Thursday, December 8, 2016

Florence Adrift




I've been coming to Florence for a year shy of a decade to write. On more than a few occasions I've recounted how it's been one of my dreams to have the opportunity to write in a place like Florence (or Paris, or Rome, or a Greek Island, for that matter) for an extended period of time while living the Bohemian lifestyle of making art during the day, drinking wine and eating the food in the evenings. I've experienced all that and more. Luck and Providence have shined down upon me, and I'm forever grateful.

You're sensing a big But here, aren't you...

Okay, here it is. Buttttt....this time around I'm sensing something different in the air. Perhaps it has something to do with the political climate...the global political climate shift, the demise of the left and the rise of the populist movements in the US, Britain, and now, yes, Italy (I saw a photo the other day snapped this past April that showed Obama, Cameron, Hollande, Merkel, and Renzi standing on a balcony together, confidant smiles on their faces, all of them having little conception of the fact that they would all be gone, minus one, in just a few months time). Or perhaps it has a lot to do with my present stage of life. I think they call it the 'sandwich generation' when your young adult kids are still unsettled and your parents, or parent in my case, also requires attention. But, and I'm going to be perfectly honest here, the peace I'm normally accustomed to in Tuscany has thus far eluded me.

Illustrations:

--While jogging in the park the other day, teams of police were rounding up African immigrants/refugees, all of whom were resisting, tossing empty beer bottles and angry fists at the cops. It was a frightening scene.

--American college kids walking, or should I say swaying, their way home, a couple of them literally vomiting in the streets.

--The cash register attendant(s) at the local grocery store who is so nasty and so obviously hateful of my Americanism, that the simple banal process of purchasing a few items is a humiliating experience.


I'm not going to belabor the point because there's still so much to love about this place. The food, the drink, the culture, the Noir at the Bar reading I participated in just last week...a terrific success and a blast. But there's something not quite right and it's tough to put my index finger on it. Perhaps it's just me and where I'm at in life. People change and sometimes the cities you live in change along with it, in every bit of that moveable feast sense of the word. Or, maybe, just maybe, you change and the city you've grown to love stays the same. In fact, maybe you're the problem. Maybe it's had enough of you and it's time to move on to a new city in which to write. A new experience. A new inspiration.

Or, perhaps I'm looking at this all wrong. Perhaps I need to shed those things that are getting in the way. Peel away the layers of skin that are bothering me. Freeing myself from the ever increasing weight that makes me feel at times, like I'm drowning in a sea of other people's needs and frustrations. For sure I should be turning off the goddamn internet when I'm working.

You can't be all things for all people, no matter how much you love them. You can only be you. Florence has always allowed me to be me, to write well, and to live well. It still is that place, but like a boat that's become untethered, I feel it drifting away. Think I'll grab the line and pull her back in.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM





Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Big Backlist is Really Your Frontlist



Over the course of my twenty year career in  professional publishing, if there's one thing I've learned, it's never what you've done or accomplished, it's always what you're about to do that's important. Publishers big and small, are always looking for the next big thing, the next big book, the next bigger than God author who is going to break out and amass great wealth for publisher's bank accounts.

And every year there is usually one writer who fits this bill. Almost always, the publisher creates the myth of the next big thing by tossing a huge advance at the poor soul (he doesn't realize he's a poor soul yet because he will of course be broke and needs the money badly), and the press will greedily snatch up news of the sale, the rationale being, if the book is worth so much money, it's got to be great!

Problem is, most writers don't earn out their advances, even humble ones. I was one of those mega six figure advance debut authors once upon a time and it nearly cost me my career in the short run when the six month bottom line turned out to be redder than Rudolf's nose. That's right, not six years, but six months. But for publishers, the point is not necessarily an author earning out a big advance right away as it is creating a buzz over something new. A book that is so fresh and unique it somehow deserves our utmost attention. Attention should, theoretically speaking, translate into sales.

But what about an author's backlist?

According to a new essay by marketing genius Seth Godin, the aptly misnamed backlist is really the true money maker for both author and publisher. These are the books that sell perpetually for both author and publisher year after year after year. Yet, according to Godin, publishers only invest about 2% of their annual marketing budgets to any given author's backlist and the rest goes to someone or something that's new, and never been done before. Thus the old conundrum, it's never what you've done, but what you're going to do.

