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Debbi Mack interviews crime fiction author Vincent Zandri.
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Debbi: Hi everyone. This is the Crime Cafe. Your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I’m your host, Debbi Mack. Before I bring on my guest, don’t forget that you can buy the Crime Cafe Nine Book Set and the Crime Cafe Short Story Anthology for only $1.99 and $.99 each. Just go to my website, debbimack.com and click on “Crime Cafe” where you’ll find the buy links. While you’re there, please subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and if you’re watching this, you know that we’re on YouTube as well, so you can subscribe to that channel. Now having said that, it’s my great pleasure to bring on best-selling author, Vincent Zandri. Vince, I am so thrilled to finally have you on my show and to meet you this way, so to speak, after so many years of our first contact online.
Vincent: I know it’s been so long.
Debbi: So, thanks for coming on. It’s been many years and I remember one time you saying that you would love to meet and even though we haven’t gotten to meet in person, it’s nice to be able to do this.
Vincent: Oh, Deb, I was probably just flirting with you at the time.
Debbi: [laughs] Well, that’s very nice. That’s very kind and I’m quite, I guess, what’s the word…flattered.
Vincent: Oh you can’t even think…you’re speechless.
Debbi: I’m speechless [laughs].
Vincent: Well, truth be told, I was in awe of your first book and it did so well and you were like one of the groundbreakers who was one of the first people to like, “You know what? I’m not going the traditional route. I’m totally going to do this.” And, boom, you hit the New York Times with a great, great, great noir novel. So that’s why I was in awe of you, to be perfectly honest.
Debbi: Oh, well that’s really nice of you to say. I am flattered Vincent. That’s kind. Interesting that you bring up genre because how would you describe your writing in one sentence? Are you mainly a thriller writer, a noir writer, a mystery writer, adventure?
Vincent: If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I don’t know, this might sound namby-pamby, but I like to write what I like to read.
Debbi: That sounds good.
Vincent: Simple…yeah, and it’s as simple as that. You know, sometimes there’s like the literary Vince, a book like When Shadows Come, which Thomas & Mercer did which…like my mother or even some of my best fans will be like, “Huh? What was that book about?” And then there’ll be books like, The Shroud Key, for instance which I did under my own label which…and they’ll be like, “Oh my god, you’ve got to go to the next page, you’ve got to go to the next page, gotta go to the next page, gotta go to the next page,” and you eat it up like potato chips, right?
Vincent: And then there’s the Vince who writes like psychological suspense like, I don’t know. Name one of my…The Remains for instance, which is like my big ass seller I guess and I even wrote that from a female perspective which is just sort of relentless. It’s sort of a combination of like, it’s got hardboiled in it. It’s got romance in it. It’s got adventure in it. It’s got that Hitchcock, psychological suspense in it. So it’s got all of it in there and now even more recently, I’ve ventured into (and I blame Richard Godwin for this) but I ventured into erotic noir a little bit.
Vincent: Yeah, which I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off and I’m still not entirely sure if I’ve pulled it off.
Vincent: But, the reviews have been good and to me it was like, well a lot of noir and hardboiled fiction has a lot of sex in it anyway so just take it a step further. But I think it’s kind of working because and I think the plot is good. But anyway, the point being that I’m still experimenting.
Vincent: And I’ve even ventured into…I have a young adult coming out in January as well.
Debbi: Very cool! I’m looking forward to that because I would love to read that one.
Vincent: Yeah, it’s actually the Chase Baker Series again, but it’s young Chase Baker.
Debbi: I love that idea because I was just thinking Chase Baker is such compulsively readable stuff.
Vincent: I appreciate that.
Debbi: It is very much so. I see from your blog that you were a photojournalist. How long did you do that and what did you cover?
Vincent: I was, I mean I started out as a reporter for like a stringer for the local paper in Albany, NY called, The Times Union, which is still there. And at a time in the early 90’s, in the very early 90’s when like it was still, you know, they still had stringers and they still hired freelancers and all that sort of stuff and it was pre-Internet and all that stuff.
