Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The 'But(t)' Sentence



The most famous butt in the word, errr...
We don't always accept stuff at face value. Not if we're being smart. We weigh the pros and cons, often carrying on an internal dialogue in our heads. I.E. "Hmmmmm, that chocolate frosted donut sitting all by itself in the case looks delicious. But maybe I should eat something healthier. Like a banana. But I'm not crazy about bananas. I could always have cereal. But all I have is Cheerios and Cheerios suck. Now how about that donut. But my clothes feel like they're shrinking lately..."
And so on, and so forth. BTW: You probably end up eating say half the donut and therefore the calories don't count.

But I digress.

So one of the tricks of the writing trade...fiction that is, but it can be applied to the nonfiction stuff too...is the infamous But Sentence. I say infamous only because it sounds good. The But Sentence is used not only to propel a paragraph along, but also to help flesh out a character and/or situation more fully. It also keeps the reader more subconsciously interested in the text since But Sentences provide a specific rhythm to the story. Think of these little gems as paradiddles for words.

"Kim hated her long dark hair. It was dirty and unkempt. But then, she liked the way it made he blue eyes seem even bluer. Or her eyes weren't blue necessarily, but more like baby blue with a little gray in there. Actually, they were brown. Now she could always cut her hair. But she didn't have the money for a decent beautician. Instead she could cut it herself. However, she could never trust herself with a pair of scissors. Clearly, Kim, had herself one hairy conundrum."

Or something like that. But hey, I'm making this up as a I go.

The point of the illustration is to demonstrate that a But Sentence doesn't always begin with a But, rather, it can begin with an "Or," or an "Instead" or a "However," or even a "Clearly." You get a sense of the back and forth, the teeter-totter rhythm of the graph. You don't even have to care all that much about Kim's problem, but you keep reading because of the rhythm, the back and forthness of it all.The Buts are not only the glue that holds the thing together, it's the drumstick coming down on the snare drum, the bass pedal beating the bass drum.

Practice a few But Sentences on your own today. It's a fun exercise. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself. Of course, I'm one of those geeks who sees Kim Kardashian's big butt on a magazine cover and has to write a story around it. A long story. But then, that's my job.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM




Sunday, April 23, 2017

Marketing: The Time Suck

I work all the time. In fact, I'm sometimes like the crotchety writer dude played by Jack Nicholson in that movie from the late 1990s, As Good As It Gets. There's a scene in which he tells Helen Hunt, "I work all the time." The point being, Don't bug me. Writers are a funny bunch in that they don't feel right unless they are putting words on a page, good words or bad words.

But lately, I feel like despite the stellar word count, the marketing has been getting in the way. The social media, the interviews, the setting up of promos, the website updates, the newsletters, the compiling of subscribers and, if you're like me, answering as many fan emails as you can possibly answer without your fingers falling off from all the typing. I like my fans. They support me. Therefore, I like to give them the personal treatment.

Now, marketing your work doesn't apply only to your independently published books and stories. It also applies to the traditional stuff. In some cases, I find myself pushing the traditional stuff more, since the publishers just don't have the time or the budget to keep pushing Zandri books, especially the ones I can't even get my own mother to buy.

Some authors rely on Amazon ads or Facebook ads. They pour a bunch of money into the ad budget then create numerous ad-sets and forget about it. But like I intuited in a previous post, these ads can be a money suck if not monitored closely enough. Some authors hire virtual assistants to handle the marketing overflow. I've done this in the past and it never really works out, because you lose control over your messaging when someone else is producing it. Some authors do nothing. Their marketing is boiled down to consistent output. Write, publish, rinse, repeat. There's that rule again. The more books and stories you create, the better chance you have of making a decent monthly and semi-annual profit.

I believe that making more words is the inevitable answer. Writing stories day in and day out without hesitation. But how can one keep up with that kind of grueling pace? you ask. Simple. Some people never miss a day of work in a forty year career, minus vacations of course. Why should a writer be any different? Here's how I do it. I tell myself I'm working for a Hollywood studio, like Fox or Disney. They give me a room and a typewriter, and my boss tells me, "I want a story on my desk by the end of the week, or no paycheck." See, it's not so difficult when you look at it from that POV.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about marketing. But it all comes down to the writing, doesn't it?
Write, publish, rinse, repeat.
Everything else is secondary.

