Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Brief Affair with Monica Lewinsky

1998 was the year the White House went insane. After what had been a relatively successful second term as POTUS, Bill Clinton was suddenly blindsided by damning revelations concerning an extramarital affair he’d been conducting with former staff intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was, at the time, defending himself against another lawsuit leveled by a woman named Paula Jones, who also had conducted an affair with the President. During his testimony for Jones case, Clinton apparently lied under oath about his relationship with Lewinsky. When Linda Tripp, another White House aide, handed over phone recordings of Clinton discussing oral sex with Lewinsky, further adding credence to a perjury charge, the scandal snowballed into a case of impeachment on behalf of the House of Representatives, making Mr. Clinton the second President in the history of the United States of America to be impeached (Andrew Johnson was the first).

The young writer

I was a young writer fresh out of writing school at the time. I’d been one of those rare lucky stiffs who’d managed to nail a big book deal right out of the starting gate with my novels The Innocent and Godchild. Along with the success came the usual party-like-a-rock-star marathon drinking and carousing sessions in New York City with my then agent and editor. We were young, and stupid, and on top of the world in the greatest city on the planet and we had the publisher’s money (and corporate American Express) in our pockets to burn.

The Nor-easter
Fast forward to early winter, 1998. A huge Nor’easter was making its way up the coast. It was snowstorm like no one had seen in years. A once in a generation snowstorm, in fact. I found myself in Penn Station at mid- morning, sitting on the floor nursing a hangover, back pressed up against the metal support beam, waiting for the announcement of my train which would carry me north to Albany. The place was packed tighter than a drum due to people who’d either missed their flights, or whose flights were cancelled. When the train platform was announced, I got up, and barreled my way through the throngs of people, down the stairs, until I made it to my car. Luckily, I’d purchased a ticket in Business Class earlier or there was a good chance I wouldn’t have secured a place on the train.  

Nathan’s hotdogs and Monica Lewinsky
Seated in the car, I could breathe easy and finally enjoy the late breakfast I’d purchased earlier, which consisted of two Nathan’s hotdogs, smothered with the works. Hangovers invite the munchies, so naturally Nathan’s was particularly enticing that morning. With no one as of yet seated beside me, I started in on the first dog, chomping into the tangy, meaty goodness like a man who’d been deprived of sustenance not for hours but days or weeks. But then suddenly, I notice a man standing beside me in the car aisle. He bore the blue uniform and officer-like cap of the train conductor. 

He excused himself and asked me if anyone had claimed the empty seat. No one’s claimed it as of yet, I told him, my mouth and cheeks filled with hotdog and relish. The conductor turned then, and waved someone over. It wasn’t just someone. Nor was it just one person. It was two women, one late middle-aged and the other young. Maybe a few years younger than me. Maybe my brain had been reduced to so much mush from a night on the town, but I recognized the younger one right away. It was Monica Lewinsky.

An awkward moment
The mom smiled, nervously, and asked if I minded if she took the seat. Slowly, awkwardly, I set the cardboard container of hotdogs down onto the floor and shoved it under my seat. I told her I didn’t mind getting up so that she could have both seats for she and her daughter. My heart was racing. I didn’t smell so good from not having showered and no doubt my breath was anything but pleasant having filled my face with Nathans hotdog.
     “You sure I can’t give you my seat as well?” I pushed.
     But the woman’s face became distraught and tense. The car was filled with men and women reading the New York Times, the headline of which went something like this: Clinton Impeached! People were starting to stare. The train car, not to mention the world, had taken a turn for the surreal.      
     “Please,” she said, in what I can only describe as a screaming whisper. “Just let me sit down.”

Secret not-so-secret discussions about Bill and the blonde peril
I nodded, smiled and she took the empty seat while Monica sat down on the empty floor beside us. Moments later, the train pulled out of the station. Monica and her mom were talking to one another over the seat back. The name Linda came up several times in a bitter tone. Linda, as in Linda Tripp no doubt. There was also the name Bill, and then there was “that woman.” The blonde peril. Hillary. The two seemed to speak in code, not exactly coming out with anything of substance, such as the specifics behind what it must have been like to have sex with the POTUS for instance. Sex inside the oval office. But the two knew one another as well as any mother and daughter can, and there was real love there, and understanding.