Vincent: And you went and covered a story and…
Vincent: Went into the plant and wrote it and all that stuff and it was great and I was geared for the construction business, so I didn’t know how to become a writer. I just knew I wanted to be and so I looked up all my heroes like Faulkner and Hemmingway and all these guys and I discovered like they just started at the newspapers.
Vincent: And so I was like that’s what I’m going to do and so I did that and then I ventured on to writing short stories for the literary journals and things like that and then I went to writing school and I wrote for magazines and I just worked my way up, you know. By the time I was in my late 20’s, I went to writing school and the book I had to write for my creative thesis ended up being my first novel.
Vincent: The Innocent and that got picked up by Delacorte and you know. So I’ve been kind of doing it ever since. Oh and to answer your original question, this business being as cyclical as it is, there’s good years and bad years, so I would always go back to journalism. Back in the mid 2000’s, 2007, 8, 9, 10, I was working for some foreign news outlets.
Vincent: Like RT and some others and just really traveling all over the place and writing stories like in Africa and you know, China and Russia on any number of topics and kind of making my living that way for a while. You know because I had gone through my second divorce or whatever and it was sort of always on the road.
Debbi: Wow. For some people that would be a dream job.
Vincent: Oh, it was! And I actually ended up…I actually ended up using Florence as sort of my home base in like a 5th-floor guest house walk up, which is right down the road from me now (now I have an apartment). And it was like 20 Euros a night but I had my own bathroom, you know which was cool. And I remember like one of the biggest, one of the most profitable stories I sold, I remember I pitched it at like 6:00 in the evening here…
Vincent: To Moscow and they came back and it was all about how, at the time (I think it was 2010) the governor had said like New York state is going to be broke within 30 days. And so that’s kind of a big deal being that New York City is the financial capital of the world.
Vincent: And so like I’m writing a story about Albany, NY really because it’s the capital where I come from, from Florence, Italy for a Moscow newspaper or news outlet and it ended up being like the top story that night in Eastern Europe.
Vincent: So, it was super cool and they like, and they paid so well and I was like, I was like floored, it was great!
Debbi: Oh my god, that’s fantastic! That’s really fantastic!
Vincent: But back then it was more like, I was doing more journalism and I had been back to writing fiction was more, you know when I had the time I was writing fiction.
Vincent: But now I’m, back to almost, I’d say 99.9% all fiction unless somebody asks me to write an article for them, then I’ll do it, but if the pay is good enough, but you know so. They’ll probably come a time again maybe that I’ll go back to journalism. I don’t know.
Debbi: Well, you never know. But having that option is nice.
Vincent: Oh yeah.
Debbi: Would you say you generally write series novels or standalones?
Vincent: I do both.
Vincent: I do both and the standalones, it’s a different…the series novels for me are like, that’s like fun.
Vincent: You know like throwing my characters who I love, I just love throwing them into situations and they’re funny and you know…
Debbi: You get to know their quirks and so on.
Vincent: Yeah, you know and what they’re capable of and what they’re not capable of and I know their back accounts, which are usually in the red and I know, you know their lost loves. But, you know like I always try to, I always try to portray a strong sense of morality with these guys or whatever. Some of them are more political than others and they like differ in their political views and they are not all the same. But the standalones, they take longer. They, you know, you have to create a whole new world for them as you know.
Vincent: It takes a lot longer. It takes much more of an emotional and physical investment. It’s much more like writing a literary novel, you know. The language has got to be right and so I’m actually finishing one right now called The Girl Who Wasn’t There and I think I’m like 40,000 words into another one that I don’t have a title for. But it’s a lot of work. That’s one of the reasons I come to Italy still to write the novels because, look it if like the house burns down, I’m over here I can’t do anything about it.
Debbi: [laughs] It’s cool that you have a place in Italy. Very cool!
Vincent: Yeah, so.
Debbi: Well, it’s funny you bringing up Hemingway and Faulkner as inspirations because I know that I was inspired by the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner and one of the things I thought I needed to do, when I first started writing, I mean when I was very young I have old handwritten stuff that I did about Vietnam vets because I thought based on Hemingway, I thought you had to be like a war correspondent to be a real writer. You know what I mean?