Grab my new novel THE ASHES

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
   

Friday, April 21, 2017

Moneysuck Or Do Facebook Ads Really Work?


Or, simply throwing your money away...
I've created a monster.
No, really...I now have something like 25 novels, novellas, and collections in print (see, I can't even keep track of the specific amount), about half of them with traditional publishers and the other under my own imprint, Bear Media. Like hungry little children, all these books need to be fed, or they will wither and die. That means, advertising. Sure, the best method for selling a book is still word of mouth, but I'm not only hoping to sell a few copies from out of my local indie bookstore, I'm selling to a global audience (Now you see why I do very few book signings). That means paid advertising like Facebook Ads.

I first heard about the possibilities of these little digital devils when I was in Italy sometime around XMas, 2015. I thought, well how hard can this be? I went to You Tube, looked at a tutorial on creating an ad set (the demographics, the budget, the copy, the image...), and I was off. Since then I've spent close to $10K on FB ads, and here's the thing: I'm not sure they work.

That said, I'm certain my books have landed millions, and I mean, millions of impressions. And quite a few clicks which I can only assume translates into sales. Or some sales at least. But for sure, I cannot attribute $10K worth of book sales to $10K worth of ads, which in the end would be a wash anyway. Taken a step further, I am most definitely not making a profit on these ads.

So why then, do I do the illogical thing and keep them going?

The answer lies in the impressions. Product recognition. What I'm hoping for is that when enough people finally recognize the novels I'm advertising, they will warm up to the idea of taking a chance on giving them a go. So I guess I can say, my investment in FB ads is more of a long-term thing. Right now, I'm the bakery that's giving away free cookies and cakes. That's not to say, I'm not learning how to optimize these ads better so that I'm not tossing money away. Numerous courses exist on creating the perfect ad, but they are expensive, and I'm not entirely sure the investment in time would be worth it.

In fact, I've been experimenting with Amazon ads as of late, and I find these effective in terms of dollars and cents (You are charged only per click, as opposed to FB ads where you spend exactly what you pledge per day). To a lesser degree in effectiveness are Book Bub ads.

In the end, I still believe the best way to push your books on the global market is to write more and more of them. Anyone who follows the Vox knows the mantra by now. Write. Publish. Rinse. Repeat.

But you still have to get the word out.

And this means advertising. So, if you're planning on using FB ads, make sure you spend only what you can afford, and experiment with them. Tweak them until the click rate is less than .05 per click. Anything more than that and you'll see your profits being eaten away like a cancer that thrives on healthy cells.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
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Out today and available for a very limited time at a special low price: The Chase Baker Trilogy, Volume II


Saturday, April 15, 2017

On Publishing: 5 Rules You Should Break


Any author who isn't considering opening up their own publishing imprint in 2017 is living in the fucking dark ages. Pardon the F word. Sure, publish traditionally. Give to Caesar what is Caeser's. But by all means, take control of your career, and take advantage of all the publishing opps out there, including independent publishing platforms like KDP and D2D.

Publish, not once a year, or twice a year, but all the time. Publish non-stop. Don't let any publishing professionals, agent or editor, tell you you're wearing yourself too thin. Don't take their advice at all in fact when it comes to production and the proliferation of your words. Proliferation scares them. It goes against their traditional mindset. It makes them feel like they are losing control.

What scares the writing traditionalists and academy elites the most? A non-traditional writer who sells. A writer who writes what he wants to write, how he wants to write it. A writer who doesn't bend over to the PC lockstep culture. A writer who refuses to be emasculated by the system. I made well over six figures last year publishing the shit I make up, one way or another. I don't have to teach, I don't have to work at another job I hate. I don't have to grow old and irrelevant by punching a clock for some other asshole. Like the song goes, I live life my way.

You can too, but it takes a crap load of work. In mean time, here's a little advice about 5 traditional publishing rules your should break!

1. Don't sign a contract if you don't have to. Here's why: the publisher will break it if it wants to. You however, being an author and therefore powerless in the publisher's mind, will be expected to adhere to the letter of the law. When it comes to publishers, well, they feel they control your fate. So, like a pilot that purposely crashes the plane into a mountainside, they can tank your book if they so choose. Or they can veer away from the mountain, and make it a bestseller. Once you sign away your rights, they control everything. So bring along a parachute and don't sign if you don't have to.

