A new blog from the creator of The Vincent Zandri Vox about writing, traveling, and the world in the present tense.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Process of Discovery: Mixing Genres in 'Murder by Moonlight'

I'm not known as an experimental writer.

In fact, I'm often accused of being a throwback to the very old days of Dash Hammett or even the more recent old days of the now, sadly late, Robert B. Parker and Jim Crumley. Not that I write as well as the aforementioned hard-boiled masters, but I am still trying to improve my skills on a daily basis, and that entails going out on a limb at times. In a word, it entails experimentation.

I think it was Jim Harrison who said, 'Life should be a process of discovery or else it's not life at all.' Or maybe it was Hemingway. In any case, in my newest release, Murder by Moonlight which is based on the true story of Bethlehem, New York axe murderer/attempted axe murderer, Chris Porco, I might have chosen to write a true crime novel. All the information on the case has already been published in the papers so it would have been a matter of putting it all together and telling the story, like it happened or supposedly happened.

But that's not me.

While conducting my research, I found a lot of discrepancies in the case, not the least of which is that, in my mind, it's impossible for one skinny young man to take a heavy fireman's axe to both his parents in the middle of the night, and not get at least some amount of blood spatter on his skin and clothing. I get spatter on my clothes just cooking a steak. It's because of inconsistencies in evidence like this that I decided to write a fictional truth about about the Porco murder in which I am able to dramatize what might have happened on that cold moonlight night back not too long ago.

I did something else too.

I normally write in a sparse, hard-boiled, noir style. But in this novel, because of the axe element, I added in a bit of horror as well. It's not a horror novel say in the vein of JA Konrath or Blake Crouch, nor would I attempt to even think about walking onto their territory with my limited skill set, but I can say this: "Murder" was a fun book to write simply because as an artist, I was presented the perfect canvass for mixing styles, and I think I pulled it off. That is, judging by the many great reviews received thus far, not to mention the very good sales.
How about you? Do you mix your genres? Have you ever attempted re-writing a true story in order to get at more possible truths?




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Wanna Be in Film?

I've always wanted to be in the movies.

When I was a kid I acted out every action/adventure role you can imagine. From cowboys and Indians, to WWII solider, to swashbuckling adventurer. I even set up the scene of Christ's crucifixion once which gave my parents pause to say the least. "Oh dear God he's building a cross!"

These days I write novels that get considered by the movies as possible full-length feature productions for either cable TV or the silver screen. I've been read by Clooney, Spielberg, DeNiro, Pacino, and more. While a lot of my books have come close, none of them thus far have been produced. But hey, that's Hollywood.

However, now, with the advent of book trailers, my books are coming alive on digital film if only for a minute or two at a time. Some of these trailers can be quite the professional productions. In fact, Amazon studios is sponsoring a new contest for my newest release Murder by Moonlight. They are inviting any film maker from around the globe to produce a book trailer for "Murder." The winner takes away $3,000 and there are also cash prizes and signed books for the runner ups. Thus far there have been entries coming in from around the globe. The last time Amazon Studios ran a contest like this for the suspense novel SEED, the winning entry led to major motion picture deal. How sweet is that?

There's still time for you to make your mark in the film world. Here's how:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What's Old is Hot

"As a kid, I used to stare at the Apple spinning on the turntable for hours and hours..."

Remember the feeling of buying a new album?
Not a compact disk, but a real vinyl LP. If you still didn't have you drivers license your mother or father carted you to the record store and you dropped the five bucks you earned from delivering papers or babysitting, and you stared at the cover art all the way home. Once insde the house, you shot up to your room, peeled away the plastic, smelled the good smell of the cardboard sleeve that somehow combined with the smell of the vinyl record to create a fragrance that in my life anyway, has never been replicated. You slipped the record onto the turntable praying it wouldn't be warped, and then you gently set the needle onto the record. You sat yourself down on your bed with the album cover gripped in your hands and you listened for the first pops and hisses and scratches that can only come from vinyl, until the music kicked in and transported you a million miles away.

That experience has never been duplicated for me in the modern age of music downloads and internet radio stations. Music has gone from being a very personal emotional event to something more like a plastic backdrop. Instead of enjoying a one on one with the music artist, we now create for ourselves, our own particular brand of Muzac. The loss of the personal music experience that could only come from vinyl is almost like losing a language or even a religion.

But now vinyl is back. In a big way. This holiday season, one of the bestsellers is, and will continue to be, newly remixed and repackaged albums from some of the bands we have loved the most for decades. The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, and more...Now I need to go out and buy a new turntable. What's old is hot again, proving it's not the technology we're after, but the experience. The personal experience.