Vincent: Right, right, sure.
Debbi: So I tried getting into the head of a Vietnam vet and I look at it now and I kind of cringe of course, but at the same time I go, you know, I wasn’t half bad [laughs]. There was something there that nobody pointed out to me. Nobody said, “Hey, you’re the best writer ever” or you know. Actually that’s not entirely true, I shouldn’t say that. There were teachers who were very encouraging. But, I wish I’d been a little bit more encouraged earlier on. You know what I’m saying?
Vincent: Oh, sure. I mean, did you always want to be a writer?
Debbi: Oh, yeah. I’ve been wanting to be a writer all my life pretty much. From the first time I started watching television. I mean I knew there were people…I had this awareness that there were people who wrote it. Mainly from watching the Dick Van Dyke Show [laughs].
Vincent: No, you’re so…oh my god, you’re so right. You’re absolutely right. I remember my parents…I remember my mother saying like, “Oh, that’s not…you know like…Dick Van Dyke isn’t so funny or Mary Tyler Moore isn’t so funny.” They would always say (because my father was a musician too, you know and he’d play for some of these people), and they’d say, “Oh my god the writers are so good.”
Debbi: Yes, yes.
Vincent: The writers are so clever.
Debbi: And the fact that you had people doing creative work in your family is part of what goes into it I think because my Dad was a writer, he was a playwright.
Vincent: Oh really? No kidding?
Debbi: Yes and so when he found out that I really wanted to make a go of being a writer, he was so supportive. But that was years after high school and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, having that in your background I think makes a big difference. It makes you realize the possibilities.
Vincent: Oh, it definitely does.
Debbi: So I’m always, you know like encouraging younger people if they have any inclination toward writing. You know keep doing it, keep doing it.
Vincent: Right, right.
Debbi: You’ve done a lot of, I’ve noticed, Amazon digital shorts. Is that correct?
Vincent: Yeah, I think that’s in my bio still and I don’t know why it’s in my bio.
Debbi: I noticed it from your bio, yeah.
Vincent: But, one of which I can’t find. One of which I did through a publisher.
Vincent: And it’s like, I’m sure it’s pirated somewhere, because all my shit’s pirated.
Vincent: But I can’t find it. Like when I split from the publisher, he took it with him.
Vincent: But yeah, I do like…I mean this will probably segue to a whole other topic, but I’m a hybrid author. I have contracts with traditional publishers, but I put out so much material that I put out at least, at the very least a short story a month.
Debbi: That’s cool.
Vincent: Sometimes I’ll run those short stories through other magazines first and then when the rights revert to me upon publication, then I’ll put them up on like Amazon or whatever.
Debbi: That’s a great approach.
Vincent: Yeah, like my…plus it adds kind of legitimacy. Not for the reader, but for me.
Debbi: Exactly, exactly.
Vincent: You know what I mean? Like okay, this was accepted, so it must be okay. You know like, whatever. So, I think the most recent short story I did was Bingo Night, which was in Pulp Metal Magazine I think two months ago which just recently went up. And my short stories are long. They might be like 30 pages or something like that. And sometimes the magazines that publish them have to do it in two separate issues.
Vincent: Or whatever. But that story, like many of my other stories, just came out of the blue. These numbskulls in Albany, there was a blackout, and these numbskulls in Albany decided to like rob an elderly home, and of course it went bad, you know like totally. So, I was like, oh my god. I totally got to write that.
Debbi: Oh my gosh! Truth being stranger than fiction once again.
Debbi: Oh gosh. Well, I have to take a look for those, you know when I’m looking for things to consume from Amazon or wherever I get it from.
Vincent: Yeah, you know and I just like…it’s one of those things, it’s like I’m firmly of the belief that like the modern writer, it’s all about like content, you know like if you’re prolific, you’re absolutely blessed because this can be a golden age for you (if you’re prolific). But if you’re not, it’s just as hard as it’s ever been, you know.
Debbi: I agree.
Vincent: Unless you have that one book that’s making a cabillion bucks for you or something like that.