2. If you must sign a contract, make sure there's no bullshit in there about non-compete clauses, or anything that holds onto your rights, paper or electronic, for more than a period of seven years. Anything more than that, and tell them to hit the road. Publish it under your savvy new imprint and control your own destiny.

3. When your publisher tells you to slow down, nod politely, then write and publish as many stories and novels as possible. Write, publish, repeat. Don't listen to their rules. I've worked with a half dozen major, medium, and small publishers over the course of a 20 year career. Almost every editor, editor in chief, and marketing person I've been involved with over that period are now gone baby gone. If nothing else, professional publishing is a revolving door. No one cares about you, no matter how much they pretend. Take care of yourself first, and publish everything. 

4. Don't suck up to get ahead. If you're like me, a hybrid publishing traditionally and independently, you're still going to find yourself in situations (especially in New York City and LA), where you're going to have to suck up to somebody. Be nice, treat others with the same respect you expect, but don't suck up to get ahead. It's humiliating. Remember, this is 2017, not 2007 or 1997 for that matter. You, the writer, have far more control over the publisher than you think. They need you more than the other way around. What a liberating concept. Like I said, be nice, work with them, market the work they produce for you to the best of your ability. But expect them to work for you as well. Your relationship with them should be a working relationship of mutual admiration and respect. Not one of the writer on his knees and the publisher with his pants unzipped. 

5. You don't need to attend every writers conference on the planet. These are expensive events that are usually attended by the old guard elite who are often paid to be there. Sure, conferences can be fun sometimes, especially for the more social butterfly-like writers. But again, it's one of those situations where conferences need you, more than you need them. It's a cash cow suck up fest. So if you enjoy sucking up while emptying your pockets, go for it.

I could add a sixth rule to break here, like do not waste your money on an MFA, but I'll save that for an essay down the road. For now, just write. Write everyday, write with abandon, write for yourself because that's who you are. Carve those precious gems. Write for traditional publishers but proceed with caution. They will do their best to control you. So don't let them. Control your own destiny. Be your own man. Doesn't matter your gender, grow a new set of balls, and establish your own rules and live by them. Thrive by them. 

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Zandri is Wide (Not in the Ass) and a First Quarter Assessment: Notes from a Hybrid...No. Whatever


That's me arm-in-arm this past Sunday with the Noir at the Bar crew NYC

You all would have heard by now that Amazon KDP kicked me out of Select apparently for violating the exclusivity agreement once in 2012, once in 2013, and again in 2014. They couldn't prove that I had violated anything by producing the "warning" emails at my request, but they said it is so and if they say it is so I guess it has to be true.

Ever get the feeling the crucifix will one day be replaced with the Amazon logo? 

It's all for the good though, because like those pesky young adults who won't leave their parent's basement, I had been depending upon Select too much as of late for my indie books, and it was time to leave the nest and go wide. Which I have. I'm everywhere except Google at present, but I'll get there too. I'm only one person, people! Maybe I should hire an assistant. Preferably a hot little brunette. Don't get me started...

Onwards. It's the end f the quarter and I'd like to do an entirely non-scientific assessment of this year thus far in sales and productivity. In other words, I'm not going to bore you with specific numbers, but instead just a general accounting of how it's been going with my traditionally published books, my Amazon Imprint Published Books (namely Thomas & Mercer), and my indie books published under my imprint Bear Media (Bear Thrills, Bear Pulp, etc.)

Okay, so the traditional side of things. The hard-cover of The Corruptions arrived in late January while I await the paperback version of Orchard Grove which came out in hard-cover in January of 2017. Both books seem to be doing well, in paper, audio, and especially e-book. Although I don't have the exact sales figure for the first part of this year, I believe we're looking at around 4-5K in sales, mostly in eBook on the back of a Book Bub, which I was fortunate to acquire (and finance). What I must stress here however, is the importance of authors doing their own marketing since leaving it up to the publisher will usually result in crickets. They just don't have the time. One of the books I have going traditionally at present is stinking up the joint which sucks, because when I was publishing it under Bear Thrills it was doing relatively well. Live and learn.