Another thing I've learned about publishing is that publishers, and especially their marketing departments, tend to think short term. If they don't think a book will sell well out of the gate, no matter its merits, it's rejected. These days a book has to conform to the algorithms established by the computer software or it's "Thanks but no thanks." Problem with this philosophy is that some books take time to sell.

That debut novel for which I received the mega advance, The Innocent? It didn't take off until a decade later when, for some inexplicable reason, it sold more than 100K copies in a matter of a couple of months. By then another publisher had bought it, and then yet a third publisher snatched it up along with the offer of a rather generous advance.

But how can that be? 

The Innocent, as a viable book project was done, over, roadkill, six-feet-under, washed up, "You had your chance, kid, now beat it." You get the picture. Yet the book defied publisher (and marketing department) logic and suddenly took off. There was no rhyme or reason to it.

Eventually all my books become backlist books.

It only takes a few months these days for a book to be considered old. A fruit fly has a longer life than a new novel, no matter what the advance. Bookstores, the ones that are left standing, only have so much space. But thanks to ebooks, backlist books can now be promoted right up front with an author's new releases (this means backlist books produced in paper and audio as well).

A few independent minded publishers see the value of actively promoting backlist books. Amazon imprints are one of these. Thomas & Mercer continually promotes The Remains even though it was released in late 2012. It sells tens of thousands of copies per year, and during one year in particular, hundreds of thousands. Because of that, I just published The Ashes, the novel's sequel and next year I'll publish the third book in what's become The Rebecca Underhill trilogy. I'm not looking forward to the followup books to The Remains being frontlist hits (although that would be nice), but what I'm aiming at are those existing fans and future fans of The Remains who will be wanting more of the story. Those are the readers who will gravitate to the next two books in the trilogy.

It dawned on me recently...wait, scratch that...allow me to rephrase. The realization hit me over the head like a sledge hammer the other day while I was banging out a news story, that as a freelance writer and journalist, we only get paid for our time and once the story is published it's already old news. In other words, like that brand spanking new car you just shelled out thousands for, once you drive it off the lot, it's immediately lost both its original luster and it's top worth. And even that freelance payment has become so reduced thanks to free media outlets (like this one), that it's becoming harder and harder to justify the freelance writer occupation. It just doesn't freakin' pay anymore.

But by publishing more and more novels, novellas, and stories...by creating a backlist that's masked as your frontlist...you can create the gift that keeps on giving. Some books will appear to sell poorly out of the gate but that given time will grow into steady sellers. Some books will kill it out of the gate and then die a slow death. That is, until you repackage it and republish it, thereby breathing new life into it. And other books will sell respectably well out of the gate and sell steadily for the rest of your days, your children's days and their children's days and so on and so forth.

As a hybrid author, I can state with confidence that the writing business has finally become an occupation that's not necessarily concerned with what I'm going to do, but a hell of a lot more focused on what I've already accomplished. For me, the past is indeed prologue. 

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM 

Buy THE ASHES
 

Friday, December 2, 2016

La Dolce Vita


Henry Miller in his Paris apartment in the 1930s
Ahhhhh, the good life....

I'm the last one to bitch, because I can't think of any writer...and I mean any writer worth his or her salt-of-the-earth...who doesn't start out in this racket dreaming of one day moving to Europe for a while to write the Great American Novel.

You start writing because there's something inside you that needs to do it. You hero worship a whole bunch of the writers who came before you. Hemingway writing in Paris, comes to mind. Henry Miller doing the same thing as a middle-aged man. Martha Gelhorn in London and Rome. Even Mark Twain, for as broke as he sometimes was, wrote in Florence.
 
There's something about writers not being able to stay in any one place for very long, or else the earth will suddenly open up under their feet and swallow them whole. I guess I feel that way when I'm in the 'burbs for too long. All those sharks swimming around me taking bites out of me. Okay, I'm mixing my metaphors here. But then, even an accountant can't wait to get out of the house for a while. A girlfriend of mine once called me unstable. Not because I was a threat in any way, but because she knew I could never be happy standing still. "You always have to stir things up."
Right now, I'm stirring the pot.