Look for the same thing to occur in the books. While E-Books, Kindles, Nooks and other digitized versions of books will continue to take off and even dominate the market for years to come, there will come, sooner than later, a resurgence not only of paper books, but beautifully bound rich paper volumes. What's old will be hot.

It's one thing to keep up with technology and always be moving forward. But it's another to abandon entirely the personal experience we once shared only with ourselves when we cracked open a brand new novel, or when we gently, hopefully, placed that diamond needle down onto a new album

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Killer Off Roading in Chianti

In this video, we come upon a felled tree that is blocking the road. Checco decides to get a little creative in attempting to move it out of the way so we can pass on through, reach the summit, and then drive down into the valley and the little town of Greve where we will have lunch.


The Chianti region of Italy is renown for its mountain vineyards, olive oil farms, a lush countryside filled with wild game including deer and boar, and a peaceful, healthy lifestyle that hasn't changed in centuries. Mostly it's know for its famous wines. It's a place to visit in order to escape the hustle and congestion of the cities. A place to eat, pray and love as the saying goes. To forget about your mortality for a while.

Or is it?

This past spring I wrote about motorbiking in the Chianti mountains. At the time it seemed like a dangerous prospect. But that was nothing compared this past Tuesday when I accompanied my fixer and friend Francesco "Checco" Tassi on an off-road tour of the Chianti mountains in his small Jeep. Imagine if you will, motoring at high speed along steep narrow paths that barely accompany the width of the vehicle, with deep, brown-water hidden ruts on the driver's side and only inches (and sometimes not even that) from the passenger side door, sheer cliff drops off one hundred and two hundred feet or more, and maybe you get the picture.

And I thought Egypt was dangerous.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dear Random House/Penguin Author....

Dear Random House/Penguin Author:

Congratulations on the merger of the two giants who control your career and your life. I just wanted to let you know that from this point on, your agent will be telling you, "All's cool bro, no problems. Random House/Penguin (...or insert imprint HERE) loves you man. They totally fucking dig your style. You are their dough-ray-me future...Oh, sorry, gotta go, call from the Bertlesmann bros on the other line..."

Right now, author, you are feeling sort of sick. Your stomach is tight. You haven't slept much over the past few days. You might have a headache. You are irritable towards friends and family. You can't work.

You're not getting a straight answer from anyone.

All you want to know is, "Is my present publishing contract secure in the midst of this new merger?"
Or, "Are you going to renew my contract like you promised?"

You probably gave up your day job once you were told a major pub had accepted your new book and were paying you a six figure advance to start out with. Maybe you told your entire circle of friends and family about your good fortune.Maybe even the local newspaper ran a "local boy/girl makes good story" on you." Maybe you've never been so happy in your life. Maybe even your significant other now believes that all those horrible moments of doubt...all those arguments about "getting a real job and writing on the side" ... were for naught.

Your ship has finally docked. Or so you thought.

Problems: Maybe your only source of income is the advance promised you by RH and/or Penguin. Perhaps, they paid you the first installment but now that a merger is taking place, your agent can't seem to get anyone who knows what they're doing on the line. Maybe you never considered what might happen in the face of a corporate merger. Of course you didn't. What writer anticipates a corporate merger?

Maybe you have new friends in New York who work in Editing, or who work in Marketing. Maybe you have already partied with them and now consider them your buds. Maybe they can help you. Because that's what friends on the inside do, right? They help you.

But then, you're not hearing from your new friends no matter how much you call, email, or text.

Maybe their fate is as hellish as yours. Maybe after years of service they are being let go. Maybe the corporate merger is dictating that they go find new jobs in greener pastures. Perhaps pastures that have nothing to do with publishing.

Dear author. I hate to say this, but there's a pretty good bet that unless you're already bringing in publishing numbers equal to James Patterson or Harlan Coben, you are going to be dropped from the list. You are going to be the "casualty" of the inevitable "cleaning house" that the new RH/Penguin company will have no choice but to do. Because after all, these conglomerates are two white whales that are already dying and making them co-join like two gigantic Legos ain't gonna work. For some reason, the powers that be feel like by joining up, they can beat a publisher who actually cares deeply about its authors: Amazon Publishing.

Dear author...Have no fear.
The future is here and if you have talent, endurance, and the willingness to adapt, you will survive to publish another day. You will be around for years to come. Your former, now gigantic conglomerate publisher will not be. In fact, it is already dead.