Amazon Imprint Books (Thomas & Mercer): There's been a lot of changes at the firm as of late, and every single one of the editorial and/or marketing people I started out with in 2012 are gone baby gone. Some good people have taken their place, but while last year at this time I was hitting the overall number 1 spot on the Amazon bestsellers list with The Remains (and all the residual sales that went with it), this year thus far has been kind of a yawn. Sure books like The Remains and the Jack Marconi PI novels continue to carry the bulk of the load (I have a whopping 9 books with the firm), there hasn't been a promo yet that's propelled a single title to the top 10 much less the top 100. But that doesn't mean it won't happen next week. So if I had to guess without looking the numbers up, I'm around the 3-4K sales range there.

Indie Books: In terms of full-length novels, I believe I'm somewhere around 15 now. I'm not sure how I've done it, but I've sold around 7-8K books during the first quarter, not including KDP borrows. So that's something to be proud of. The Ashes, the sequel to The Remains, is doing very well, and considering AP passed on it, saying it's too late for a sequel and therefore a "non-starter," I'm more than pleasantly surprised. Now at the same time, I've also given away more than 10K books so far this quarter and if I had to guess, that's one of the reasons for my success (remember, there are hybrid authors out there who sell way more than me, and more who sell way less, so it's all relative).

So where does this leave me? I'm making a nice living, and slowly, incrementally doing better with each new book published one way or another. Some might say I should pick a method of publishing and stick with it, but truth is, if I were to go back to being traditional exclusively, I'd have to pick up more freelance work, or maybe grab a teaching gig. So that's out of the question because I love my freedom. And I'm not ready to go entirely indie either, because I enjoy my books being in stores and libraries, and I love the trade reviews, and you're just not going to get that with indie (sorry for the run-on).

I'd like to think I'll do more books with AP, but I might be tipping the scales with 9 novels right now, plus When Shadows Come is still in the red in terms of its earning out its advance (Come on guys, let's market the hell out of this one. It was selected as a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2016 for God's sakes...What's not to like?)

So now I'm wide and thus far I'm selling almost the equivalent of what I would have been making in page reads per day at Select. So that's a good thing. But more marketing will be needed in order to get the word out. That includes Facebook and Amazon Ads.

As for the production end of things, you'll recall in a past post that I have committed myself to writing only fiction this year (that can change), and thus far I'm putting out on average 10K new words per week, plus rewrites. So this is a full-time job to be sure. But what this means is, I not only have a new thriller for a traditional publisher to pick up, I am, at the same time, able to publish a series novel, novella, or short story at least once per month. And what's the best marketing tool for a writer? Proliferation. Or, simply writing more books. Write, publish, rinse, repeat. Word of mouth is a big help too, but you have no control over that. So if you're a writer, turn off the Twitter, and get busy. Get writing.

For links to all my "wide ass" books and all the stores that sell them go to:
WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Amazon KDP Select Shut Me Down with No Warning!


I've been shut down.
No warnings. No hints. Nothing.
Yesterday, I received this email from Amazon KDP Select.




Hello,

Due to repeated violations of the KDP Select exclusivity requirement, the following books and the rest of your catalog will be removed from KDP Select within five days of receiving this message and you will be suspended from enrollment in KDP Select for a period of 12 months. Should you enroll books into KDP Select in the future, they will be subject to immediate removal from the program....

...You may reply to crm-exclusivity-compliance@amazon.com if you have any questions regarding this email or believe this decision has been made in error.

Best regards,
Amazon KDP
http://kdp.amazon.com


Now, I've always been a champion of KDP. I'm a hybrid author who publishes traditionally and independently. I'm also prolific, which means I write more than any one publisher can handle. I also don't believe in placing all your literary eggs in one basket. That said, I began my own imprint. Bear Media, to handle the overflow. Normally I might go wide with my indie books, publishing them at Kobo, Nook, and other online platforms. But lately I've been enjoying the KDP Select platform a little more exclusively than usual, since my page reads were on the rise. I was also taking advantage of their Kindle Countdown Deals and Free days.

All seemed to be going swimmingly until this email showed up like a bullet to the brain. The email is in the wrong. No dispute about that. I was never warned about violating any exclusivity rule. From my understanding, real scammers get three warnings before the plug gets pulled. Then, a fellow author showed me this recent blog post by Adam Dreece: Amazon.com: A Vengeful, Simple God?

