For those not presently familiar with the name Vincent Zandri, you are in for a treat, as are those who already have a sense of this man. He is an award-winning novelist, essayist and freelance photojournalist. Zandri holds an M.F.A. in Writing, from Vermont College and is a 2010 International Thriller Writer’s Awards panel judge.
His work has appeared in several magazines and publications throughout the world, and his novels have thrilled many readers. With such novels as Godchild, Permanence, Moonlight Falls and the soon-to-be-released The Remains, Zandri knows a thing or two about the writing business, as well as how to entertain readers and keep them at the edge of their seats.
Zandri's novels have been translated into several languages including Japanese and the Dutch. In addition, many of Vincent Zandri's novels have been sought out by numerous major movie producers, including Heyday Productions and DreamWorks. Moonlight Falls is his fourth novel.
When not writing, Vincent Zandriis the drummer for the Albany-based punk band to Blisterz, and divides his time between New York and Europe.
First of all, could you tell us a bit about Moonlight Falls? What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.
Moonlight Falls is basically film noir on paper. It’s about Richard “Dick” Moonlight, suicide survivor who now must cope with a small piece of .22 caliber bullet lodged in his brain. Because it’s pressed up against his cerebral cortex he has trouble making good decisions and he suffers on occasion from short-term memory loss. In times of stress he passes out. He could suffer a major stroke or die at any moment. So time means little to him. When he makes the wrong decision to sleep with his former boss’s wife, the beautiful Scarlet Montana, and she later turns up brutally murdered, he believes it’s possible he might have killed her and just can’t remember it.
I believe I was down in Manhattan promoting As Catch Can with my then Delacorte editor, Jacob Hoye (now MTV Books), when I came across a story about a man who survived a suicide attempt and lived with a piece of bullet shrapnel still stuck in his brain. At the time I was also influenced by a self-stabbing suicide art exhibit that I caught in a Soho gallery by the infamous artist Damien Hirst. I’ve also been fascinated with a rarely spoken about story from my family history in which my paternal grandfather committed suicide by slicing his neck open with a straight razor in front of his grown children.
Do you have a favorite excerpt from Moonlight Falls. Could you share that with us, please?
Man’s life is flashing before his eyes.
He’s a little amazed because it’s happening just like it does in a
sappy movie. You know, when they run real fast through some
homespun super-eight film starting with your birth, moving on to
toddler’s first step, then first day at kindergarten, first communion, first prom, first Gulf War, first marriage, firstborn son, first affair, first
divorce . . .
So why’s the life flashing by?
Man’s about to execute himself.
He sits alone at the kitchen table inside what used to be his
childhood home, pistol barrel pressed up tight against his head, only a half-inch or so behind the right earlobe. Thumb on the hammer, index finger wrapped around the trigger, hand trembling, eyes closed, big tears falling.
On the bright side of things, it’s beautiful sunny day.
Outside the kitchen window wispy clouds float by like giant
ghosts in a heavenly blue sky. Bluebirds chirp happily from the junipers that line the perimeter of the north Albany property. The cool wind blows, shaking the leaves on the trees. The fall air is cool, crisp and clean.
“Football weather” his mortician dad used to call it back when he was a happy-go-lucky kid.
On the not so bright side, a bullet is about to enter his brainpan.
But then, as much as the man wants to enter the spirit world, he’s not entirely insensitive. He’s thought things through. While he might have used his service-issued 9mm to do the job, he’s decided instead to go with the more lightweight .22—his backup piece. To some people, a pistol is a pistol. But to the man, nothing could be further from the truth.
Because had he chosen to “eat his piece” by pressing the pistol barrel up against his mouth’s soft upper palate, he’d guarantee himself an instant death.
A good death.
Problem is, that “good death” would leave one hell of a spatter
mess behind for some poor slob to clean up after his soul has left the building. So instead of choosing the safe “good death,” he’s opted for the more thoughtful no-mess, easy-clean-up kind of suicide—the assassin’s death. Because only a professional killer with a steady hand knows that a .22 caliber bullet hasn’t got a chance in hell of exiting the skull once it’s made jelly filling of your brains.
