Vincent Zandri is an award-winning novelist, essayist and freelance photojournalist. His novel As Catch Can (Delacorte) was touted in two pre-publication articles by Publishers Weekly and was called "Brilliant" upon its publication by The New York Post. The Boston Herald attributed it as “The most arresting first crime novel to break into print this season.” Other novels include Godchild (Bantam/Dell) and Permanence (NPI).
Vincent will be on virtual book tour in February and March 2010 to promote his latest thriller novel, Moonlight Falls. We interviewed him to find out more about his wonderful new book.
Q. Thank you for this interview, Vincent. Can we begin by having you tell us why you chose to write a thriller novel?
I like to write what I like to read. In writing school the professors teach you how to write boring material that puts people to sleep. They call that being “literary” in all the snooty, nose pointed upward sense of the word. Thrillers have always held a certain fascination for me because I enjoy plot driven material. The New Testament is essentially a thriller when you think about it. Holy Man rides into town. The leaders and the law don’t take too kindly to Him. Eventually they string Him up. But He wins in the end when he somehow ends up beating death. Now that’s a highly dramatic, plot driven, thriller I can sink my cavity prone teeth into. Most good Westerns follow a similar format. I think my books can hold their own with both the literary and thriller genres.
Q. Did you outline before you wrote your book or did you just go with the flow?
Unlike a lot of “popular authors,” I’m not really the type to pump out one book per year, year in and year out, which probably explains my return to small, “Indy” press. I need to think about the book for a long time, think about the characters, do character sketches which include a lot of material that won’t make it into the story. I outline only so far as I’m not interfering with the organic flow of the story. A lot of the writing that was accomplished yesterday determines what I will write today and so on. But I always try and stop in a place where I can be certain I will continue on the next day. Hemingway said the same thing and no truer words have ever been spoken about the craft.
Q. Who was your favorite character in Moonlight Falls and why?
I gotta say it’s the main character, Dick Moonlight. A lot of writers tend to dismiss similarities between them and their characters, but he and I have gone through many of the same problems, he on a more exaggerated and dramatic level. He’s divorced, and has trouble with understanding his place in life. He doesn’t really fit in with the good guys and he certainly isn’t a bad guy. He just is. He’s always making wrong decisions, yet deep down inside, he carries sense of justice that sometimes defies the laws of man and God. No one can truly ruin that for him, although his enemies are certainly bent on trying. His sense of justice is his motivating force in trying to find out who killed his lover, even if in the end all fingers point to himself. Because after all, with that little piece of bullet lodged in his brain, he can die at any given moment. He also loves and misses his child to the point of tears.
Q: Who was your least favorite character?
Although you might expect me to point out the main villain, Mitch Cain, or even the Russian mobsters who illegally harvest and sell body parts on the black market, it would have to be his ex-wife Lynn . While Moonlight is far from perfect, she’s basically abandoned him at a time when he needed her most, and taken up with his former partner in the APD. She probably still loves Moonlight, but saw an opportunity to make her life happier, easier, financially more solvent, etc. by switching partners and attempting to live the unrealistic ideal of the perfect suburban mom. But of course, she can’t possibly ever find happiness because she wouldn’t know it if it slammed her over the head. She’s the type of woman who is on a perpetual diet, exercises compulsively, and lives in a constant state of indecision. You know, the type who’s always rearranging the living room furniture. She purposely tore the child she had with Moonlight away from him and tried to make her new lover a replacement father. Such characters, while fun to write about, represent a side of certain people that is basically reprehensible. I say reprehensible because they have choices in life, and they almost always choose to take the self-serving way out. Both men and women are guilty of this. Such people tend to have no idea what real love is. Of course they are doomed to failure, loneliness, and tragedy.
Q. Can you tell us about the setting and why you chose it?
I set my novels in Albany , for the most part. It’s a city that’s dark and gray in winter, and totally eclipsed by New York City 140 miles to the south. It’s small enough where you can’t attend a wedding without running into at least a half a dozen women you’ve slept with over the years, including the bride! The politics are still crooked and so are a lot of the cops. The architecture is gray and old and in some cases worn down. There’s a kind of Barbary Shore feel to the riverfront, and I like to hang out in some of the beer joints that have bright red neon letting in the windows and sexy barmaids behind the bar. I get along well with the blue collar crowd as well as I can the professorial MFA crowd. But unlike the writing teachers of the world, you can learn a whole lot more from the lives of working men and women, which in general runs from the adventurous to the desperate. If I’m going to war I want a Hell’s Angel on my side, not an American Lit prof. You get the picture. In short, Albany is the perfect place to set a noir story.
Q. What was the hardest part to write?
The bits about Bear, Moonlight’s only child with Lynn . I’ve found the worst thing about divorce is how the kids can be used as emotional leverage—as a bargaining chip for the ex to get what he or she wants, be it extra money or simply control. The scene I wrote in which a teary eyed Moonlight drives to his old neighborhood and parks inside a hidden area just to catch a glance of his little boy getting off the school bus is real.
Q. What was the inspiration behind the story? Where were you when you came up with the idea?
I believe I was down in Manhattan 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. 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. What kind of psychotic desperation moves a man to perform such an act?
Q. Do you plan on writing more thrillers?
I’ve just completed a novel called The Remains, about a woman who receives strange text messages from a man who abducted she and her twin sister back when they were kids. For decades she’s believed he died in prison. But now, 30 years later, she realizes her past has not only come back to haunt her, it’s come back to kill her. I’ve also completed the first in a new detective series about a woman named Spike, who’s inherited a commercial construction business and who wields a framing hammer like some detectives carry a pistol. When one of her still-occupied elementary school renovation jobs becomes contaminated with a major asbestos leak, and the man responsible for the asbestos removal goes missing, Spike goes searching for him. But what she uncovers is a plot of greed, deception, lust and murder. Spike is a cool, sexy, tough, character. She also knows how to drive a bulldozer! You can’t say that about every woman you come across!
Q. Thank you for this interview, Vincent. Can you tell us where we can find out more about you and your wonderful new book?
Sure, go to www.vincentzandri.com.