It was like being smacked upside the head, because the same exact thing happened to me, without warning. It was guilt before proving my innocence.

Now I've gone to bat for Amazon in the past. Check out this article from 2014 from The New York Times and check out this video from Fox News. But when I asked my publishing partners at Amazon Publishing, the traditional arm of Amazon, they said they can't help since KDP doesn't fall under their umbrella. I guess I have no choice but to take that as gospel.

How is it that I'm nixed from KDP Select for the next 12 months? Word up is that it could be the handy work of a jealous author, or former publisher, or just some total vengeful asshole. Or hell, it could be a glitch in the Amazon AI.Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but it's interesting to note that I'm coming off a very successful Book Bub Promo on March 20. On March 21, I received the email.

But one thing is for sure, I'm not APs or KDPs top author by any means, but I have done very well, hitting the overall Top Ten on a half dozen different occasions, plus the number 1 overall spot with The Remains and Everything Burns. Like I said, I've publicly gone to bat for Amazon Publishing. And I enjoy my relationship with them. I would expect them to assist me in clearing this matter up, as soon as possible. But thus far, it's pretty much been total radio silence. That's disconcerting.

Oh, and I also learned this: never store all your eggs in one basket. Go wide, hybrid author. Go wide with Amazon KDP, Kobo, Nook, etc. Or suffer the consequences.




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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Coming Up for Air: Notes from a Hybrid Author (Part ???)


I think it was late August of 2016 when I was informed that my services would no longer be required at the one trade journalism gig I maintained outside of my fiction career. It was a sweet gig that ran for ten years, an absolute lifetime in the fickle world of freelance journalism. I wrote architecture and construction related pieces, and it paid well and I won a bunch of awards along the way.

But after the new owners came in and cleaned house, I searched for another similar job, but my heart wasn't in it, so I abandoned the search almost as soon as it began. Which lead me to the realization that I should be putting that extra time towards creating more fiction in the form of serial novels, stand-alone novels, short stories, and novellas. Material that would provide passive income for years and years, as opposed to journalism in which you get paid for your time.

That said, since September '16, I've written and completed two novels. The Ashes and the forthcoming The Embalmer, the pilot novel in what will be the new Steve Jobz PI series. I've written the pilot episode in a new CIA-inspired series called Assignment Rendition, and completed two new Chase Baker pulp thrillers, Chase Baker and the Dutch Diamonds and Chase Baker and the Spear of Destiny. At present, I'm closing in on the half-way point with another stand-alone thriller, The Girl Who Wasn't There.

Also completed are several short stories, including Moonlight Gets Served which appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine and Dressed to Kill (A Jack "Keeper" Marconi PI Short Shot), among them. The latter was also serialized in Pulp Metal and will be published in its entirety under my own label, Bear Pulp next week sometime. Add in maybe half a dozen essays for the Vox, and several guest posts and pieces, and it's been one hell of a busy six months.

In the midst of all the new work, I also managed to rewrite The Corruptions several times in preparation for its late January '17 publication (Polis Books), along with a new stand alone, The Detonator, which will appear in January '18 in hardcover (also Polis Books). Amazing when you stop to think that I consider this part-time work.

So, with all this material needing homes, kind of like lost, wayward orphans, I will have to make the decision on who will publish what and when. In the old days, you wrote maybe one book per year, and hoped your publisher would push the crap out of it (which they usually don't). But now you have options. You can maintain your own list of titles of which you control the writing and the marketing.

But I'm a strong believer in having your books in the bookstores as well, and that's where the traditional market comes in. I enjoy seeing my novels come out in hardcover and reviewed by the major trade journals and papers. It gives me professional satisfaction and the respect of my peers. But there's nothing like having total control over your books as well, and that's where the beauty of indie publishing becomes self-evident.

I guess some authors choose to go hybrid because they feel it's smart to take advantage of all the publishing options out there in this, the new golden age of genre fiction writing. I do it because I really have no choice. Just make a quick count of all those books and stories I mentioned above. No way a publisher is going to take on all that work. They wouldn't be able to keep up, nor would they want to. I'm curious to see how the next six months goes, and how many more stories and novels I can produce. At 2,000 words per day (good words), I suspect it will be quite a few.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM







 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Rise of the Machines


I'm a little disturbed right now because I just witnessed something at the grocery store that took me aback. Rather, it was more like a swift punch to the gut. Shoppers were waiting in line to use the automatic robotic cashier machines while right beside them, stood a human cashier just twiddling her thumbs.