Friday, November 2, 2012

Muslim Brotherhood the New Brown Shirts

That sign behind me doesn't say Benevolent Men's Club...It says Muslim Brotherhood Headquarters. It's a blurred because we had to move fast or else face some serious trouble...

Anyone out there who believes the Muslim Brotherhood is a myth or that these guys are still men of ideas and simple faith who gather together every Friday to play cards and shoot the shit or that they are not interested in pretty much crushing anything Judeo-Christian in the world, had better listen up.

The MB exists.
They are filled with rage and hate directed at the west.
They carry weapons.
Dangerous weapons. AKs locked and loaded with doubled-up banana clips held together with both duct tape and colorful cloth, the colors of which represent a specific set of beliefs (see paragraph no. 1).

Not only are Jews unwelcome in Egypt, they require special documentation. There is, at present, one synagogue left in Cairo, but it is a tourist attraction now since there are estimated to be less than 200 Jews left in a city of ten million inhabitants. I can bet that estimate is inflated. Because if I were a Jew here, I'd be leaving. 

In many ways, Egypt and much of the Middle East has become pre-war Germany and the Muslim Brotherhood, the new Brown Shirts. The police command little respect here as evidenced by the motorists who fearlessly scream and shout out obscenities at them. Perhaps it's always been that way or just perhaps, the police aren't exactly the ones in charge here. People, especially women, have experienced their physical brutality in the streets.  

Not only is it dangerous for me to admit I'm an American (I've been Canadian for weeks), but should I tell anyone who cares that my significant other and our daughter is Jewish, I might have a real problem on my hands. Perhaps you feel I'm being overly dramatic. Trust me, I don't want to test my theory out in any which way possible. So I've kept my mouth shut, my eyes and ears open, and my fingers crossed as I make my way across the desert country.

Listen, in many ways I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But it's one thing reading about what's happening here in the papers, but it's quite another thing living it. Fearing it. It's disconcerting, to say the least. knowing there are countries that exist in the world where my loved ones are not welcome, not to mention, safe. 

 Martyrs R' Us....

At present, the Middle East is exploding. What results from fallout of that explosion remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, if the Muslim Brotherhood continues to take charge, like they have in Egypt (much to the dismay of many Egyptians, especially women), then a major Judeo-Christian vs. radical Muslim conflict is inevitable.

But wait just one minute...I totally forgot about 9/11/2012 Benghazi, Libya raid and the simultaneous attack on the US consulate in Cairo's Tahrir Square...I've forgotten about more than a decade of conflict in the Middle East. We already are at war. Or perhaps I should be a little more open-minded and objective about the whole situation. In the words of the late journalist Martha Gellhorn who spent her fair share of time in pre-war Germany: "Fuck all that objectivity shit."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Egypt in the Future Tense

The very poor and the very curious (photo: Vincent Zandri)

The present tense of Egypt is solidly rooted in a past tense of revolution, assassinations, military crack downs, religious ferver and, of course, its rich heritage of stunning antiquities, both discovered and yet to be excavated. Amidst all this is a sense of instability and anxiety. While the new president is described to me by my Cairo fixer, Dendera (not her real name), as a moderate, he is also a card carrying member of the Muslim Brotherhood. And this is precisely what has her so concerned.

Fresh kill for the feast (photo: Vincent Zandri)
Dendera is a small, richly tan-skinned young woman in her mid-twenties who is both very well educated and career-minded. So much so she has shunned the notion of a boyfriend since her life is so busy with school, work, and her extended family. She has a kind smile, a soft voice, huge brown eyes and she has made the decision to always wear a scarf around her head to hide her hair when in public. She is religious, but not fanatically so. She believes in equal pay for all. Men and women. She wants to have a life which includes traveling beyond the borders of Egypt. But when she tells me this while standing outside the massive, ancient sea-side castle in Alexander, her characteristic smile begins to fade. She shrugs her shoulders, lowers her head and walks on.

When I catch back up to her, I try and cheer her up by telling her that if she ever gets to New York she must look me up. She perks up and regains that smile. She tells me she'll message me on Facebook. That during the revolution, Facebook and Twitter became so important to the young protesters. A cheap and effective way to communicate to the rest of the world one people's passion for freedom and a break from the old tyrannical ways. That freedom was exercised however briefly until supreme power was handed over to the Muslim Brotherhood. When I ask Dendera if it will be possible for Egypt to maintain the freedom that so many died for in the streets of Cairo while maintaining a government run by Muslim fanatics, she shakes her head, looks one way and then the other.

"No," she whispers.

But that whisper, however quiet, hits me like a scream.

We walk silently for a while along the hot pavement. On occasion, Dendera's hand brushes up against mine. The touching sends a wave of electricity up and down my spine, as if I were suddenly sixteen again.

"Don't forget," I say, after a time. "You can find me on Facebook."

"I will message you," she says.

"New York," I remind her. "I will be your guide this time."

She giggles.

"I would like to see the Statue of Liberty. Is it true that it's possible to climb up insider her?"

"It's true," I confirm.

"Lady Liberty," she says. "This dream is something I carry for one day."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You Say You Want a Revolution

Cleaning up after some unfinished business in Tahrir Square. October 23, 2012  (photo: Vincent Zandri)

You say you want a revolution...In Egypt.

Depends upon who you talk to.

The "Arab Spring" has come and gone, but I have a feeling that an Arab Winter has just begun. From what I'm told from those Egyptian citizens who know best, conditions in the country don't seem to be getting better. In fact, they just might be getting worse than they were prior to the ousting of, let's call it, the old regime. Often there is no electricity and even more often, no water. The trains don't run on time. The Nile cruises that once served as the foundation of the western Disney-like tourism industry have all but run aground. There's a gas shortage...Yes, a gas shortage in the Middle East. So bad the vans and cars can line up, one behind the other, for nearly a mile. That is, unless you're carting a precious tourist (or writer) around, in which case you are allowed to proceed to the front of the line.

Then there's the tension in the air. A tension so palpable you can feel it like the oily damp that coats your skin in the center of an overheated, overcrowded city like Cairo. Today...right now...right this minute, there is peace. But tomorrow might be a different story altogether. Whatever the case, I don't dare tell anyone in the street I'm an American. Better to tell them I'm from Canada. Only last month, being an American in Cairo would have placed you in serious danger while the American consulate was attacked by marauding revolutionaries taking their cue from the deadly consulate attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Ask the poor black-robed woman picking through the piles of garbage inside a dump that contains a fetid green lake if the revolution has been a good thing in her life, and she might tell you "Yes. My family can eat now. Most of the time."

                                          A new mural on a Brotherhood wall in Luxor: Who wants to become a martyr today? (photo: Vincent Zandri)

But then, ask the shop-keeper who runs three stores that not so long ago supported his entire family on the sales from the tourists who consistently and constantly bought his goods, and he will say, "The revolution has taken away my living." He will also tell you that the horse and donkey shit that piles up in the streets no longer gets cleaned up. He'll tell you there is a movement amongst the Brotherhood to ban all alcohol from the country. That's the kind of move that will not sit well with the few British ex-patriots who are still toughing it out here. It also won't sit well with the few tourists still braving the constant rumors about Egypt being a dangerous place. And I suppose it still poses the possibility of being dangerous. Perhaps, very dangerous. In the same way a beehive can be dangerous if you decide to hit it with spray from the garden hose.  

Everywhere you go you will finds signs of the Muslim Brotherhood. A mural depicting a martyred soldier here or a civilian who has given his life to Allah all for the cause of political change. The Brotherhood is very organized with its own campuses and even pleasant green, neon lit signage out front facing the street. The signage serves to divert your eyes from the Brotherhood soldiers bearing AK's locked and loaded with banana clips. Clips that are doubled-up for twice the fire power with either duct tape or strips of colorful cloth. You don't double up your clips unless you plan on using them.

Still life goes on.
Normal. Life.

In Cairo, the traffic piles up and bottlenecks just like it does in good times and in bad. The smog blocks the view of the pyramids in Giza. Word up is that even Noam Chomsky is in town to speak to the students at the American University located just a few meters away from the American consulate that was attacked last month on September 11th.

                      A young teen hides her face from the camera (photo: Vincent Zandri)

Then there are the children. The kids. The kids go to school and pray on Fridays in the many mosques. The kids just want to eat and smile and have fun, just like all kids the world over. Revolution means nothing to them. On the surface anyway.  But life means everything. They smile at me when I ask them if I can take their picture. Sometimes they touch my arm. Sometimes they follow me around. Always they are smiling. Their ignorance is bliss, in every benign sense of the word. They are the lucky ones in the midst of revolution. But they are also its inevitable victims.

This revolution isn't done. It's still unfinished business. 

                                          Optimism in the eyes of a young girl? Or is it sadness? (photo: Vincent Zandri) 



Friday, October 19, 2012

Bombs in the Desert

It's one thing to get up early. Before the dawn when the streets are quiet and the dampness that comes with the cool night leaves a sheen of dew on the macadam and the garbage that litters it. After a night of sirens, some distant gunfire, shouting (in Arabic), I might have been better off not sleeping at all. But somehow I managed a couple of hours in which I dreamed that I was driving my car down a steep cliff with no brakes. Go figure. When I woke up I was already running late for the driver who was to meet me in the lobby of my hotel for the drive to Abu Simbal where the famous temples carved out of stone are located.

Under normal circumstances, the 200 KM drive across the desert would be a no-sweat, garden variety tourist activity. But in today's climate in which the American consulate emailed me a warning about nationwide demonstrations taking place today all across Egypt and that Westerners had best watch their backs, the drive takes on a different luster altogether.

Inside the lobby, the driver, a small, thin dark man greets me, handing me a box lunch. He speaks almost no English and I wonder if he can smell me since water in the city of Aswan has been unavailable for 24 hours and I pretty much reek. He smiles anyway while leading me to the van parked outside on the curb.

I get in, and he drives, picking up some tourists along the way. Some Germans, a couple of Brits, and some Aussies. No Americans. We don't proceed to the highway. Instead we drive to a rallying point where dozens of other vans and buses are parked. Attending to the rides is an army of machine-gun toting soldiers. They examine the rides inside and out. The also check the undercarriages with a tool made from a long aluminum handle with a big round mirror attached to the end. He's checking for any explosive devices that just might go off during the ride.

It's early. I sip a Nescafe that was prepared for me roadside by a robed and turban-wearing old man. My stomach is rumbling from the lentil soup I should not have eaten the evening before with a Nubian family on an island surrounded by the Nile waters. I'm not in the best of moods and now I have to worry about getting my ass blown off on my way to seeing one of the most amazing archeological wonders of the world.

As we cross over the dam on our way to the desert, my mind drifts to the young woman who operates the small desk inside my hotel. She is a pleasantly attractive Muslim girl who wishes to go to New York one day. When I tell her I write thriller novels for a living she smiles and the smile becomes infectious. She asks me if I was afraid to come to Egypt. I tell her I wasn't afraid. That I'm more afraid of walking certain streets in my hometown at night. But that was before my van was to be searched for the bombs.

Many hours later, when I make it back to the hotel, exhausted, covered in sand and sweat, she smiles that smile. It draws me in so much that I find myself approaching the front desk instead of trudging up the stairs to my room.

"We have water," she announces in her Arabic-accented English. I get the feeling she's been waiting to tell me this all morning and afternoon.
"Wonderful," I say. "Thank you very much."
That's when she holds up her hand, makes a fist.
"Give me the rock," she says.
I raise up my right hand, make my own fist, touch hers.
We share a moment...a connection...a life far away from the possibility of bombs.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cairo in the Present Tense

Early morning.

Writing this is the dawn with the heavy smog already coming down hard on the this congested city. The streets smell of acrid exhaust. Garbage strewn about the roads and narrow byways. The occasional pile of shit. Half the torso of a slaughtered goat hanging by its torso outside a shop, a bearded man dressed in a white robe and hat watching over it with pride.

I've already been outside for a quick morning jog. Stupid, I know, considered this socio/political climate. But then I promised myself I would give it a try. So, I'll say it again. Stupid. Soon as I came upon the young man standing on a street corner in black lace-up boots, white pants, black shirt, an AK strapped around his shoulder, I made an about-face, headed back to the hotel.

Now, back in the sparsely populated hotel that's costing me about $20 per night, several workers are asleep on the floor and on the couple of old couches pushed up against the walls. One man hawks up flem in his sleep, and rolls over. Another sneezes and laughs as though dreaming of an oasis. Sounds of pots and pans and china plates clanging and banging in the near distance, and always, the sounds of automobile horns that come from the unrelenting traffic outside these concrete walls.

Good morning Cairo.


Saturday, October 13, 2012


My life in the present tense...bulleted:

# Cleaned out the apartment, handed the keys back over to the landlord
# Moved the books and extra clothes into storage
# Deep-sixed the furniture
# Quit my energy account, my cable/internet and my gym membership
# Packing only the things I can carry, including what I need for writing and dispatching
# Got plane tickets and train tickets
# Got fixer/driver all set up
# Got cash and credit cards
# Got passport and entry visas
# Got new life...

I'm going...


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Somebody or something pirated my Google account and my The Vincent Zandri Vox.
If I my home were trampled by a tornado or someone dropped a bomb on it, I would rebuild immediately, so here I go.

Welcome to the The Vincent Zandri Voyager...Stay tuned!