago I was down and out...


After a stellar launch and a quarter million dollar advance on my first novel, I did something stupid. I assumed those great big advances would keep rolling in every year like Christmas. All I'd have to do is write 60,000 words and collect the dough.

I was young, immature, stupid, and I freakin' blew it.

Instead of continuing on as a freelance journalist, I quit the racket altogether, believing that I'd be spending the rest of my days writing the great American novel. I didn't save any of my advance, but instead bought a house I couldn't afford while the rest of the money burned up in a costly divorce. When the first couple of books in the big deal didn't come close to earning out that huge advance, I was politely shown the door.

"Hey, that's showbiz, kid!"

I was left with no future publishing prospects, no journalism gigs, and even the new marriage I'd entered into had gone belly up.

Ten years ago, I sat all alone in my apartment and wondered if the Gods were trying to tell me something. That maybe I didn't have what it took to make it as writer. I knew I could continue sitting there feeling sorry for myself, or I could grow up a little, go the opposite direction and make the slow, arduous, long climb out of the pit I'd dug for myself.

The newest novel...
I started out by doing something positive. I quit smoking.

I also started putting feelers out for new freelance journalism gigs. They started coming in at a trickle, but within a relatively short time, I was building up a new portfolio. I also started writing fiction again. Short stories and a new novel. The novel that would become Moonlight Falls was written during this tumultuous period. No wonder my main character contemplates, attempts, and fails at suicide.

I also began a long series of travels which turned into my becoming a freelance photo-journalist for outfits like RT. I saw West Africa and toured the bush where little children from an orphanage held my hand and touched my skin because they didn't believe the milky whiteness could be real. I went to Moscow, Paris, London, Istanbul, Peru, the Amazon Basin, and Egypt as the smoke cleared on the Arab Spring. I began basing myself out of Florence, Italy, where I would spend months at a time writing for news services and working on new novels.

Soon, I contracted with a small press to publish Moonlight Falls. Then another small press would take on a new version of The Innocent now that I'd managed to get my rights back from Delacorte. That novel would go on to sell a few hundred thousand copies. Ironically, it would have made back the original $250,000 advance. More books were written and more published. Then something wonderful happened. Thomas & Mercer, Amazon Publishing's traditional publishing arm offered me my first major contract in years and years.

I was back.

Today, ten years later, I'm enjoying contracts with several publishers large and small. Plus I've begun my own label to publish my Chase Baker series and other smaller projects. I'm still writing some journalism. Not because I have to, but because I want to keep my foot in the door and what the hell, it keeps me sharp. My SPJ dues are paid up and I'm a member in good standing.
This year I will enjoy my best year ever as a writer.

What's the secret to turning your writing life around?

For a business that requires as much luck as it does work, a writer must develop a fortitude, a self-discipline, and a perseverance that is unmatched in any other endeavor. The more you work, the more luck you have.

The ebook revolution played a big role as well.

But, ebooks or not, for me there was no other choice in the matter. Like Hemingway said after the initial dismal critical and commercial failure of Across the River and Into the Trees (1950). "When they've knocked you down on your ass for the count of eight, you get up and let 'em have it." He counter attacked and won the Pulitzer Prize. I've counter attacked and haven't won the Pulitzer, but I am up for ITW's Best Paperback Original for 2015 with Moonlight Weeps. And that's something to be very proud of.

Ten years ago I was down and out...and in many ways, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.




Monday, May 25, 2015

Freedom Fighters Volunteer to Fight ISIS

A YPG anti-Isis volunteer fighter
You might have heard by now that President Barack Obama, while addressing the class of graduating officers at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut last week, pointed to Climate Change as America's most immediate and present threat to our national security. While I have no doubt that climate change is real (several climate shifts have occurred over the last 1,000 years alone), my staunch opinion is this: you don't turn to your wife in the middle of the night and ask her to turn down the thermostat while a masked gunman is standing at the foot of your bed.

On this Memorial Day 2015 it's important to realize that while they gain ground and slaughter innocents thousands of miles away, ISIS is determined to create a Radical Islamist State in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. And they are succeeding. It's true the US might not be able to stomach another ground war right now since we've been sending our soldiers to fight two major conflicts over the past fifteen years. But like the Nazis of WWII, ISIS will have to be dealt with sooner or later, and the US will inevitably have to lead the way. The coalition the President claims to have set up among some of the Arab states has proven ineffective to the point of failure. In the end, the political campaign promise to withdraw all troops from Iraq has proven catastrophic.