Debbi: I agree with you that the more you can write the better off you are and that’s true regardless of what kind of writing you do. It’s all about the content.
Debbi: Let’s see. Oh yeah, let’s talk about Chase Baker, because like I said, I find it exciting reading. I mean, it’s the kind of thing…I’ve been reading your stories as written by Ben Sobieck actually.
Vincent: Oh, do you like Ben?
Debbi: Ben does a nice job with those and I got to tell you…
Vincent: Oh yeah, he’s great.
Debbi: It’s like looking at kind of like those old matinee movie serials, you know where there’d be a cliffhanger at the end and you’d have to come back next week.
Vincent: That’s what they’re about.
Debbi: I’m like, oh my god this is like action adventure from the thirties or something. But it’s modern…
Vincent: That’s what they’re all about.
Debbi: What inspired you to write Chase Baker? Was there a particular type of writing or movie even that inspired you to write these?
Vincent: Yeah, well, I was one of those nerds who (well, I was never a nerd), scratch that from the record. But, okay yeah, but I was one of those guys that like as a young teenager, I think I saw Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark or The Raiders of the Lost Ark, I think I saw it like a record like 15 times or something like that.
Debbi: Oh my gosh, yeah.
Vincent: I’m not kidding; I was like I love this. I love this.
Vincent: And so it did two things for me. It like gave me this sense of adventurism that still to this day I just can’t get enough of.
Vincent: And number two, I was like, yeah I was like number two I gotta come up with a character or whatever and get into this action-adventure thing. And it took years, years because I wasn’t going to be Clive Cussler, you know and I was like, who can I come up with? And I went down to (where’d I go), I went down to the Amazon and someone had spoken to me about this guy who was a guide down there and he was sort of based, or like, his hero was Hiram Bingham and there was a movie based on Hiram Bingham that came out in the 50’s called, Secret of the Incas.
Vincent: Look it up on Google, Secret of the Incas and starring Charlton Heston, a young Charlton Heston. It was made in 1954. Isn’t it funny that in this movie, Secret of the Incas, Charlton Heston is wearing a fedora; he’s got the leather jacket, the boots, the pants. He’s a tough guy and it’s actually even like, which is more true to Chase Baker, he’s even like kind of a male prostitute, and I’m not kidding.
Debbi: [laughs]. Oh my gosh.
Vincent: But clearly, clearly the inspiration for Indiana Jones.
Vincent: And then I did a little research on it, and I found out that Stephen Spielberg had bought the rights to that movie for 30 years. Like it could not be shown anywhere.
Debbi: Oh, my gosh.
Vincent: And finally it had come out. So you know, when I saw Secret of the Incas, I was like, all right. Obviously I can’t write a Dan Brown character because that to me is, I’m not that crazy about that character, but I can’t write Indiana Jones it’s already been done. But I can come up with a character who is sort of like this writer guy and has a background like myself, which is like a construction background. So, he’s like a digger and he’s got an apartment in Florence and he’s got an apartment in New York and he’s always unlucky with the ladies. But, he’s just got this passion and he’s got a daughter just like me and he’s got this passion for like going after either lost treasures or lost people or whatever. And so like I was literally walking around Florence like five years ago and I came up with him and I was like trying to figure out a name and I came up with the first street I ever lived on, Baker Avenue and then I was like, I gotta have a good first name for him and it was Chase. And it turns out there’s a Chase Baker who played for the New York Giants.
Vincent: Which, I’ve never heard from this guy or anything like that. And I love biblical themes and like controversy there and whatever.
Debbi: Yeah, yeah.
Vincent: And so I came up with The Shroud Key and like the mortal remains of Jesus and so of course, but the book is like panned by some people because they’re like, oh even just the suggestion of the moral remains goes against the whole Christian doctrine, right? But, that’s not the point of it. In fact, if anything he has like, you know maybe…there is no mortal remains or maybe there is. You have to read the book of course.