Standing still, now there's a concept.

Norman Mailer was in his mid to late sixties when he was woken up at dark-thirty in the morning when his then wife's water broke for what would become his 8th or 9th kid. Story goes, he sat for a while on the edge of the bed, in his wife beater, his head in his hands, lamenting, "All I ever wanted was to live in Paris for a year while I wrote a great novel." Well, old Norman wrote some great books, but did so while trying his damndest to stay one step ahead of the creditors, the wives, the girlfriends, and the kids.

Anyway, back round to my original thesis, which is, I'm not one to bitch. Because here I am, living in Italy for a while, while I work on the Great American Novel (or three). Okay, some of you snotty writing school prof types...you English Department elitists, you know how you are... will automatically scoff at this by convincing yourself that Zandri writes only genre fiction. Certainly nothing that can be confused for the Great American Novel. Well, how's it feel waking up on a Monday morning and heading to work? Sure, in writing school there were more than a handful of profs who chuckled at my romantic vision of what a writer and the writing life could be. But then, these were the same people who would, no doubt, feel the fine hairs on the back of their necks stand up at the thought of my dream actually becoming a reality someday.

So this thesis, I've been on about. Like I keep saying, I'm not one to bitch, but in the near two weeks since I've been in Italy on my three month extended writing retreat, I've completed the first good draft of what will be the eleventh Chase Baker novel. I'm presently completing the galley proofs of The Corruptions which will be out in January in hardcover from Polis Books, and soon I will start on a new stand-alone psychological suspense novel I'm calling, The Girl Who Wasn't There (sometimes it helps to have a title in mind). The bitching part comes into play because since I've been here it seems the world is falling apart back in NY. I never realized how many fires I'm required to put out on a daily basis. But then, those fires are perfectly normal, and it's what some people are referring to when they say, "Life happens." In any case, I'm here to work on my version of the Great American Novel(s), and that's what I plan on doing. Heat or no heat.

I think the best bet, is to shut the phone off, turn off the internet, and isolate myself. Henry Miller wasn't bothered by instant digital communication, and neither should I be.

The good life...it's what you make of it. 

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM


  

Friday, November 25, 2016

How Far would You Go for Rabbit?


"Don't go down into the cellar, mommy..."


Okay, I know that the last thing some people can imagine is frying a cute little furry Peter Cottontail in a pan over a hot gas flame while introducing a fresh garlic, butter, chicken stock reduction, flour for thickness, rosemary, plus salt and pepper to taste, and then serving it with red wine, fried potatoes, insalata and an olive oil so fresh and green that it boasts zero transparency. But that's exactly what I crave when I arrive in Rome every fall season for my extended writing retreat in Italy.

In fact, how much do I spend just to eat coniglio (pronounced 'coneelio')? When you consider the cost of the hotel which is located in the Piazza Novona area, and the cost of taxi and train transport, and the cost of the meal itself plus a bottle of red wine, we're talking about $400+.

Point is, I could easily get off the plane in Rome and hop the train directly to Florence where I rent my apartment. That move alone would save me some dough. And naturally, this being Italy, I could no doubt enjoy coniglio up here in Tuscany as well. But there's something extra special about the recipe I enjoy at this one particular trattoria in Rome. Heck, I don't even know the name of the place, but the owner has gotten to know me by now, and whenever I arrive he smiles, shakes my hand, asks me how my writing is going, and he doesn't bother with handing me a menu. He already knows what I want.

So what does coniglio taste like?

Some of you might toss your empty beer bottles at my head, but well, it tastes sort of like the tenderest, most flavorful chicken you've ever had. It's far more bony however and it can be a challenge to get at all those tasty bits without using your fingers. It can make for a mess and if you eat coniglio the way it was meant to be eaten, the meal can take a while. You don't measure the time in minutes however, but in how long it takes for a bottle of wine to go from full to empty.

Coniglio done right...
I enjoyed my meal three nights ago and I can still taste it. What did the last poet/novelist Jim Harrison once say about a good meal? That he'd happily spend five hundred dollars on it even if his bank account is in the red. Because a good meal is not a thing to be consumed, it is a memory that lasts and lasts. I savor my memory.