The new Hamptons
After a time, the woman turned back around in her seat and stared out the window along with me. The snowy, Hudson River Valley flew past. The trees were bare and looked like ice-covered sculpture and the river was thick and swift moving and gray, and when we passed by Sing Sing Prison, she whispered, “I hear the Hudson Valley is the new Hamptons.” I admitted I’d never hear that before, but for sure I was aware that a lot of wealthy New York City natives were buying estates in the region. My heart was still pounding. I could feel Monica behind me. I could smell her perfume, and I could hear her humming a tune to a song I did not recognize. She had long dark hair, and her eyes were big and brown and her skin smooth. Her body was shapely if not on the larger side, but in a voluptuous way. I almost hated to admit it, but I could definitely see what Slick Willy saw in her. She was an attractive vivacious young woman.

Oblivious passengers
After a short time, Monica got up to use the Lady’s room. And when she made her way down the narrow, never steady aisle, I thought for sure the jig was up and that she would be recognized. But the passengers continued to read their papers without so much as giving Monica a sideways glance. Either they were oblivious to her, or were acting purely out of respect for her rather fragile situation. Maybe it was a combination of both. It was at this time, I too decided to get up to use the bathroom. When I came back out, I once more asked Monica’s mom if she would like to use my seat for her daughter and she once more insisted it wasn’t necessary, which when translated meant, if Monica sits here, the whole world will be on her like flies on you know what. Rather than take my seat back, I decided to do something else. I sat on the floor beside Monica.

Chatting it up with Monica. Or not…
My heart was still pounding. I had no idea how much longer she’d be on the train, but I could bet dollars to donuts she wouldn’t be riding it all the way up to Albany. My guess is she would be getting off soon. I was a writer. A novelist, but also a journalist. I was sitting only inches away from her. Our shoulders were practically touching. We hadn’t said much to one another other than, Hi how’s it going? One of those stupid nothings young people say to one another when they either have nothing else to say or are too embarrassed to say anything else. But I could sense that she might want to engage in conversation. But what the hell was I going to say? How’s Bill?
There was also an opportunity here. If I were half the writer then that I am now, I might have slipped her one of my cards. I might have offered to ghost write her life story. I might have offered to take her testimony and write the article of the decade. Maybe if I could have convinced her to work with me, I could have gotten her to open up about her time in the White House, her time with the Clintons, her time with Bill in the Oval Office. She would have told me everything. How long he’d courted her, how often he called her, what were the specific circumstances that led to the tell-tale DNA stains on the infamous blue dress.

Monica and I alone
But it was not to be. When the train stopped in Rhinecliff, Monica and her mother got up. They grabbed their bags and buttoned their coats. Even then, no one else in the car bothered to give the two ladies a second glance. I stood up and asked them if they needed help getting off the train. The mother smiled, thanked me for my kindness and said that it wouldn’t be necessary. She turned and made for the now open door on the opposite side of the coupling. That left me and Monica alone for the briefest of moments. I told her it was nice meeting her. The pleasures mine, she said. At least, that’s what I think she said. Then she smiled, and for the briefest of moments, I felt the urge to say, “Hey, would you like to grab a coffee? Would you like to talk?” But she turned quick, and made her way to the door and disappeared in the newly fallen snow.

Mothers and daughters
I took my seat back and as the train slowly pulled out of the station, I peered out the window at the mother and daughter as they made their way across the platform towards the station. It felt a little strange knowing the part they were playing in the history of the United States of America, that the name Monica Lewinsky would forever live in infamy. But as the train picked up speed and they went to enter the station, they just looked like any other mother and daughter spending their day together in the cold and the snow of the Hudson Valley.

Nathans hot dogs and dreams
Reaching under my seat, I grabbed hold of my breakfast, set it onto my lap. The hotdogs were cold by then, but they tasted good anyway. When I was finished, I took a long nap and was woken up by the conductor warning that Albany, the end of the line, was coming up in ten minutes. My first thoughts were of Monica Lewinsky. Had I truly hung out with she and her mother? Or had I dreamt it all? Was it all just a figment of my overly active fiction imagination? I smiled and shook my head. It had happened and damn if I didn’t whiff the opportunity of lifetime by not asking her if I could write her story. Damn if I missed my chance to become a part of sordid Presidential history.  


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Chase Baker Action/Adventure Series in its Rightful Order

First a disclaimer: You can read any of the Chase Bakers however you want. Out of order or in order. But recently I've been getting a lot of fans asking me for the proper order of things, since it's only natural for readers to want to start at the beginning and carry it through to the most recent. If the Chase Baker series poses any confusion it's because bestselling author Ben Sobieck, also contributes to the series. Our collaboration has thus far produced three novels that I'll identify in the sequence (one day I'll explain more on how this collaboration works, but it's basically no different than what James Patterson does).

