Thursday, May 20, 2021

Interview with Author Vin Zandri

Today we have a treat, a chat with author Vin Zandri

Vincent Zandri  is the  New York Times  and  USA Today  best-selling author of more than forty novels and novellas. His books have won the ITW Thriller Award, the Shamus Award, have been nominated for the Derringer Award, and have been translated into many languages. A freelance photojournalist, he is also the creator of The Vincent Zandri Vox. He lives in New York.

He's got a new book out: Paradox Lake, available where all good books are sold.

Let's find out more:

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A, Paradox Lake started out as one of those writing in the dark experiments, a la Dean Wesley Smith and perhaps even yourself. I used my ex-wife and my daughter as the protagonists. I make a sort of cameo appearance as one of the characters. I also use one of my best college friends as the bad guy, something I often do. Thank God those guys are especially good-natured people. I guess I wondered what it would be like for a mother, who is an art teacher at a local college, to take a fall semester sabbatical and to head up to the mountains, and in particular to a cabin on Paradox Lake. Her daughter would come along and be home schooled, even though the daughter naturally hates the idea of leaving her friends for a few months. But the mother really wants to bond with the daughter, since her oldest daughter and husband have both died. I took it step further and wondered what would happen is the mother ends up falling in love with a general store owner up in the town of Paradox and all does not go quite right. That's about as far as I go explaining. Don't want to give too much away. In any case, I found that the novel sort of wrote itself. Oceanview Publishing picked up right away in a "nice" deal.  

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. No. Like I said, it was sort of writing in the dark, with just the characters kind of floating around in my mind. I never map things out anymore after writing 50 novels, publishing 40 of them, plus novellas and short stories. I always imagine what would logically happen next and that's what I write, and like the great Hemingway once said, I always know where the story is going the next morning before I finish up for the day. That way you don't get stuck. 

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. One woman and her daughter against the world (this one, like my novel The Remains, is told from the POV of a woman, which I seem to do fairly often). Or if you want a tag line, "Stay away from the Paradox Lake!" 


Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book? And what makes a good book or engaging story?

A. I think most of my books are a sort of anthropological study in one man or woman up against the most dreadful situations imaginable. How do they manage to get out of it, and stay alive? It's also a study in fear and dealing with that fear. Do they panic and lose it? Or do they suck it up and fight back? I think deep down inside we all wrestle with fear to a degree, and I think that might answer why my standalone psychological thrillers like The Remains, Everything Burns, The Girl Who Wasn't There, and others have sold hundreds of thousands of copies altogether. I'd like to think the plots and the stories resonates with readers. Also, I write short, pithy chapters that keeps the reading going all night. If I can get them to stay up an extra hour, telling themselves, "Just one more chapter...just one more...just one more," than I've done my job. 


Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. I haven't read a lot of Stephen King but the little I have read has definitely had an impact on my more scary thrillers like Paradox Lake and The Ashes. Charlie Houston is another great hard-boiled writer who has influenced my more recent fiction, especially his Hank Thompson Trilogy which is just genius. he should have won some major awards for those books. I have to admit, there isn't a whole lot of writers who knock me out, but when I find them, I want to read all their work. I just read a spectacular novel by Jonathan Ashley called The Cost of Doing Business from Down & Out Books. I loved it so much I decided to read all his stuff. But it turns out he killed himself not long ago. I don't think he was 40 years old. I called the publisher at Down & Out to ask if it was true and he confirmed it. He has one more novel of Ashley's to publish posthumously. 


Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. I don't think of writing in those terms. I can act all professorial about it and say something like, "Going back to the stone ages, telling stories around the campfire was a way to both entertain and teach..." but we've heard all that before. Oddly, enough, if I'm entertaining myself while writing a novel, I think of it as entertaining the reader. You can tell when an author is just mailing a bunch of shit in just to get a check. 

My goals are nothing more than to write for a living, no matter how humble at times, and to make my fans happy in the process. Is this my measure of success? Maybe. I've been broke as a writer and I've made hundreds of thousands as a writer, and during both periods, I never stopped my word count. Not for even a single moment. 

I recently read a great Bob Dylan quote in a terrific book by Dale T. Phillips, How to be a Successful Indie Writer. It goes something like, a success is someone who wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night having spent his day doing what he wants to do

Note:  (I swear, didn't pay him for that!  :-)  )

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. More recently, and this might have something to do with the Pandemic and literally ten years worth of changes occurring in the publishing business with in 12 month period, I've decided to really fill up my indie list with more short stories, novelettes, and more indie novels. I'm presently working with about five publishers, from small to big, and I'm finding they are having more and more trouble on the marketing end of things. And advances are getting smaller and smaller. I've been a hybrid author for a long time, but I find myself leaning more and more towards indie. As for the personal side of things, for obvious reasons, I haven't traveled at all in more than a year. I'm used to spending three months overseas every year. So as soon as I am able, I'm hopping a flight and not coming back for a long, long time. I'm not married and my kids are grown, so nothing's stopping me.  


Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. I do very little rewriting these days since I edit as I go. I make sure every chapter is right before I move on to the next one. It's a more efficient way of writing. For a novel I write a first draft, then make a paper copy, go through it with a red pen, make the corrections to the manuscript, read it over once more and then hand it in to my agent who, once upon a time suggested edits, but almost never does anymore. I also work with a really good editor for my indie books. She catches everything and more. She doesn't come cheap but she's worth it. 


Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. Looks like I just answered this one. In a word, they see things and pick up on story omissions that I can't or would never see. You can't put a book out, be in indie or traditionally published, without the help of a good editor. I've also had editors fuck up some of my books. I won't name names but the editor for When Shadows Come, which was put out by Thomas & Mercer, could have done a better job. I'm tempted to ask for the rights back to that one and release the real version prior to their edits. But hey, it was still chosen by Suspense Magazine as one of the Best Thrillers of the Year 2016.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. I think I'd tell them to write a lot. Write all the time, read a lot and watch movies and TV series. But only the stuff they like watching and reading. Then I'd suggest maybe trying to publish a book traditionally, but not give it too much time. Put a limit on it, say, like a year. If the book doesn't get picked up, find a really good editor, get it edited and put it out on your own label. 


Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. My agent, Chip Macgregor, is constantly fielding calls from Hollywood producers including Sylvester Stallone, who reads my work. But I have yet to have a TV series and/or movie made. But the good Lord whispers in my ear at times, "Just be patient, buddy. All good things in time." 


Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. Writing the next sentence, and the one after that, and the one after that. Then heading out for a beer and maybe a Jameson. 

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. I'm five feet seven inches tall and I tower over both Don Winslow and Scott Turrow. I also work out for two hours per day and in the summer, divide my day between writing and fly fishing. Now there's the life, my friend. 

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. If you wish to become a successful author, avoid politics, religion, trends, and political correctness. Just be yourself and write what you love to read. Thanks for having me Dale. 

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