Now I have to admit, I had every intention of using the robots as well. But when I saw the young woman, or girl, standing there gazing at her newly polished fingernails, I made my way over to her, set my groceries on the belt and thus began my transaction the old fashioned way.

"It's a terrible thing for humanity when people choose the robots over the humans," I said.
But she just looked at me like I'm one of those middle-aged dudes who still smokes pot.

But it got me thinking. The rise of the machines is really upon us. I just had a book released in hardcover (The Corruptions), but I spend most of my marketing time setting up promos for the eBook or electronic versions of my books. I sell far more eBooks than paper and I sell them all over the world right from the laptop set up in my home office. Home, being where ever I choose to be at any given time.

Publishers now consult computer algorithms when deciding to take on a book or not. The computer can't be wrong, can it? New artificial intelligence programs are being developed that not only help us write faster, but help us plot our books. Soon, they will be relied upon to write them. You just wait and see.

I heard recently that a law is being enacted in the UK granting a specific set of rights to AI. Can you imagine your digitally enhanced toaster possessing the ability to sue you if you mistreat it?

The machines are taking over. God save humanity.  Think I'll go back to using my typewriter.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM



    

Sunday, February 5, 2017

True Lies: Real Life Prison Break Makes for Good Fiction


Is there anything more inspiring than the local news headlines when seeking out an idea for your fiction? Who doesn't like true lies? This is not to be confused with "fake news," which seems to be all the rage these days, because this ain't about politics. It's about where ideas come from. After all, if only I had a nickel for the many fans and/or interested parties who ask me, seemingly on a daily basis, "Where do you get your ideas, Vin?" 

The answers is, some shit I make up, others I rob from the headlines.

The Corruptions, now out in hardcover, eBook, and audio (Polis Books) is one of those stories I robbed from the headlines. It all began when two cons made a daring Hollywood-like escape from Dannemora Maximum Security Prison, or what's officially known in New York State Department of Corrections circles as the Clinton County Correctional Facility. It's also known as "Little Siberia" to its 3,000 or so inmates due to its location very close to the Canadian border. I've been up there and it's pretty much a castle surrounded by thick forest. Like the real Siberia, it's super freaking cold in the winter and super hot in the summer, and no one...not a soul...has escaped the joint in its 150 or so years of existence.

That is, until June of 2015 when two inmates, David Sweat and Reginald Moss, crawled their way through a steam pipe out into the Dannemora sewers. From there they popped a manhole cover, and waited for an escape vehicle that never arrived. What to do then?

Head for the woods.

What followed was a massive manhunt that lasted for days upon days, involved more law enforcement agencies, both federal and state (and Canadian), than you can shake a prison guard's baton at, and that reduced the governor of the Empire State to fits of rage and perhaps even tears...Hey, it's entirely possible. 

The story was covered on nationally and perhaps even internationally. The residents of the little town of Dannemora which surrounds the prison took up arms, and it all made for some great television and Internet watching. It was like a Hollywood picture playing out in real time. Of course, what we were all waiting for was the inevitable showdown between the cons and the police, which came weeks later during a shootout that left one of them dead, and the other wounded.

We all wondered how this kind of thing could happen in this day and age of hyper security, but deep down, despite the crimes of the perps (and they are significant), we were all sort of rooting for the bad guys. So this is the story that fascinated me enough to wrap a big fiction around it, much like I did with the first Keeper Marconi PI novel, The Innocent (Delactore and Thomas &Mercer). In this case, The Corruptions is based on the true story of the Dannemora escape, but my imagination takes over and hopefully I was able to make a fascinating story even more fascinating by imagining, what if? The Innocent has sold hundreds of thousands of units. Let's see what The Corruptions can do. Let's see if it captures the frantic spirit of two cons on the run.

Speaking of escaped cons, here's a quick joke. Two escaped cons are running down the road, when one of them spots some roadkill. "I'm freakin' starving," he says. "I'm gonna eat that." "I think I'll wait," the second con says. The first con fills his face with the roadkill, but immediately pukes. That's when the second con drops to his knees and eats the puke up off the pavement. When he's done, he stands, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "I was waiting for a hot meal," he says. 