Outside the window, the wind picks up.
The chimes that hang from the eaves make a haunting, jingly
The super-eight memories inside his head have ceased. His life
story—the entire thirty-six year affair from birth to this very moment of truth have officially flashed before his eyes.
Roll credits . . .
Man swallows a lump, thumbs back the hammer. The
mechanical action reverberates inside his skull.
There’s no stopping him; no penetrating the resolve of the
already dead. He’s happy with himself for the first time in he can’t
remember how long. So happy, his entire body weight seems to empty itself from out the bottoms of his feet. That’s when a red robin perches itself on the brick ledge just outside the picture window. Just a small scarlet-feathered robin that’s beating its wings and staring into the house with its black eyes.
“Don’t look,” the man whispers.
He plants a smile on his face a split second before he pulls the
What do you want readers to take away from reading Moonlight Falls?
How long do I have to wait until the next “Moonlight” novel comes out!
What was the most fun about writing Moonlight Falls?
It was very hard work. But since Moonlight is incapable of making the right decision about things now and again, it’s allowed me as an author to get him into some pretty hairy situations.
What was the hardest part about writing Moonlight Falls?
The research about brain damage, organ harvesting, police procedure. Also, there are tense shifts throughout.
What kind of research did you do for Moonlight Falls?
See above. But to add, I visited hospitals, funeral parlors, police stations, morgues, prisons, swam in the Hudson River to see what that was like. Fun stuff like that.
Could you please tell us about your writing process?
I get up early everyday. Every week day that is. Make the coffee and start in on biting the nail. That’s Hemingway-speak for “writing.” I usually work until ten, then get some exercise in at the gym. I also run. Then I write all afternoon until 5PM when I head out for a couple of drinks or maybe some fly fishing, or rehearsal with my punk band, The Blisterz. If I’m working on a novel the first draft is completed in longhand on yellow legal pads. If it’s a piece of journalism I do it right off the keyboard.
Do you ever put yourself within your characters?
Sometimes, in so much as I’m my most familiar invented character. So sometimes it feels comfortable to interject some of myself into the main dude. For instance, Moonlight misses his little boy whom he lost custody of in his divorce. I’ve experienced that and it can be emotionally devastating. So being able to write about it and even publish it, is like exorcising some demons. It beats paying a shrink or a priest to do the same thing!
Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.
In general, if it’s a book, I try and maintain the same work schedule everyday. Get as much sleep as possible, including naps. I listen to a lot of Vaughn Williams when I write. Romantic and lush. On occasion some Miles or Bucky Pizzarelli, especially if I’m writing noir. But when I’m engaged in a journalism assignment, the less consistency the better. I prefer to be in some far off destination, uncomfortable, under pressure. As for foods, I try and stick to five small meals a day. It’s a weight lifter thing.
Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?
From other writers and journalists I know or know of. One journalist I admire is a woman named Lizette Potgeiter originally from South Africa now operating as a freelancer out of Afghanistan. We both work for RT (Russia Today TV). I wish I had half the guts she has. Other inspirations are Hemingway, Mailer, Max Frisch, Charlie Huston, JA Konrath…But mostly the inspiration is derived from within. In a word, I’m obsessed. Just ask my two ex-wives about it. They’ll be happy to tell you what a self-obsessed jerk I am!
How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do – craft stories of my own for others to read"?
I think from the first moment I read Hemingway’s collection of short stories, In Our Time, I knew I was doomed so to speak. Those stories spoke to me in a way nothing else did. Not movies, not music (and I’m a musician), not religion, not philosophy. I wanted to be able to write like that. I thought it would be easy. That was 30 years ago. I’m still not able to write on the level that Hemingway was writing in his early 20s, but everyday I bite the nail and come a little bit closer.
What make you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.
