Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Unintended Creation Story


Who knows how David started out?


These days, Zandri's been getting a lot of people asking him where he comes up with his ideas, so he thought he might address the issue. The question, admittedly, is a difficult one to answer. When a lovely young woman asks him, "Where did you come up with the idea for The Remains?" the best answer the writer can manage is a shoulder shrug and a, 'I'm not sure. It sort of wrote itself.'

The answer, on one level, might be considered silly if not trite, a blow-off, if you will. But on another, more metaphysical level, the answer is as honest as the one God would surely give if someone were able to ask Him how he created the universe, not necessarily in seven days, but at all for that matter. Who ever really creates what he set out to create in the first place? Perhaps Michelangelo envisioned an entirely different pose for David when he started chiseling. Maybe Vaughn Williams came upon The Lark Ascending entirely by accident while messing around with his violin one day (or perhaps he found himself staring at a lark, on a lark). For certain, For Whom the Bell Tolls began as a short story, and blossomed into a mega masterpiece. God might have intended, at first, to create a universe filled with magical flying creatures and peaceful little cherub-like creatures who inhabit a lush forested world where no one wages war, no one goes hungry, skin color is the same but different, and religion doesn't exist (who needs religion when you are happy?) In the end, God got what we have now. For better or for worse.

The point here is that the power of creation is beyond us mere mortals. It is a part of something that cannot be defined by concrete terms or boundaries and therefore is a part of the universe. An infinite, ever expanding universe.  

So how did Zandri create The Remains or Everything Burns?
God only knows...

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM




Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Modern Novelist as Sage

McInerney, a sage for the 1980s cocaine generation

Ferguson is burning.

Heads belonging to Western journalists are being cut off by the evil ISIS half a world away.

President Barack Hussein Obama is releasing Islamic Radical detainees from Gitmo because he feels politically obligated to do so.

Illegal aliens are pouring into the US while millions have been legalized at the stroke of a pen, not because its in the best interest of the country, but because politics rule the day.


Antisemitism is on the rise globally.

Race relations in the US have eroded and rotted over the past decade. 

School shootings are so commonplace we are unaffected by them.

Overpopulation threatens the world food bank.

Ebola ravages West Africa.

Political correctness has moved in, and kicked the truth out on its ass.

Russia is on the move.

Iran will soon have the Bomb...

Zandri pens his novels and stories, and worries that the world he creates is entirely separate from a physical world that is growing and morphing faster than a weed on steroids. In a word, he retreats, looks away from the ugly picture. He is not writing anything that describes the world to itself. Years ago the novelist was considered a sage. The words he and she wrote, although fiction, bore a certain truth that were a direct reflection of the time they lived in. The novelist/philosopher did not retreat from the world then, but instead, challenged it.

Steinbeck, making sense of his world
Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath and spoke for millions of impoverished workers suffering amidst the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises and a new generation of young men learned to say what they mean and mean what they say. But for the first time, men realized the power women truly have over them, and that all love must end tragically.

Later on, Mailer would write Why Are We in Vietnam?, a frantic Alaskan hunting novel that spoke as loud and powerfully as the shots that would soon be fired by the rifles on the Ohio State Campus. Mailer, the genius of metaphor.

In the 1980s we had Jay McInerny writing about the Bolivian Marching Powder in Bright Lights, Big City and suddenly, a generation strung out on Brooks Brothers, Manhattan apartments they couldn't afford, and cocaine, were now the modern romantic equivalent of Fitzgerald's Jazz Age decadence.

Zandri realizes how simplistic and even vague his examples are. In fact, he might even be lacking in a certain degree of accuracy. But the point, he feels, is transparent enough. Who are the sages of his generation? The novelists who fictionalize but who also tell the truth, or a version of the truth anyway, that puts things into some kind of order, or framework that can be better understood?

Fitz, doing what he loved even more than booze

Perhaps Zandri is doing that himself, without consciously doing it. Maybe he isn't retreating after all. Maybe in writing about a failed script writer obsessed with the blonde, blue-eyed woman who just moved in next door and who will manipulate him into killing her cop husband, he is expressing a deep-seated loneliness and isolation that isn't yet entirely realized. The loneliness is surly evident in the smartphones that occupy the two bed-stands in his master bedroom. Smartphones that, upon waking, will be the first thing touched, fondled, eyed, paid attention to, loved, lusted after ...

Add, human beings are becoming robots to the above-stated list... 

Zandri is reaching for something here, but he's not quite sure what exactly. For certain, the ambiguity is evident in the writing of this essay. News Flash! Lennon comes to mind suddenly. John Lennon wrote and sang about the world so eloquently and alarmingly in his 1970 classic, Isolation. "We're afraid to be alone..."