Speaking of memory, many of you will recall my novel THE REMAINS, the story of Rebecca Underhill and her twin sister who were abducted by a madman back when they were kids, only to be victimized by him again three decades later upon his release from prison. Now Rebecca is back in the continuation of her story. It's called THE ASHES. And today is its release day. Like a great meal, a good book should be savored and it should not just pass the time, but provide you with memories as though the story on the page were one you experienced yourself. I hope you pick up your copy of THE ASHES today, and spend the weekend reading it. You won't be disappointed.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

   

How Far would You Go for Rabbit?


"Don't go down into the cellar, mommy..."


Okay, I know that the last thing some people can imagine is frying a cute little furry Peter Cottontail in a pan over a hot gas flame while introducing a fresh garlic, butter, chicken stock reduction, flour for thickness, rosemary, plus salt and pepper to taste, and then serving it with red wine, fried potatoes, insalata and an olive oil so fresh and green that it boasts zero transparency. But that's exactly what I crave when I arrive in Rome every fall season for my extended writing retreat in Italy.

In fact, how much do I spend just to eat coniglio (pronounced 'coneelio')? When you consider the cost of the hotel which is located in the Piazza Novona area, and the cost of taxi and train transport, and the cost of the meal itself plus a bottle of red wine, we're talking about $400+.

Point is, I could easily get off the plane in Rome and hop the train directly to Florence where I rent my apartment. That move alone would save me some dough. And naturally, this being Italy, I could no doubt enjoy coniglio up here in Tuscany as well. But there's something extra special about the recipe I enjoy at this one particular trattoria in Rome. Heck, I don't even know the name of the place, but the owner has gotten to know me by now, and whenever I arrive he smiles, shakes my hand, asks me how my writing is going, and he doesn't bother with handing me a menu. He already knows what I want.

So what does coniglio taste like?

Some of you might toss your empty beer bottles at my head, but well, it tastes sort of like the tenderest, most flavorful chicken you've ever had. It's far more bony however and it can be a challenge to get at all those tasty bits without using your fingers. It can make for a mess and if you eat coniglio the way it was meant to be eaten, the meal can take a while. You don't measure the time in minutes however, but in how long it takes for a bottle of wine to go from full to empty.

Coniglio done right...
I enjoyed my meal three nights ago and I can still taste it. What did the last poet/novelist Jim Harrison once say about a good meal? That he'd happily spend five hundred dollars on it even if his bank account is in the red. Because a good meal is not a thing to be consumed, it is a memory that lasts and lasts. I savor my memory.

Speaking of memory, many of you will recall my novel THE REMAINS, the story of Rebecca Underhill and her twin sister who were abducted by a madman back when they were kids, only to be victimized by him again three decades later upon his release from prison. Now Rebecca is back in the continuation of her story. It's called THE ASHES. And today is its release day. Like a great meal, a good book should be savored and it should not just pass the time, but provide you with memories as though the story on the page were one you experienced yourself. I hope you pick up your copy of THE ASHES today, and spend the weekend reading it. You won't be disappointed.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

   

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Political Correctness is Dead




Words matter.
Words are expression and they are freedom.
Words are what I do for a living.
I've waited a week to write this, because I wanted things to calm down a bit after the election. While lefty (and in some cases, righty) protesters engage in riots, and Hollywood A-listers cry in their Dom, and little weasels like Harry Reid (an evil little nothing of a man who allowed politics to get in the way of passing Kate's Law...but that's for another essay) try to compare the new president elect to Hitler, I sit back and breathe easy. Not because one candidate was chosen over another necessarily (I didn't like either of them), but because at the very least, denying Hillary Clinton the White House means political correctness is about to breathe its final breath before being dead for a very long, long time.

It always struck me as funny that one entire faction of American voters, especially younger people, saw the Republican nominee as a fascist, when in fact, the US and its constitutional freedoms have been under attack for eight years. We had a president who governed by executive action rather than work with congress. A state department that deliberately white-washed keywords like Radical Islam,  Jihad, Muslim terrorists from their playbooks. And a presidential candidate who broke the law by maintaining a server in her basement. I mean, even the POTUS emailed her under a fake handle. How is it that an outsider...a non-politician...like Donald Trump was made to be the bad guy when the whole damn system is so corrupt?