My wall was family pressure. I was groomed to be a major executive in the family commercial construction business and for a while I fell into it, along with a wife, two babies, house in the burbs, country club, debt, more debt and even more debt. The middle class is a trap and a horrifying one at that. I was only 24 at the time, and miserable. I kept looking at the copy of In Our Time on the book shelf, and one day around the age of 26 or 27 I told my wife I was giving it all up to become a writer. I became a Stringer for the local newspaper, and started on some short stories that got published in journals like Negative Capability, Orange Coast Magazine, Fugue, The Maryland Review, and others. I enrolled in writing school and started doing as much traveling as I could to places like China, Turkey, France, wherever. Sold the house, the car, gave up the club, and the paid off the debts. Of course my wife divorced me, but ironically, my sons came to live with me fulltime. I beat the trap, but it was one hell of a fight and costly too. But oh so worth it.
How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!
I like giving my characters names that mean something, even if it causes some reviewers to thumb their nose at my choices, calling them contrived or some such shit. One of my favorite authors is Max Frisch and he was a master of giving his characters names with meaning. Homo Faber is one such book. The title literally means “Man the Maker.” The main character’s name is Faber, and the girlfriend he is trying to ditch goes by the curious clingy name of Ivy. I’ve always liked the notion of a waxing and waning moon, so I thought it would be the perfect name for a character who is forever up and down in life. One bit of trivia though, the name of Moonlight’s lover, Scarlet Montana, is not made up. The real Scarlet used to work at a bank in upstate New York. She was beautiful. Scarlet, are you out there somewhere????
Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?
I was an avid reader. World War II books…the big heavy ones with lots of pictures. I used to act out battle scenes in my backyard with my grandfather’s old uniforms and junk he brought back from the war, including a German Vermacht helmet. I remember once walking around my house with it on, and a toy rifle strapped around my shoulders. I was seven years old. Someone came to the door and almost freaked at the site of this 4’5” miniature German soldier. In any case, I also read War of the Worlds early on, Huck Fin, Tom Sawyer, some Jack London. As a boy I loved the passion scene in the Bible and made my mother read it aloud for me. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but I loved the “Passion” for the adventure of it all. So naturally when Mel Gibson came out with his movie, I felt scooped.
If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?
Tenacious V: Get Out of My Way!
What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?
My new novel, The Remains, will be published in E-Book in June, 2010 and later in the year as Trade Paperback, by Stone House Ink. I recently signed with that publisher who is expanding their line to include authors like me who write dark but still mainstream material. An excerpt? Go to www.vincentzandritheremains.com. I am also working on the second Moonlight novel. It’s called, appropriately enough, Moonlight Rises. The novel’s opening sentence? “I’m dead.”
What are you reading right now?
Several books. My Dead Body by Charlie Huston, The Hemingway Patrols, by Terry Mort, and others. I don’t have a lot of time for reading these days for obvious reasons.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I go through phases. Right now Charlie Huston is my favorite and I’m trying to read everything by him. Sentence for sentence, he is the best noir writer working right now. Also Heath Lowrance who is a noir up and comer from Detroit. I just blurbed his The Bastard Hand which is coming out soon from New Pulp Press. It’s amazing. Also, Jim Harrison, Boston Teran, Andrew Vachs…
If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
St. John of Patmos. First of all I like Greek food, and second of all, I’d like to know if he really prophesized Revelations or he simply had an awesome time making it all up. He was buds with Jesus, so I’d be full of questions.
What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?
New York Times Number One Bestseller accompanied by a feature article entitled: “He Did it His Way!” I’ll be happy to read the story online, along with a steaming cup of cappuccino on one side and beautiful Italian countess on the other from the balcony of apartment in Florence, Italy. Moments later, I’ll bite the nail just like any other day in the life.
Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?
Here’s a promise: you will not figure out the whodunnit of Moonlight Falls until you read the final page. No has yet figured it out and I challenge anyone to try (without cheating of course). All my books should be just as fun, entertaining, well written and satisfying. After all, you readers are investing your time and money and I’m not about to waste it.
Where can readers get in touch with you? Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc?
Thanks for having me!