Thursday, July 2, 2015

KU.2 and More Crimes(S) News!

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

Me included.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Monday, June 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ten Years Ago...

Nominated for ITW's Best Paperback Original...

Ten years ago I was down and out...


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

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

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

"Hey, that's showbiz, kid!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was back.

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

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

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

The ebook revolution played a big role as well.

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

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




Monday, May 25, 2015

Freedom Fighters Volunteer to Fight ISIS

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

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

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

Sound ridiculous?

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

Member of the famed Abraham Lincoln Brigade

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

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


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Camel Meat a Tasty Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 1, 2015

Moroccan Train Travel At Your Own Risk

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Casablanca Never Visited

The many faces of Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope things stay that way.