Not to flirt with cliche here, but the world has been spinning out of control ever since the serpent sweet talked Eve and she, in turn, got Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. Our own demise is upon us. So Zandri chooses the only sensible option. He retreats into a world entirely his own, and he writes about it. He chooses isolation as the only sane option. But then, that isolation is a direct reflection of the times we live and die in. Therein lies the irony. 

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM




   



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't Force It, Damnit!: Choosing an Indie Publisher III (and Advice for Writers)


Mailer, the overnight sensation...


It's guaranteed to happen once a year. Some unknown author emerges from out of the dark shadows of obscurity and publishes a book that goes through the freakin' roof. The book's sales not only blow away even the most major of commercial authors (think James Patterson and Stephen King here), they could arguably outdo the Gross National Product of some small nation-states.

You, as an author, find yourself shaking your head in dismay. Not only have you never heard of this now overnight-famous author, you have been writing for years and years, published several books, and your annual sales don't even come close to this writer's weekly revenue. You look up his or her bio, and you become even more distraught. The author, the bio claims, has worked as a cook, or a video store clerk, or was on welfare until his book was published and every single reader in the world dropped what they were doing and when out to buy it. Or so it seems.

But wait, where have you gone wrong? You've done everything the right way. You started out by working at the local newspaper, then published short stories in the best literary journals, made your way through writing school, nailed a big contract, began establishing a career of steady sales, fans, and contracts. You've nailed all the Amazon lists and some of the traditional lists as well. You make a nice income and have a nice life. You've done everything right. Shouldn't you be the one with the huge blockbuster that blows the doors (or covers) off all other books published that year?
The novel that sealed the young author's fate.

If only logic had something...anything at all...to do with the publishing business. 

So what are your options? Sit down and read these books? Try and uncover their magic? Maybe you can somehow write a book just like them. Maybe you don't know it yet, but you're the author of the next A Million Little Pieces, 50 Shades of Gray, or Harry Potter. So you set your sights on writing something with a plot and characters that don't necessarily interest you, but you're sure contains the perfect recipe for the next bestseller.

Big mistake.

Back in 1998, an agent in NYC suggested I write a novel with a black man as the detective protagonist because that was the "in thing." I didn't do it. What do I know about writing from a black man's perspective? Why should it interest me? Besides, James Patterson was already doing it, and I would just seem like a copy cat. Fact is, many of these huge bestsellers are often, one-shot, one-hit-wonders. Tremendous pressure is placed on the author to duplicate not only the book, but also the sales. Usually, both fail to meet the grade established by the initial blockbuster success. Norman Mailer, who nailed one of these hits right out of the gate, witnessed the near dismantling of his career with two follow-up books that stunk up the joint, even if they were brilliantly written.

Many of the big one-time hits, however, aren't very well written. They create a hysteria not because of their value as a piece of literature, but simply because they have touched a trendy nerve. Again, referring to Mailer, he once said of these books, "The popularity of bad writing is analogous to the enjoyment of fast food." This is not to say all of these books are bad (after all, in the final analysis, even filet mignon ends up in the same porcelain God as the Big Mac). Some are brilliantly written and will stand the test of time (think Wool by Hugh Howey and Grisham's The Firm). Inevitably, the value of these novels is up to you, the reader.

But as a writer, what should you do in order to become a mega-famous, overnight sensational bestseller? As you mature, and practice your craft, you will come to realize that writing only about the things that interest you is the best and most trusted method of staying the often agonizing course of a full novel, which can take upwards of up to a year to write. In other words, don't force it, or else you'll end up like a rabid dog always chasing its tail (or in this case, tale...forgive me). Attempting to figure out why one book sells better than others is not only an inexact science, it is an absurd science devoid of logic, but chuck full of emotion. We all want to have that one book that sells a thousand or more copies per day for weeks or months. I've had the good luck of nailing a couple of these, but for every bestselling book I write, I have two or three that I can't even get my mother to buy.