If you like a cool, relentless, cat-and-mouse thriller, you'll want to check out the newly released The Corruptions (A Keeper Marconi Thriller No. 4). Think Fargo meets The Shawshank Redemption. My thanks to the cons who dared escape those prison walls. I know they hoped to make it to the border. It didn't work out that way, but at least they gave it one hell of a shot. In doing so, they captured the imaginations of thousands of people. The Corruptions will too.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
     

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Risk: Real and Imagined


Playing with a big knife in the African bush country.


Recently, an ITW Roundtable asked me and several other authors, this question:  What's the riskiest thing you've done in the name of research?

Knowing that a whole lot of peeps don't get to see the Roundtable, I though I'd publish my answer here at the Vox. So without further ado (Did you know the word "ado" can be traced back to the 1300s? As in, Much ado about nothing, which might actually be a more apt title for this piece...).
 


Risk or danger is relative of course.
Hemingway needed to place himself in some of the riskiest situations possible in order to write his fiction. War, bullfights, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and eventually, a double-barrel shotgun barrel pressed against his forehead. If it were physically possible to have written about the experience after he depressed the double triggers and blew the entirety of his cranial cap away along with most of his face, with only the lower jaws intact, I’m sure he would have. It would have been the ultimate dangerous research act conducted with the utmost grace under pressure.

Mailer adhered to a different opinion about risk and the human condition. He once said that bravery isn’t just limited to placing one’s self in perilous situations. Ultimate bravery can be the little old lady who is half blind and half hobbled who must walk two blocks in downtown Manhattan in order to purchase food. Every step is wracked with anxiety, every time she crosses a busy street, she fears she might not make it to the other side alive.
 
My friends and yours, the Islamic Brotherhood...Cairo, 2012
Some writers go to dangerous places in order to create, not in the physical sense, but instead, the psychological. Stephen King delves deep into the frightening and the bizarre and I’m sure that, at times, he frightens himself almost to death. There’s serious risk in delving deep inside the over-active imagination. Noir writers like David Zeltserman explore the deep, darkest, places a man or woman can go. His characters are often nonredeemable. Such as the killing of an innocent child and not feeling a thing about it. When you write on such topics, you risk making yourself insane.

Others like Hunter S. Thompson, experimented with drugs and in particular, hallucinogenics in order to come up with his brand of prose…his gonzo journalism. In the end, it left him battered at a relatively young age and like so many writers who have lived life on the edge, he took a ticket to ride by swallowing a semi-automatic pistol barrel.

I’ve taken some risks in order to research my novels. I’m a firm believer that researching on Google just ain’t gonna cut the Gray Poupon Mustard. You need to see, smell, touch, the place you are writing about. The keen reader always knows when you’re cheating (so too do Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Book Reporter, etc.) When researching my first big novel, The Innocent (formerly, As Catch Can), I spent days inside Green Haven Maximum Security Prison and even a full night locked up in a cell at Sing Sing Prison. The novel was praised for its realism by the trades and even the New York Post called it “Brilliant…” An auspicious debut, but at the same time, I’d set the bar high for myself. I could never again research a novel without talking on a certain amount of risk. 

Pretending to be the double-agent.

As time went on I began to take more and more chances. Exploring the bush country of West Africa where my fixer and myself managed to get our 4X4 stuck in a swamp. The temperature was somewhere around 100 degrees F, and the humidity enough to make my bush jacket stick to my skin. The ants were as big as my thumb, and the mosquitos relentless. We were eventually recused by a band of mercenaries who, along with their band of voodoo practicing workers, pulled us out of the swamp with their own 4X4. One of them men was convinced I’d killed many men because of the leather bracelet I wore around my right wrist. When I gave him the bracelet, my fixer got pissed off. “You’ve made a connection with him now,” he said. “A physical connection. He can practice his voodoo on you now.”

Maybe a week later, while travelling the bush country along the Nigeria border during its civil war, a soldier wearing fatigues and wrap around sunglasses stopped out 4X4 which was occupied by myself and three Christian mercenary women. He demanded papers and money. We were surrounded by bush country for miles and miles. If he raped the women, and killed us, no one would ever find our bodies. Not long after that, when I was trying to get the hell out of the country, the soldier at the tin-roofed airport terminal demanded a bribe in exchange for my freedom. I gave him everything I had. It was quite the experience, and worth the risk.