Again, I don't want to endorse any one candidate over the other, but when we live in an atmosphere where a writer like me has to think twice about the language he's planning on using in a book for fear of insulting someone or some group, we are headed for fascism. And like Hemingway said before me, fascism is a lie told by bullies. There's only one type of government where a writer can't be free in the language he or she chooses, and that's fascism.

Don't believe the outgoing administration wasn't borderline fascist?

Here's how one goes about destroying a free society:
Take away one's freedom of speech...Political Correctness.
Take away one's legal right to bear arms with strict gun control measures.
Undermine the police and their authority by taking the side of the "victim" under all circumstances.
Demoralize, de-fund, and destabilize the military. 
Pit race against race.
Establish a welfare state whereby people are dependent upon the government for their very existence and work is disincentivized.

I could of course go on and on, but by all means, don't say anything that might be construed as insulting or you might not only be berated and hated by the an intolerant left, you might one day be arrested in the middle of the night.

I'm not sure what the next four years will bring. But I'm happy that for the first time in a long time I can say Washington Redskins without someone giving me a dirty look. Or I can tell a woman she looks hot today without being construed as sexist. Or I can use words like Radical Islam and jihad in my writing and not be threatened with a red line.

I don't need a free space, and I don't need my deadlines to be postponed because I'm too upset over the people not having elected to put a woman who became wealthy beyond anyone's wildest dreams while working as a government servant in the White House (don't forget this is the same woman who stole a whole bunch of white house furniture during Slick Willy's tenure). A woman who openly lied about her own lies and then lied again in order to cover up the original set of lies. I only need the freedom to do what I want, say what I feel, and to put it all down on paper without fear of reprisal.

I've always run as an independent because I'm a writer and need to view both sides of the story equally. And while the current president elect might not have been my first choice (not by a long shot), the end of dangerous censorship-like political correctness is. We should cherish our freedom, not openly allow established career, on-the-take politicians to trample on them with ideological jackboots. The people of the US have spoken and a new world order is about to take hold. It won't be politically correct, that's for damn sure. But that doesn't mean as human beings we shouldn't be nice or have basic human respect for one another.

Like I said, words are powerful tools. Use them carefully and use them wisely. But use them without prejudice. Feel free to use them with abandon.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Writing: Just Do It


Pre-Order The Ashes!



Last evening I was happy to be a speaker at this year's The Next Bestseller Workshop in New York City. The three day event is sponsored by the lovely Jennifer Wilkov of "The Book is Your Hook" fame. This wasn't one of those events where I prepared a speech and delivered it verbatim to the crowd of students, but instead, was interviewed by Jennifer, kind of like the Actor's Studio program you can catch on PBS now and again.

What amazes me always about writing students or newbies is not so much a hunger to know how to hit the bestseller lists, or to catch a movie deal or to nab even the ever illusive mega book deal. Many would be writers want to know what the average day of the author is like. How do we get so much writing done when life is constantly getting in the way? The distractions...the kids, the cooking, cleaning, the taking the dog to the vet... That kind of thing.

How in the world do you do it? the students ask.

I always tell them the same thing. The answer is not necessarily nice, or even kind. It is the reality of the writing life. The answer is that you must be selfish if you're going to make it as an author. You must devote countless hours to being alone at your writing desk. You must put off all those daily chores that serve only to distract you if you're going to devote an almost priestly devotion to the writing.

Lately, authors are besieged with get-rich-quick books and courses on everything from the keywords that will propel your book to the top of the Amazon list to the secrets behind Facebook Ads or even How to write 100,000 words an hour, or something like that. The books usually feature covers with piles of one hundred dollar bills on it, and the courses can cost you five hundred bucks or more.

If you wanna spend your money on this stuff, go for it. But in the end, the only thing that guarantees success...the only thing that you, the writer, can control...is your writing.

Sit your butt in the chair, forget everything around you, and do it.
Just do it. And then, do it again...

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

Did you love THE REMAINS? Pre-order THE ASHES, the second thriller in the Rebecca Underhill Trilogy.