The next time a relative unknown author scores a million seller right off the bat, remember, that author could have written a hundred novels before nailing his first huge success. Or, it could be his first and sadly, his only success. This is a business that just can't be controlled or trusted. The only thing you can trust is yourself to write a well as you can, as steadily as possible, and to practice the nail biting discipline day in and day out that's required of the next huge overnight sensational bestseller.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

per·i·pa·tet·ic man

Sam Shepard. A self-proclaimed Peripatetic Man.
per·i·pa·tet·ic
ˌperēpəˈtedik/
adjective
Constantly on the move... 
What is it about the writing life that makes us averse to spending too much time in one place, as if being tied down means total meltdown of our talent and our writing ability? I suppose there must be writers out there who like to stay home. Who enjoy the security of four walls, a fireplace, a clean bath, and three hot squares per day. But how creative are they? How productive? How happy? 
Happy...
Jim Harrison who once said, if you feel as though you're writing with 16 ounce boxing gloves on, it's time to get out of the house, sometimes for months at a time.
How happy is the Peripatetic Man? The lack of security. The four walls of a cheap motel room, the sound of paid-for sex banging against the wall that separates you from the space next door. The filthy bath with the shower drain that doesn't work. The occasional decent Denny's meal. The booze (Don't forget the booze...). The loneliness. 
There's something invigorating about always being on the move. And sad too. Chasing your own tail for the sake of a tale or two. But I'm not sure  a writer...a writer who matters after he's dead...can live any other way.
 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Inspiration (from Rome with Love)



Papa at his typewriter. The whiskey glass is a prop.



This is an essay I wrote for for Authors and Writers, but I felt it so important I'm reprinting it here...



Inspiration
by
Vincent Zandri

I’ve written 16 books at last count. No, that’s not right. I’ve published, or am about to publish my 16th novel come January of 2015. I’ve written far more than 16 (more like 22), and what’s even more amazing to me, is that most of these were written between 2009 and the present day. When you consider I wrote my first full-length novel back in 1997 as a part of my creative thesis for my MFA in Writing at Vermont College, and that in those days my goal was to write one novel per year, I have been increasing my output in direct relation to the annual increase in my age. That said, I am now writing two to three 50-60,000 word novels per year, plus a novella or two tossed in. Add to that some journalism and blogging for the The Vincent Zandri Vox, and you’re talking a ton of words on a daily basis.

A friend of mine who frequents the same bar I visit on a nightly basis when living in Florence, Italy in the Fall, always asks me the same question. “Did you write a new novel today?” Naturally, I laugh at this, but he’s not far off the mark considering the modern world of digital publishing and the demand readers (especially e-book readers) have placed on novelists to produce more and more work. My friend who, like me, will dress in black leather coat over jeans and combat boots in chilly Florence, often asks me how I can keep up such a pace.

“Where do you get your inspiration?” he asks.

Once upon a time, I would have shrugged my shoulders, and smiled dumbly.  But now I approach the question by asking another question:  “Where do you get yours?” 

The man is a professor of math and science at a local university. He’s expected to show up every day, rain or shine, to teach his students what they are paying him to learn. The inspiration required to get out of bed every morning, get dressed, and get himself to class is a moot point. If he can’t do that, he needs another line of work, or he needs to see a shrink, pronto. Inspired teaching, however, is another thing altogether. But if one is good at one’s job…if one possesses a certain degree of talent…one then uses that talent as a channel for inspiration and creativity. This is what separates a professional from an amateur. The former being one who shows up for work every day, regardless of what is going on in the world and in his life. The latter being someone who works only when, “inspired.” This kind of inspired writer usually ends up being a writing teacher in order to pay the bills.

Vincent Zandri is a professional writer.

I work everyday. Two shifts usually. The first begins immediately when I wake up. I go from about seven to ten, when I’ll break for a workout. Then I’ll clean up, have lunch and work all afternoon and quit between five or six. I do this five days a week and on Saturday, I’ll try and work half a day. I take Sundays off, unless I’m working on deadline.

Writing is my job. Sometimes I’m inspired to do it better than other times. Sometimes, inspiration never enters the equation. All too often I’ll look at what I’ve written at the end of the day and I’ll feel myself smiling because it’s not only good, it seems better than what I am capable of.

“Did I write that?” I’ll whisper to myself.

Vincent Zandri is The New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of The Remains, The Shroud Key, The Innocent, The Dick Moonlight PI series, and the forthcoming Everything Burns from Thomas & Mercer. He has worked as a construction laborer, a car parker, a pizza delivery man, a sports reporter, and other odd jobs. Having earned his MFA in Writing from Vermont College, he is a freelance photojournalist, a world traveler, and the author/editor of the popular blog, THE VINCENT ZANDRI VOX. He divides his time between New York and Florence, Italy.