But some people aren't willing to stand on the sidelines and watch a brutal enemy who willingly decapitates children, get away with cold blooded and often gruesome murder. Like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that was formed to fight the Fascists in Spain in the mid-1930s, men and women are volunteering to take up arms against the Radical Islamist threat before they are able to form a viable state. A state that, when solidified, could easily be backed by Iran and in the process, afforded funds to build a considerable war arsenal which will include air and sea warfare capabilities.

Sound ridiculous?

When you consider the Nazi Party essentially began in a beer hall by a group of half-witted antisemitic agitators, a formidable ISIS army capable of taking on anything the US will have to dish out doesn't sound all that "JV-ish."

Member of the famed Abraham Lincoln Brigade

While we hear about the hundreds of western young adults trying to join the enemy cause, dozens of right-minded westerners, including famous Hollywood actor Michael Enright, are paying their own way to join up with Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in order to prevent the black flag of ISIS from flying. Make no mistake, what's happening in Africa and elsewhere is the start of a world Radical Islamist vs. Judeo/Christian war, and the sooner a realistic plan is put in place to exterminate these cockroaches, the better.

Maybe the volunteer army of freedom fighters isn't going to make a dent in the ISIS steamrolling push, but at least it represents a start. It also serves as a reminder on this Memorial Day, that to some people, dishing out hard-earned cash to risk their life is well worth the price of freedom.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Camel Meat a Tasty Alternative

The famous (or infamous) Medina in Fez is a near impossible to navigate maze of Medieval corridors and alleyways surrounded on all sides by a great stone wall. Something like one million people are stuffed inside the place and they all coexist like ants inside one of those vertical ant farms that parents reluctantly purchase for their more nerdy, science-minded kids. How fascinating to move around among the meat vendors selling sheep’s heads, camel hearts, and lamb’s brains, and the metal pot craftsman who work together banging out their wares to a rhythm that would challenge any drummer (myself included), plus dress makers, knife makers, food stalls, spice and perfume shops, clothe and leather merchants. The smell is smoked meat goodness combined with rancid leather tanneries (which also exist inside the city walls), spices, dust, mold, and body odor. At various times, you need to turn yourself sideways in order to pass through a narrow corridor.

The point (or one of the points anyway) of this excursion is to eat camel. Now, I enjoy a good burger just like the next guy. But I’ve never really considered camel as an option over say, sirloin or Angus beef. But around Morocco and especially inside the Medina, camel meat seems to serve as quite the specialty while narrow stalls advertise the fact that they carry camel meat by nailing a severed camel head to the wall. Makes me want to belt out a Rachael Ray "Yumo."

Standing outside the stall where a charcoal grill is going in the back, we order our camel burgers while flies surf the chunk of raw red meat currently laid out on the sales counter. We take a seat inside the impossibly cramped eating area and nervously drink mint tea while the not unappetizing aroma of cooking camel burger fills our nostrils, the sound of meat grilling and fat spattering serving as the soundtrack. 

When the burgers arrive they’re served on a crusty bun with tomato and lettuce. Instinctively I look for some Heinz 57, but a nondescript hot sauce will have to do. I pick up the burger two-fisted, take a whiff of the smoky flavor then dig in. 

Okay, we’ve all heard the saying about all foreign eats tasting like chicken. But this meat is different. It tastes like meat should taste. Rich, full of flavor, and juicy. The spices added to the ground meat only enhance the flavor. Turns out I didn’t need the Heinz anyway.

The camel burger gets polished off. Happily. Should I worry about getting sick later? Perhaps it’s a good idea to pop a Cipro provocatively, just to make sure. In any case, I’ll find out in about eight hours when the thing digests if I’m going to spend the night glued to the toilet or not. For now, I lock eyes with the camel head hanging on the stall wall as I move on deeper into the overcrowded Medina.
“Thanks for lunch, pal,” I whisper.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Moroccan Train Travel At Your Own Risk

I fully expected mayhem in India. When it comes to boarding a train that is. I expected such congestion and a swarming of overpopulation that it would be near impossible to board a train without being seriously hurt and/or killed. And that did happen when a woman lost her leg trying to rush a train that was about to leave in Orcha. She dropped into the too wide space between train car and concrete platform, her left leg slipping onto the track as the train began to move, severing her leg at the knee. I was there to see her pulled up and out of the no-man's-land-like track pit and laid to rest on her back while she bled out, no one coming to her aid other than those praying for her soul.