Vincent: But the book has taken me like, I mean I’ve almost died writing these books and I’m not kidding. I mean I’ve been all over the world writing these books. The most recent one was in Central America where I was caving and climbing and all this sort of stuff (this was back in June) and I caught such bad food poisoning, it was the first time ever, you know I should have been hospitalized…
Debbi: My gosh.
Vincent: But I wasn’t about to, you know go to a hospital there or whatever. But part of the point of the books for me is like I want the readers to feel like okay, this guy’s been to these places and he’s done a lot of the things that are in these books, as opposed to he didn’t just Google this stuff. You know what I mean?
Debbi: Yes, yes. They have that feel of authenticity to them. I have to say.
Vincent: I hope so.
Debbi: They do and they are so exciting to read.
Vincent: Thank you.
Debbi: Tell us about the latest book, The Shroud Key.
Vincent: Well The Shroud Key, actually that’s the first one in the series.
Debbi: Oh, that’s the first one, okay.
Vincent: That’s the first one. That’s the one that we’re giving away I think actually.
Debbi: Yes, that’s right. Tell us about The Shroud Key.
Vincent: The Shroud Key is the one, that’s the one about the search for the mortal remains of Jesus.
Debbi: Oh, okay.
Vincent: Takes place, I mean it goes all over the place. It goes from like, it goes from Florence to Rome to I think maybe Jerusalem. Does it go to Jerusalem? I’m not sure. But I have been to Jerusalem to study some of these novels. It ends up actually goes back to New York and it’s Chase Baker fighting like…oh, it goes to Egypt. I wrote the book so long ago I have to actually remember now. Actually went to Egypt during the Revolution.
Vincent: To do research on this and one funny story is there was no one, no tourists in Egypt at the time and I ended up going into like the third pyramid in Giza all by myself and I climb all the way down in and there’s just nobody there and so you’re all alone inside this pyramid. So I decide to like get into the sarcophagus and lie down inside it and I’m staring up at like, not only like you know 5 or 6,000 years of ancient history, but like tons upon tons upon tons of this granite and stone and like…so that was kind of a transfixing and transformative moment for me in the research for that book.
Vincent: But it’s all about like, you know I trailed, I went on the hunt for like Jesus went to Egypt and then you know his travels and wherever he ended up and of course he ends up being crucified in Jerusalem and like is it possible that there’s an ossuary with his bones in it because they have found the ossuaries of his brother James and they found the ossuaries (they claim) of Mary and Mary Magdalene and all this. So, is it possible that Jesus’ bones were there as well? You have to read the book, but one of the big things, the map for him (the map for Chase Baker) is none other than the Shroud of Turin.
Vincent: And if you look at The Shroud of Turin (and this took a lot of research as well) there actually are maps on The Shroud of Turin. It’s not just Christ’s body, but there are actual maps and part of that map matches almost to the “T”, the layout of the Pyramids of Giza and even the minor pyramids that are right beside it. And actually it’s true, it does.
Debbi: That’s fascinating.
Vincent: Which also mirrors the Belt of Orion.
Debbi: [laughs]. That’s really fascinating.
Vincent: Yeah, so it’s got all that in there. If you love that stuff, which I do, give it a read and it’s a fast, fun read, you know.
Debbi: I have got to read this book.
Vincent: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
Debbi: That’s fantastic. Wow. Is there anything out now that you would like to talk about?
Vincent: The latest is Chase Baker and The Spear (here it is actually), Chase Baker and The Spear of Destiny.
Vincent: This is the latest. This actually takes place in Rome and it’s all about the Spear of Longinus, the spear that pierced Christ’s side when he was on the cross and it’s all about a…and also based on fact again; based on a Nazi who wants to start the Fourth Reich and he was one of the originally guys who found this during the Third Reich and he’s still alive and wants to start the Fourth Reich and so Chase has to go after the spear. But what happens in the…the spear is actually broken in two parts and the Pope has part of the spear around him and so what the Neo-Nazi’s do is they kidnap the Pope and Chase has to, Chase has to get the Pope back.
Debbi: Does the bad guy’s face melt at any point?
Vincent: Ha, oh all sorts of stuff like that happens.