I’ve written 16 books at last count. No, that’s not right. I’ve published, or am about to publish my 16th novel come January of 2015. I’ve written far more than 16 (more like 22), and what’s even more amazing to me, is that most of these were written between 2009 and the present day. When you consider I wrote my first full-length novel back in 1997 as a part of my creative thesis for my MFA in Writing at Vermont College, and that in those days my goal was to write one novel per year, I have been increasing my output in direct relation to the annual increase in my age. That said, I am now writing two to three 50-60,000 word novels per year, plus a novella or two tossed in. Add to that some journalism and blogging for the The Vincent Zandri Vox, and you’re taking a ton of words on a daily basis.
A friend of mine who frequents the same bar I visit on a nightly basis when living in Florence, Italy in the Fall, always asks me the same question. “Did you write a new novel today?” Naturally, I laugh at this, but he’s not far off the mark considering the modern world of digital publishing and the demand readers (especially e-book readers) have placed on novelists to produce more and more work. My friend who, like me, will dress in black leather coat over jeans and combat boots in chilly Florence, often asks me how I can keep up such a pace.
“Where do you get your inspiration?” he asks.
Once upon a time, I would have shrugged my shoulders, and smiled dumbly.  But now I approach the question by asking another question:  “Where do you get yours?” 
The man is a professor of math and science at a local university. He’s expected to show up every day, rain or shine, to teach his students what they are paying him to learn. The inspiration required to get out of bed every morning, get dressed, and get himself to class is a moot point. If he can’t do that, he needs another line of work, or he needs to see a shrink, pronto. Inspired teaching, however, is another thing altogether. But if one is good at one’s job…if one possesses a certain degree of talent…one then uses that talent as a channel for inspiration and creativity. This is what separates a professional from an amateur. The former being one who shows up for work every day, regardless of what is going on in the world and in his life. The latter being someone who works only when, “inspired.” This kind of inspired writer usually ends up being a writing teacher in order to pay the bills.
Vincent Zandri is a professional writer.
I work everyday. Two shifts usually. The first begins immediately when I wake up. I go from about seven to ten, when I’ll break for a workout. Then I’ll clean up, have lunch and work all afternoon and quit between five or six. I do this five days a week and on Saturday, I’ll try and work half a day. I take Sundays off, unless I’m working on deadline.
Writing is my job. Sometimes I’m inspired to do it better than other times. Sometimes, inspiration never enters the equation. All too often I’ll look at what I’ve written at the end of the day and I’ll feel myself smiling because it’s not only good, it seems better than what I am capable of.
“Did I write that?” I’ll whisper to myself.
Vincent Zandri is The New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of The Remains, The Shroud Key, The Innocent, The Dick Moonlight PI series, and the forthcoming Everything Burns from Thomas & Mercer. He has worked as a construction laborer, a car parker, a pizza delivery man, a sports reporter, and other odd jobs. Having earned his MFA in Writing from Vermont College, he is a freelance photojournalist, a world traveler, and the author/editor of the popular blog, THE VINCENT ZANDRI VOX. He divides his time between New York and Florence, Italy.
- See more at: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2014/11/inspiration.html#sthash.LGA0xdfq.dpuf
I’ve written 16 books at last count. No, that’s not right. I’ve published, or am about to publish my 16th novel come January of 2015. I’ve written far more than 16 (more like 22), and what’s even more amazing to me, is that most of these were written between 2009 and the present day. When you consider I wrote my first full-length novel back in 1997 as a part of my creative thesis for my MFA in Writing at Vermont College, and that in those days my goal was to write one novel per year, I have been increasing my output in direct relation to the annual increase in my age. That said, I am now writing two to three 50-60,000 word novels per year, plus a novella or two tossed in. Add to that some journalism and blogging for the The Vincent Zandri Vox, and you’re taking a ton of words on a daily basis.
A friend of mine who frequents the same bar I visit on a nightly basis when living in Florence, Italy in the Fall, always asks me the same question. “Did you write a new novel today?” Naturally, I laugh at this, but he’s not far off the mark considering the modern world of digital publishing and the demand readers (especially e-book readers) have placed on novelists to produce more and more work. My friend who, like me, will dress in black leather coat over jeans and combat boots in chilly Florence, often asks me how I can keep up such a pace.
“Where do you get your inspiration?” he asks.
Once upon a time, I would have shrugged my shoulders, and smiled dumbly.  But now I approach the question by asking another question:  “Where do you get yours?” 
The man is a professor of math and science at a local university. He’s expected to show up every day, rain or shine, to teach his students what they are paying him to learn. The inspiration required to get out of bed every morning, get dressed, and get himself to class is a moot point. If he can’t do that, he needs another line of work, or he needs to see a shrink, pronto. Inspired teaching, however, is another thing altogether. But if one is good at one’s job…if one possesses a certain degree of talent…one then uses that talent as a channel for inspiration and creativity. This is what separates a professional from an amateur. The former being one who shows up for work every day, regardless of what is going on in the world and in his life. The latter being someone who works only when, “inspired.” This kind of inspired writer usually ends up being a writing teacher in order to pay the bills.
Vincent Zandri is a professional writer.
I work everyday. Two shifts usually. The first begins immediately when I wake up. I go from about seven to ten, when I’ll break for a workout. Then I’ll clean up, have lunch and work all afternoon and quit between five or six. I do this five days a week and on Saturday, I’ll try and work half a day. I take Sundays off, unless I’m working on deadline.
Writing is my job. Sometimes I’m inspired to do it better than other times. Sometimes, inspiration never enters the equation. All too often I’ll look at what I’ve written at the end of the day and I’ll feel myself smiling because it’s not only good, it seems better than what I am capable of.
“Did I write that?” I’ll whisper to myself.
Vincent Zandri is The New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of The Remains, The Shroud Key, The Innocent, The Dick Moonlight PI series, and the forthcoming Everything Burns from Thomas & Mercer. He has worked as a construction laborer, a car parker, a pizza delivery man, a sports reporter, and other odd jobs. Having earned his MFA in Writing from Vermont College, he is a freelance photojournalist, a world traveler, and the author/editor of the popular blog, THE VINCENT ZANDRI VOX. He divides his time between New York and Florence, Italy.
- See more at: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2014/11/inspiration.html#sthash.LGA0xdfq.dpuf