So here goes:

1. The Shroud Key by Vincent Zandri
2. Chase Baker and the Golden Condor by Vincent Zandri
3. Chase Baker and the God Boy by Vincent Zandri
4. Chase Baker and the Lincoln Curse by Vincent Zandri
5. Chase Baker and the Viking's Secret by Ben Sobieck (Vincent Zandri Presents)
6. Chase Baker and the Da Vinci Divinity by Vincent Zandri
7. Chase Baker and the Apocalypse Bomb by Ben Sobieck (Vincent Zandri Presents)
8. Chase Baker and the Humanzees from Hell by Ben Sobieck (Vincent Zandri Presents)
9. Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal by Vincent Zandri
10. Chase Baker and the Dutch Diamonds by Vincent Zandri (Not Yet Released)

Rather than provide a link to every individual book I'm going to provide instead the simpler Amazon Page link that highlights the entire Chase Baker Series

Also, here's the official Chase Baker Facebook Page which is updated almost daily thanks to site administrator and author/writer, Elyse Press Major.

Like I've mentioned several times to the subscribers of the Vincent Zandri "For Your Eyes Only" newsletter, there will soon be Chase Baker swag for sale, including mugs, t-shirts, baseball hats, and other travel gear like compases, shoulder bags, bush jackets, bush vests, and more. My partner Laura Roth is working on this as my two fingers type.

There's even talk about a Chase Baker restaurant in the works. Chase Baker's Treasure Chest, featuring exotic dishes from all over the globe served tapas style, good beers and wines, and a tin shack-ceiling fan-cooled, Sloppy Joes-like relaxed atmosphere. The kind of place you would belly up to after a long bumpy flight in from Istanbul or the Amazon Jungle.  

But for now anyway, I'm going to keep writing the adventure series and keep on building the fan base. Which means, more travel in the immediate future. I'll probably circle the globe a couple more times this year seeking out more Chase stories, but then, that's what it's all about. The adventure and the romance of it all, and taking you along for the ride.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Battling Through the Pain

Jim Harrison not long before the final poem.
Last night I woke up in a pool of my own sweat. My head was pounding...No, that's not right...My skull felt like someone had split it in two with a fireman's axe while I slept. My joints ached so bad I was convinced I had developed arthritis in each and every one of them. My body was on fire, and my stomach was churning and twisting and bloated like the Alien was growing inside it and was about hatch, exploding skin, muscle tissue and blood all over the bedroom.

I got out of bed, and felt so dizzy, I had to grab the wall. Making my way into the bathroom, I did what I had to do there, and afterwards dared not look at my face in the mirror for fear of what I might see. A pale, sad, pathetic example of a man who was slowly dying.

Getting back into bed, I shivered and trembled. The fever was that bad. Sure, I'd been fighting a cold as of late, but this was insane. This was far more than a cold. It was more than the flu. It was more than the pneumonia that knocked Hillary on her pantsuited behind this past 9/11. I recalled my having hiked down in the Catskills a few days before. Maybe I'd been bitten by a deer tick. Maybe I had contracted Lymes Disease. Or maybe something worse. Maybe I'd developed a cancer. Pancreatic cancer.
A Healthy Robert B. Parker
By time the morning arrived, my temperature was holding steady at 102 F. I would have to head to the emergency room if it got any worse. But then, what about work? What about the novel I'm trying to finish and get into my editor by Friday, as promised? I couldn't let something like a little stomach bug get in the way of a writing day. I had to tough it out and try my best to make it to my writing desk.

I recalled the old days, when I had a real job. If I got sick, which was rare, I'd gladly call in and go back to bed. I hated my job, so a day off sick was better than a day on healthy. But now that I work for myself, things are different. Writing is all about momentum, consistency, and habit. I work everyday, even when I'm traveling. And I travel quite a bit. What if I were a pro football player and the team was depending upon me? Would I go back to bed? What if I were a soldier fighting on the front lines? I couldn't just explain to my comrades that I wasn't feeling up to the fight today so good luck with the battle. Instead, I'd have to battle my way through it all.

So even though my entire body was in pain, and even if there was multi-colored goop exuding from every single opening and orifice, I made a cup of coffee, swallowed a handful of Advil and sat my ass down on my writing chair. I might not have accomplished what I would have, had I been healthy, but at least I showed up, no matter what.

Jim Harrison had a heart attack at his writing desk, keeled over, and died. Mystery writer, Robert B. Parker did a face plant on his typewriter and never woke up. My father died putting his work boots on. Now that's heroism.   


Friday, September 23, 2016

On-Site Research Resulted in 'Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal'

Today is Release Day for the 9th novel in the Chase Baker action/adventure series,

I traveled to the Middle East in May of this year and "Seal" is the book that resulted from it. Judging from the reactions of my beta readers, it just might be the best Chase yet. In fact, for those authors who feel as though they can get away with Googling all their information about a specific locale somewhere outside their writing room, I'd like to submit this: You can't possibly get an idea of the true smell, taste, or feel of a place unless you immerse yourself in it for a while.

In Jerusalem, I climbed the stone walls in the Old City, explored the tunnels under the Wailing Wall, bribed a teenage kid to take up through the Muslim cemetery to the top of Golgotha where Christ and two thieves were crucified for all of Jerusalem to see and be fearful of. The top of the skull-like hill is exactly 777 meters above sea level and it's the highest natural point in the city (the Bible speaks of 7 codices and when the seal on the 7th one is breached, the end of times will be upon us). It's located right outside the Damascus Gate on what was the Damascus Road back in the 1st century AD. There's a garden nearby and a tomb which has only been used once in its two centuries of existence. One of the two resting places was hastily chiseled out to accommodate a man who measured 5'11", the exact height, it turns out, of the man whose likeness appears on the Shroud of Turin. Coincidence? Or fact.

Or perhaps you believe in tradition...that Jesus was crucified on the spot in which The Church of the Holy Sepulcher now resides. I spent a lot of time there as well.

But you be the judge. Read the book... 

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal is one of those novels that will elevate your heart rate and make you think...

Here's the deal: It's offered up here for just 24 hours only at a .99 so that we can sell as many as possible on opening day and propel this one right up the charts.

Since my readers can be found the world over:

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal UK Edition

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal CA Edition

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal AU Edition

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal JP Edition

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal FR Edition

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal DE Edition

Chase Baker and the Seventh Seal IT Edition

Lock n' load



Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Things I Cannot Control

Richard Prince

 A while back...actually a long while back wife and I were having dinner with artist Richard Prince and his wife back when he kept a house in upstate New York. Prince was already a world renowned artist/photographer at the time and a mega success. But he was also a huge noir fan, a book collector, a rare bookstore owner, and also a writer. As we polished off a bottle of wine together while the girls chatted among themselves, he offered me up a bit of advice that I've never forgotten.

But before I reveal the advice, I should tell you that this was around the time I'd signed on for a big advance with Delacorte Publishing for a two book, hard and soft deal, and if I recall correctly, my first novel, The Innocent (As Catch Can, as it was titled back then), had already been published. So I'm guessing the year was around 1999 or 2000. I remember relaying to Richard about how anxious I was about the book's sales, which at the time, weren't exactly hot. Richard nodded, and listened, and then, sitting back in his chair said, "Listen, the only thing you have control over as a writer, is the writing. That's all you can do. Throughout your career publishers and editors and sales people will come and go, but you and your writing will always be there. Concentrate entirely on the writing. Work harder than the other guy.  Make it the most important thing in your life, and you will succeed." 

Of course, many ups and downs have occurred since that dinner at the Prince home. But I have gone on to make a nice, solid, career for myself. I guess you could say, I have become established. But even after hitting two Amazon No. 1 Overall Bestsellers. Even after having spent 4 weeks in the Top ten (with The Innocent), and another three weeks with The Remains. Even after hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Even after winning the PWA Shamus Award (Moonlight Weeps) and the ITW Thriller Award (also Moonlight Weeps), even after selling hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a million, copies of my books over the past five years alone, things still sometimes don't go my way.
The novel that would become The Innocent

Just this past two weeks alone, I learned that one of the architectural trade publications I've been writing and editing for for ten years no longer needs my words now that a new owner has taken over. Add to that a two book deal my agent has been working on for months, which even included a rewrite for the acquiring editor, just went inexplicably belly up. Hmmmmm. Go figure.

There's no one to blame in all of this, since this is how the business side of the writing game works. Nothing is forever. But then, these events most definitely fall into "the things I cannot control" category.

Now, I've also been lucky these past couple weeks.