Debbi: [laughs]. Fun! Let’s see, oh yeah, if any of your work was adapted for the screen, who would you picture playing the main character?
Vincent: Oh boy! I’d make a good Chase Baker. No, I wouldn’t actually. Actually I’m too short. Although, Chase is not that tall either. You know that’s a good question actually. You might have to help me on this. I don’t know. Who would be a good Chase Baker?
Debbi: Harrison is a little long in the tooth now I guess.
Vincent: Yeah, he’s long in the tooth and he’s Indiana Jones.
Debbi: How about Ryan Gosling? What do you think?
Vincent: No, he’s too blonde.
Debbi: Too blonde.
Vincent: He’s too blonde. It’s gotta be more like…
Debbi: Let’s see.
Vincent: How about Kevin Spacey. No he’s done!
Debbi: [laughs]. Oh dear!
Vincent: Actually, he’s probably available now. He’d probably be like, yeah I’ll do that. I’ll do it. I’ll do it for $100 bucks!
Debbi: Poor Kevin. Sorry everybody, but really. I mean it’s horrible.
Vincent: I’ll do it for $100 bucks. I’ll do it for $50 bucks.
Debbi: You can get him cheap, there you go.
Vincent: Yeah, you can get him cheap. I’m sure as soon as this interview is over, I’ll totally think about it. I don’t know who would be good. I’m not up on my like actors. Ooh, there are mosquitos. You know Florence was built on a swamp and there’s mosquitos all over the place.
Debbi: Like Venice, built on all those wetlands.
Vincent: Yeah and the canals. There’s a lot of bugs.
Debbi: A lot of bugs.
Vincent: Right. So who would be Chase Baker? You know, it would have to be a guy between around 50.
Debbi: Matthew McConaughey?
Vincent: Maybe. Johnnie Depp’s too expensive. Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt. He’s way beyond. He’s too expensive, too.
Debbi: I was going to say Tom Cruise, but he’s too expensive.
Vincent: Tom Cruise…yeah. You know, it would have to be kind of like, because like Harrison Ford for Indiana Jones, he wasn’t the first pick. It was Tom Selleck was the first pick. So like I would prefer like somebody who’s like you don’t really know of them, you know.
Debbi: A newcomer.
Vincent: Sort of a newcomer, yeah!
Debbi: That’d be cool.
Vincent: And that’s a good way for me to get out of this question.
Debbi: [laughs]. Well, it’s a fair answer in my opinion.
Vincent: Can you tell I’m not like; I don’t have my finger on the popular culture pulse?
Debbi: I understand. I know where you’re coming from entirely. A lot of my favorite movies are really old movies.
Vincent: Me too, me too.
Debbi: What can I say? Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
Vincent: Nothing I mean I think if anyone wants to check out my books, and I would totally appreciate it, is just go to www.vincentzandri.com.
Debbi: And you have a really cool blog.
Vincent: And my blog is the Vincent Zandri Vox. It does very well. I try not to make it too political or anything like that. I’m not getting into politics but I write about all different types of topics. Everything from the writing life to traveling to whatever it just happens to be on my mind.
Debbi: I think that’s great. That’s cool.
Vincent: I appreciate it.
Debbi: Blogs like that really intrigue me. Those are the ones I like to read.
Vincent: Right, and you too. You have a nice blog. I love your website.
Debbi: Thank you very much.
Vincent: Your website is inspiring me. I need a new website.
Debbi: Thank you. Well you inspire me as a writer.
Vincent: Thank you, thank you. Thank you for having me.
Debbi: Oh, it was my pleasure, believe me. Thank you for being here.
Vincent: Thanks Debbi.
Debbi: Sure thing. And with that I will simply say, remember to check out The Crime Cafe Nine Book Set and Short Story Anthology. The buy links you can find on my website, debbimack.com. No ‘e’ after the ‘i’ in debbi.com. And go to “The Crime Cafe” link to find the buy links as well as the subscribe buttons to the podcast and you can find Crime Cafe merchandise there, too. Until next time, have fun reading and I’ll see you in two weeks.
Download the PDF copy of the interview here.