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Prostitute (Choosing an Indie Publisher Part II)




A colleague of mine attended a writer's conference recently in which a self-published author who is also an "indie publisher," was overheard telling a would-be scribe that he didn't need to be a good writer just to publish a book since he can just get someone else to "clean it up." However, the would-be scribe should never hire an English major to clean up said book. The English major will just, and I quote, "screw things up."

Re-read the above paragraph and try to grasp, if you will, its importance, as well as the repugnance I feel for it. It's easy nowadays to publish a novel. Authors have choices. We can either entertain the old manner of submitting a manuscript to a big publisher and play the waiting game, or we can publish it with an independent press that utilizes the Kindle Direct (Self) Publishing platform for its system of distribution. However, along with KDP also comes those prostitutes who, seeing that there is money to be made off of people who lust the validation of publication, will stop at nothing to sell them a bill of cheap gratification.

The prostitute/indie publisher will typically also claim to be a skilled writer, and he might have even made a few bucks doing it since he knows precisely how to "game" Amazon's algorithm system. He will even brag about gaming the system, while the old truism about a good book selling itself organically via word of mouth is for...well...chumps. But he's not really a writer since he will inevitably have to hire someone to write (or "clean up") his books for him.

He is however good at one thing: Prostituting himself and his indie press to published-starved individuals who will cut off their left arm for the gratification that can only come with a publishing contract. These unknowing people are the prostitute's clients. He will tell them, don't worry about skill. You can hire people to fix that. But not English majors because the English major is too smart, too hard working, too caring about the English language. We are into this venture to make money and that's it. Doesn't matter if the product is inferior and even insulting. People are stupid and they are still going to buy it. In fact, he can "trick" them  into buying it.

Imagine if Hemingway, or Mailer, or Stephen King thought that talent and hard work were not a necessity and prerequisite of writing? That literature could simply be cobbed together like a half-assed addition to some trailer home out in the boondocks. Imagine the cheapening and eventually, dumbing down of literature that would inevitably occur? Or put another way altogether, imagine if an aeronautical engineer wasn't required to be that good? Or a structural engineer? Or a brain surgeon? You get the picture.

Writing is not only something to make money off of, it is a responsibility. A priestly endeavor that for the true writer, will never be mastered, but only worked at with all the struggle and negative capability that Shakespeare put into Hamlet. I've been saying for a long time now, that perhaps KDP and other self-publishing platforms should hire teams of editors to monitor the quality of the indie writing they self-publish. I suppose the amateur review system that's been put in place is a kind of monitoring system. But believe me when I tell you, the prostitute has that game conned as well, more than likely having paid big bucks for four and five star reviews for spiel that under the old publishing paradigm, would not have been considered fifth grade level.

Back in the mid 1990s, I earned my MFA in Writing. It took me two years full-time while I had a wife and two toddlers running around. We were broke but sacrificing for the betterment of me as a writer, knowing that one day, with more hard work, it would pay off. And it has. But there is so much more hard work to do and under no circumstance will I ever hire someone to clean up after my mess. Indie publishers who prostitute themselves for the sake of a quick and easy buck should be exposed and stopped before they undermine a proper literary legacy that has taken centuries to construct.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM