Vincent Zandri is the bestselling author of The Innocent and Moonlight Falls, among many others. He writes gritty fast paced thrillers that you cannot put down. He is a journalist and a photo-journalist. He is an accomplished storyteller whose narratives are both real and gritty. His works are available in both paperback and E Book format, and he has just signed a major deal with Thomas and Mercer. He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about E Books and Noir.
Your novel ‘The Remains’ is a chilling portrait of a predator. How did you come about creating your protagonist?
Ironically enough, when I was first posed this question (I get hit with it a lot), I was taken aback, as if somebody slapped me upside the head. So how did I come up with Rebecca Underhill, painter, art teacher, twin, abduction victim, and the source of one recently freed criminal’s obsession?
The answer is not as simple as it sounds. Often as authors we sit down with a blank sheet of paper and set out to invent our characters based upon a plot we’ve already mulled over for a while. That’s the process I utilized for my novels The Innocent, Godchild, and Moonlight Falls. But The Remains was different. Both the plot and the protagonist came to me based entirely upon the emotional place I was at in my life at the time.
And that place was not a happy place.
I was going through my second divorce to a woman I still loved very much. Her name is Laura. And without going into the details of the breakup, suffice to say it was one of those cruel situations where we both still cared deeply about one another but simply couldn’t live together. This was a new experience for me…not being able to live with someone you love very much. Life isn’t supposed to work that way, or so I thought at the time. It was a theme nonetheless that I wanted to explore in a new novel that did not have a macho lead character who carried a gun and an attitude, but instead a female who was an artist who had recently suffered the dissolution of her own marriage to someone she still very much loved. In this case, a novelist named, Michael (Go figure!).
It was a strange experience for me. Laura and I had broken up, but we still spent much of everyday together and even continued to be romantically intimate up until recently when both of us started seeing other people. I believe even then we never veered far from one another’s hearts. I wanted Rebecca and Michael to share that same experience. Which is why in The Remains, the two pair up to stop a madman from hunting Rebecca down and exacting a revenge that has been building for thirty years. I wanted the ex-spouses to work together and to become close together again in sharing a common goal: Survival.
Judging from the response and the magnificent sales of The Remains, I believe I may have succeeded.
What do you make of the rise of the E Book?
Well that’s like asking me what I think about breathing, I guess. I’m lighthearted about it because who would have thunk even two years ago that I would be making a nice living from the Kindle e-book editions of my books alone. That’s not a misprint. But there you have it. How curious life has become for both writer and reader when you can store not only thousands of volumes on a single electronic device, but (and I’m referring to those who use Smartphone Kindles likes I do…), also all your albums, your photos, your movies, your TV shows, your photos, your phone/messaging service, your computer…all of it in your back pocket. You don’t need an apartment other than to sleep, shower, and have sex with the sig other. But to get back to the original question, reading has become sexy, fun, and desirable again. A form of “first choice” entertainment as opposed to,”Well, there’s nothing on the telly so think I’ll read.” One wonders how the first cavemen and women to view the cave paintings in Southern France reacted. Probably shocked, and in awe, and wanting to visit that part of the cave all the time, until they could get their own cave paintings. But the point is that people love stories and whether the story medium is paper, or caves or electronic device, readers wish to escape, and that desire will never end. It’s a hard, hard, world out there. It just so happens that right now, with the e-book quickly becoming the dominant form of reading, writers and especially independent writers who are able to publisher through the Kindle program, finds themselves going from constant rejection to deciding which color Porsche they want to drive…Strange new world, but also one which empowers the author like never before.
Tell us about your latest novel.
The latest published book is SCREAM CATCHER which my indie publisher StoneGate Ink has brought out in e-Book, trade paper and audio. It’s about a former cop, Jude Parish, turned author who is undergoing treatment for severe anxiety. When he and his family become the target of a serial killer who is also a video game designer with a love of recording his victim’s screams as they die, Parish must go to extraordinary lengths to save those dearest to him. Something like that anyway. All of my books past and present are about to be republished by Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s new publishing powerhouse headed up by a bunch of expatriot Penguin editors in NYC. They’ll be publishing my new ones Blue Moonlight and Murder by Moonlight. Presently, I’m working on a novel about a soldier, an officer, forced to order an airstrike on a Takjik village in Afghanistan, and who has since been undergoing hysterical blindness due to PTSD. When he and his fiancee attempt to rekindle their love and new life together in Venice, Italy, she suddenly goes missing. Based on one of my most anthologized short stories.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like people to keep reading my books long after I’m gone. That’s a start. And that maybe I inspired a few new writers along the way.
Also, I want people to remember me as someone who never gave up no matter what was happening in his life. Didn’t matter if it were trouble with a publisher, a wife, a sick child, a series of cancelled flights, or even danger to life and limb, I always wrote everyday, day in and day out. Because that’s what real writers do. No matter their state of being on this earth, the sureness and anchoring of writing always assures their life validity, protection and confidence. It’s our shield and our religion. I hope other writers and readers recognize me for that now and when I’m gone.
What are you working on at the moment?
Presently I have on the drawing board a novel called Precious or Aziz as it’s known in Tajik. It’s about a solider, a Captain, who must order a strike on a village in northern Afghanistan. When the attack results in the death of a little girl he undergoes a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder so severe it results in temporary blindness. While he’s recuperating in Frankfort, the Army surprises him by sending over his fiancee whom he hasn’t seen in a year. The two head to Venice for a month where they live in an apartment over a bookshop. During the first week of their stressful stay, the fiancee goes missing leaving the blinded soldier in the desperate position of having to search for her.