The novel that was supposed to be sold in said two book deal got immediately picked up by another publisher also in a two book "nice" deal. The book will come out in hardcover in Jan, 2018 and be found on every New Releases table in bookstores from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, as well as on your favorite eReader. Lucky, yes, but in the end, I still had no real control over the deal. It just sort of happened and I'm happy for it.

But what I do have control of is my writing. No matter what happens on the business side of publishing, whether it be something positive or negative, one thing holds true above all others: My writing comes first. No one can take that away from me.

Tomorrow morning is Monday. The beginning of the working week. I'll wake up after the sunrise and like, Papa Hemingway used to say, I'm going to bite on the nail. Writing is the hardest work there is. But it is also something I have total control over. Thanks for the advice Richard. I'll never forget it.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Best Part About Being a Writer

I wanted to use a stormy day in New York to add emphasis to my newest video on how good it is to be a writer, rather than a lemming working for the man (which I used to be). I still work my tail off, sometimes seven days a week. My days often begin at dawn, but I will say this: there is the occasional Monday, especially a rainy Monday, where I get up, take a look outside, and head back to bed.

Why do I do it? Because I can...

I'll be talking about this stuff at the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City this Friday, August 12 @ 1:00 Don't be late!

Sleep well...


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Why Publishers Hate Writers...

Okay, I'm exaggerating here. Perhaps even grossly.
But maybe it's more accurate to say, publishers need writing, not writers. And to a degree, editors enjoy terrific relationships with their authors, the big sellers and the dogs included. I have several editors with at least three separate publishers at present and I consider them friends. Same goes for my agent (we laugh at our stupid ass jokes more than we talk actual business. Life is short after all).

But the point here is that publishing houses, especially the big ones, need content and lots of it, that will drive sales (only about 10% of the titles make 100% of the profits). They don't need writers per se. In fact, when the day comes where writers, like waiters at McDonald's who are slowly being phased out for the cheaper robotic equivalent, aren't required to produce high quality literature and thrillers, there will be quite a few of us trying to land a new occupation.

Or will we?

I've been preaching for a quite a while now that writers, like stockholders, need to diversify. They need to tap into many different forms of publishing, including traditional and indie. Therefore, when one opportunity dies because of any number of reasons, the writer can then rely on his income from another source. This is what the hybrid model is all about.

I learned the hard way. Back in the late 90's and early 2000s I went all in with one publisher while cutting ties with the rest of my writing and publishing venues, and when the publisher went through a consolidation and kicked a bunch of editors and writers out into the street, I suddenly found myself starting over. The publisher really didn't care very much about me as a writer, or a human being with a family and little kids. The publisher already got its writing...its content...and while I, the writer, was kicked to the curb, the publisher hung onto the writing, until many years later when, through careful and expensive negotiations, I was able to yank the rights back. Thank God, because the books I'm talking about would go on to sell a few hundred thousand copies under new management.

Publishers may not actually hate writers, but no one is going to put the tender loving care into a manuscript like you the writer can. No one is going to push your book in the marketplace like you will. It's probably more the case that an overburdened publisher will choose to ignore it, or toss it up against the wall to see if it sticks. Only you can take control of your own work and promote it to the best of your ability. Which is why every writer should publish a significant amount of titles under an indie label.

Going indie was something I resisted for a long time. But when I started realizing the financial results that can come from publishing just a few indie titles, I began to change my mind. Today I have maybe eight novels and some short stories published under my label, Bear Media/Bear Pulp, but I hope to double that over the course of the next twelve months, doubling or even tripling my monthly take in the process. Sure, I'm still working with publishers (I'm currently in contract negotiations for two books). But I always keep in mind the fact that the publishers are interested in the content, not the man.

Like they say in the Godfather, it's nothing personal, it's just business. 

Tessio got fitted for a pair of concrete shoes. But it was purely business.

But that's all the more reason to go hybrid, to build up a personal list of books alongside your traditional titles. A couple of days ago, a writing colleague asked me what I foresee for the next five years of publishing. I told him, I see many more books being published by many more writers, and that discoverability will be the key. I also envision traditional publishing giving way to more and more indies who build up a significant subscriber list and who eventually will sell their books primarily out of their own website, which will act as their own personal bookstore. Many authors are doing this now, and even selling works from other authors as well.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, the secret to greatness isn't in knowing where the puck is on the ice at any given moment, but where the puck is going to be. The same can be said of the writing and publishing game.


By the way, I'll be speaking about this very topic at this years Writer's Digest Conference in NYC on August 11-14. Stop by and introduce yourself.