Soon after that I would dodge bullets in Cairo’s Tahir Square at the tail end of the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood and their AK-47 sporting bandits prowled the streets, making the police useless. They were a big fan of Obama, but at the same time, hated Americans with a ferocity that was palpable. I was forced to ID myself on the street as a Canadian to which a native might reply, “Don’t die Canada dry.” Good times. I stupidly went out for a jog in the early morning, and ended up surrounded by pack of wild dogs. One of the policemen guarding my hotel came running out, swiping at the dogs with the butt of his automatic rifle. “Don’t ever go out alone in the morning,” he scolded. I took his advice from that moment forward. Too bad he wasn’t around when my truck was run off the highway by another truck occupied by armed bandits. As we sat in the ditch, the driver desperately trying to restart the stalled engine, I was sure were about to be shot to hell. But even though the truck stopped to check us out, they motored on.  

There were the bomb scares in Istanbul, getting lost in Shanghai, avoiding bombs and indiscriminate stabbings in Jerusalem, climbing a slick cliff-side on Machu Piccu in Peru, breaking my foot in several places in the Amazon Jungle, standing in the cockpit of a prop job as it flew beside the summit of Everest in Nepal, sleeping beside the camels under the open sky in the Sahara Desert, and of course, missing Mr. Putin by only a few moments outside the RT news offices in Moscow’s Gorky Park.

But perhaps the riskiest moment came when I was exploring the upper Ganges by boat along with two other women and a fixer. The wood boat was small and cramped, it depended upon the wind for its propulsion. When there was no wind, which was almost always the case in June, a young man rowed while his fellow workers manned a kitchen boat that followed us. We were camping along the shore for a few days but monsoon season storms nearly blew our camp away during the night. It was a hell of a night, let me tell you. On the final day on the river, the heat was so unbearable, I decided to strip down to my boxer shorts, and jump in, much to the dismay of my fixer. But he too was so hot he could hardly move.
“Let’s do it,” he said. Even the girls stripped down.

Swimming in the Ganges is a strange experience in that the current is swift but the river is very shallow in places. But then the shallow parts become very deep, dark water pools that can extend for hundreds of feet. Little did I know it, but my fixer was an Olympic swimmer, both girls were also no stranger to the water. When they decided to swim across a deep pool, I didn’t want to be the one to discourage anyone. After all, it was my idea. I run and lift weights daily, but I’m not much of a swimmer, at least when it comes to distance. I didn’t make it half way across the pool when I began to feel myself going under. Panic kicked in and I considered turning about, and going back. But even that was too far away. No choice but to move forward. But I knew I would never make it. Realization took over. Fear and panic was replaced with total peace, if not serenity. I knew I was going to die. Die on the Ganges, the river of death but also the river of renewed life. I had come to India to die.

But then, maybe thirty feet ahead of me, I saw my fixer stand up tall atop a sandbar. Just seeing him standing there filled me with renewed hope. Flapping my arms and kicking my feet, I made it to the other side, exhausted, my lungs straining and burning. But I was alive.

Later on I would write the third novel in my Chase Baker action/adventure series, Chase Baker and the God Boy, and I poured all my life-and-death experiences into it. Was the risk worth it? I think so. Readers can sense that I’m not only writing fiction, but that I’m writing fiction based on a specific reality. If you’re a writer, and wish to be considered the real deal, get out of the house for a while. No one ever wrote great prose by sitting on the couch all day and Googling your research. No one ever wrote great books without taking risks.


So there you have it. My risk assessment. It's funny because I'm not afraid of entering into a dangerous country, or a dangerous situation for that matter, where life and limb could be compromised. But you know what scares me the most? Or put another way, what gives me nightmares? Being married again. No joke. Lately, I've been having this vivid recurring nightmare, where I wake up inside my old house, with my ex-wife (the first one), and she's yelling at me. Screaming. And I'm like, How the hell did I get here? Then she even goes so far to tell me, You're not gonna get away so easily this time, jerk!...I get the cold sweats just writing this. I'd better go do something else, take my mind off the fear, before I reduce myself to a useless heap of rags and bones.

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