Do you think love motivates crime?
Like night follows day…naturally. I think immediately of that opening scene in King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” in which the cheated husband carries a loaded revolver to the home where his wife is having an illicit affair or the steamy, sordid romance of “Double Indemnity” in which the black widow not only falls for her new lover, but is willing to kill her husband and make it look like an accident so that they can collect on the insurance. Or how about “The Postman Always Rings Twice’? Or what about “Moonlight Falls”? Of course there’s a whole lot of lust going on in these stories, but sometimes the division between love and lust is about as thick as the razor’s edge and just as difficult to walk without steel-toed boots on. But those would be very clunky in bed indeed. Who hasn’t felt a jealous rage now and again, or imagined themselves beating the crap out of some old boyfriend whom, you’ve just discovered, has been sending sexy emails to your significant other? Who hasn’t imagined stealing away the pretty girl from the abusive husband? Or not stealing necessarily, but eliminating him altogether. Maybe by rigging the works on his pickup so that when he’s doing 90 per on the highway, the whole suspension falls apart he goes careening over the pavement like a rag doll or Evil Knievel on a bad day…Something fun like that, all in the name of love.
Do you think Noir with no leading lady is nothing more than a castrated bull?
I’m not sure about a castrated bull. But traditional noir always has benefited from a sexy femme fatale as it were. As noir authors, we have a choice to write in an entirely new style (say, no femme fatale or a gay partner or none of the above) or pay homage to the old, which I pretty much do all the time. In my novel Moonlight Falls, I wrap an entire novel around a beautiful seductive woman married to a top cop named Scarlet Montana. I didn’t make that shit up. I actually knew a hotter than hot young woman who worked at a New York bank, named Scarlet Montana. She would flirt with me across the glass of the drive-up-teller and I was sadly newly married at the time. She had long thick hair and the greenest eyes I have ever scene, and I tell you now, it was all I could do not to leave my wife for her. That never happened but I did tell her that one day I would wrap a novel around her. It’s been twenty years since I last laid eyes on her and I sometimes wonder if she reads my books. But I feel as thought I would have killed for her had the circumstances been different. My Moonlight Fall novel never would have been the same without out her. Yes, it would have had the complacency and tiredness of a castrated bull. I sometimes get the feeling that one day, in a juke joint in some remote corner of the world, the real Scarlet Montana is going to walk through the door. That should be one hell of a reunion.
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
You mean besides booze, drugs, illicit sex, and Jesus? Hmmm…Now that’s a hard one.
I guess I’d have to start with my parents. They were kind of tough when I was kid. Until I was seven I lived in an area that was primarily rural but totally being encroached upon by the burbs. You’d wake up on the morning and literally see the backhoes and bulldozers from like a mile a way. It was the progress monster swallowing up my childhood. My parents fought something awful. Most times in the middle of the night so that you’d wake up in a sweat. You’re just a kindergartner and you’re wanting to get the hell out because these adults are making life miserable, not to mention a good night’s sleep impossible. They’re still together after all this time. Go figure. I think they are the first influences on my work. That constant conflict. Makes a kid think and lament his little life. Especially when he’s alone all the time. That’s when you start making up stories and living them. Soon enough I got into music and I wanted to be in the Beatles. I guess they influenced me too. Helter Skelter.
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
Ice in the heart. As writers we are often lonely individuals who spend most of our time alone with our thoughts and creations. We need ice in our hearts because we can’t conduct relationships like most normal people. We’re often not there for the kid’s Christmas pageants, or the significant other’s occupational advancement party, or for that matter, Sunday dinner with the parents. Or it can mean something else entirely, like having to write some of the most descriptive and cold-hearted scenes of murder, rape and torture. Whatever Greene’s intent, I choose to believe it has something to do with the former, not the latter. As an author working more than full-time, I sometimes have to cold heartedly put those whom I love the most off. The irony is that I do this while wearing my heart on my sleeve. So you see the conflict here. As writers, we need to feel that loneliness and angst. No one ever reads a happy writer, after all. Or let me put it another way. No happy writer every lasted for more than a few minutes on the shelves after he was dead. We need ice in our hearts to write. We need tears in our eyes. We need to feel the stabs of loneliness. But be warned, it’s that ice that will one day kill us, whether we are ready for it or not.
Tell us about your connection to the beautiful city of Florence.
Excellent question considering I just purchased my plane tickets about an hour ago for a month long stay in March/April. Not sure the connection other than one obvious one: Dante wrote the first modern novel there. But then Florence is full of writers, painter, photographers, musicians, students of all the above, adventurers on route or just relaxing for a while. It’s got all the stuff that a major city has but you can walk from one side to the other in about 30 minutes. And no sky scrapers. Most of my relatives are located over on the Adriatic Coast or in Rome. There are a few Zandri’s in Florence but I’ve yet to meet them. I go there to get lost, write, run, think, read, and most of all, write. I have friends there now so it’s a little harder to be anonymous, but I love them, and we all have a lot of laughs, especially when I attempt to order a sandwich in Italian and end up ordering a “whore” with “extra virgin olive oil.”
Thank you Vincent for a great and insightful interview which I hope will bring new readers to your novels.
SCREAM CATCHER ‘Another wonderful, fast-paced, intense suspense thriller from best selling author Vincent Zandri‘ says Life in Review.
Read more about Vincent Zandri and all his books on his website here.