But in Morocco, the boarding of a train, even a first class car, can also be a heart wrenching experience, while men and women bull their way inside a space that can only hold so much flesh and bone without bursting. There is no organization, no politeness, and above all, no civility. That is, until you are finally on the train and, having negotiated a place to stand (or sit, such as on top of the coffee bar in the inoperable cafe car), some kind gentleman offers you a freshly picked date from a paper bag. Mere moments before he might have gladly kicked your ass out the door if it meant he had just a little more space to himself.

Fights break out between men. Not swinging fists necessarily. But shouting matches, with fists clenched, not raised or poised to punch. One man trying to prove his macho manner over the other as if the security of an entire nation depends upon who enters the train car first. For certain these men condemn one another's souls for all eternity. It's like watching fighting cocks without the full contact or spilled blood. But that doesn't mean attempting to board a train in Morocco isn't a contact sport. Far from it. This isn't a very writerly description, but suffice to say, it is what it is.

Morocco is certainly not Italy when it comes to keeping train schedules. It's actually more like Amtrak in the states when running an hour or more behind is as common as food stamps. After all, a train system run by the government is a surefire means for inefficiency and carelessness. Workers get paid regardless.

But I digress.

For the weary traveler (or even someone traveling with an adventure company like Intrepid or Peak Adventures), just know this: If you are traveling in Morocco by train, pay for a first class ticket, because then you at least have a chance of getting a real seat, although it might not be the one you paid for. Maintain a sense of humor and a sense of balance since it's likely you'll have to stand. But above all, get over yourself and have a sense of humor. After all, you're not back in the states riding Amtrak. You're in Morocco, a land of enchantment and mystery.

The author shares a coffee bar for a seat with a stranger


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Casablanca Never Visited

The many faces of Morocco

For a second there, I think I'm in Paris, with the many cafes bearing French titles taking up prime real estate on the countless street corners in the old bustling district of Casablanca. But of course I'm not. I'm planted on a different continent altogether. My third trip back to Africa. This time to the extreme North West or Morocco.

I wasn't sure what to expect in this country's biggest city that is as much European as it is Arabian (you can practically swim to Spain from Tangiers way up north). I avoided this area of the globe for a long time picturing caravans of tourists attempting to catch a glimpse of the Arabic speaking world not from their armchairs necessarily, but the closest mobile equivalent possible. Thus far anyway, I've seen little evidence of the cheese factor, lets call it.

I'm pleasantly surprised that this city has not lost its charm, or edge, in that the buildings that line both sides of the old Boulevard Mohammed V are still of the old white, pre-war (WWII that is), stucco-covered Parisian style architecture. Overhangs protect the outdoor cafes not from the rains (which most surely come at some point) but from the relentless sun...a bright warmth which is decidedly welcome in late April coming from a guy who just spent the majority of the never ending Winter up in Albany. If you want an idea of just how warm it is at present, think Miami, Florida or Los Angeles, California, and you get the idea. Still, it's not unusual to spot a woman outfitted from head to toe in a black abaya and khimar with a North Face down parka zipped all the way up to the neck, especially in the early evening.

This is a big city of 6 million, so there is constant activity...voices shouting in Arabic or French or a combination horns...sputtering motorcycle engines...robed young men pushing carts with battery powered speakers blaring prayers or a call to prayer anyway...fruit venders...police car sirens...Play Station cafes with patrons smoking Dhoka from water pipes...

For the Tony Bourdaine types out there, the street food here is pretty safe, so long as its cooked well. For lunch yesterday I scarfed a hot dog panini. I'm not entirely sure what the hot dog was made of, and it's probably a good idea that ignorance rules the day here. But it was served inside a deliciously crusty bread with vegetables. I finished the small meal with a cafe au lait.

For dinner I ventured out for a Moroccan version of a steak sandwich which are beef chunks cooked kabob style over a coal-fired oven. The beef is placed inside bread which is stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, and cooked green olives. It's wrapped in a tube made of paper to which a heaping helping of French fries is piled on top. The meal, along with a Moroccan beer (yes, you can drink alcohol here in this mostly Muslim country) cost a whopping 30 Dirham, or about three bucks US. I made certain to tip generously since, unlike Europe, this is a "tipping culture," or so the guidebook tells me.

One last item: I did inquire respectfully to my driver about the, ummm ISIS problem, with its presence in Algeria, Libya, and most points east and its training camps in Mauritania to the immediate south-west. Just last month a major ISIS cell was broken up, not to mention the refugees that are entering the country hoping to get to Europe. The tall, dark, wiry, thirty-something man was quick to tell me, "In Morocco, we practice an Islam that is all about the liberty and freedom. We will not tolerate ISIS. That is politics we do not want."

I hope things stay that way.