Interview with ‘The Ashes’ Vincent Zandri #thriller #suspense #books

One of my most favorite thriller authors has to be Vincent Zandri. Zandri’s latest book is the thriller/horror/romantic suspense, The Ashes. Not only is he a bestselling author, he is also the winner of the 2015 PWA Shamus Award and the 2015 ITW Thriller Award for Best Original Paperback Novel. He is also is the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, and AMAZON KINDLE No.1 bestselling author of more than 25 novels including THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT WEEPS, EVERYTHING BURNS, and ORCHARD GROVE.

Not only that, he is the author of numerous Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA among them. Harlan Coben has described THE INNOCENT (formerly As Catch Can) as “…gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while the New York Post called it “Sensational…Masterful…Brilliant!”

Zandri’s list of domestic publishers include Delacorte, Dell, Down & Out Books, Thomas & Mercer and Polis Books, while his foreign publisher is Meme Publishers of Milan and Paris. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri’s work is translated in the Dutch, Russian, French, Italian, and Japanese. Recently, Zandri was the subject of a major feature by the New York Times. He has also made appearances on Bloomberg TV and FOX news. In December 2014, Suspense Magazine named Zandri’s, THE SHROUD KEY, as one of the “Best Books of 2014.” Recently, Suspense Magazine selected WHEN SHADOWS COME as one of the “Best Books of 2016″. A freelance photo-journalist and the author of the popular “lit blog,” The Vincent Zandri Vox, Zandri has written for Living Ready Magazine, RT, New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, The Times Union (Albany), Game & Fish Magazine, and many more. He lives in New York and Florence, Italy.

I was thrilled when he agreed to a candid interview about his new book and how he became such a powerhouse in the world of books.

Thank you for this interview, Vince.  Can we begin by having you tell us about your humble beginnings?  What was the first thing you ever published?

My first published piece, if you want to call it that, was for the Times Union Newspaper back in 1990 or ‘91, I believe. I was in my mid-twenties and I’d been hired as a sports stringer to cover high school football games and other sporting events. Having no real idea what a stringer was, I automatically assumed it was the same as being a cub reporter, so I went to my first Friday Night Lights football game, collected the data, interviewed some players and coaches, then went back to the paper and wrote the story. When the piece landed on the night editor’s desk, he looked up at me and said, “Stringers don’t write their own stories. They call them in to a real writer.” I believe my reaction was, “That so?” From that point on, I wrote all my stories for the TU, including a whole bunch of freelance pieces on everything from fly-fishing to book reviews to travel pieces. A great education for a would-be writer.

Before we get to your book, The Ashes, I’d like to ask you what was the turning point for you when you knew that writing books could be quite profitable?

After graduating from Vermont College’s MFA in Writing program in 1997, I automatically assumed I’d write one novel per year, plus a few short stories, and teach writing on the collegiate level. In other words, I never really expected to make any money from my books since none of the professors who were teaching in the program were really making any money either. But not ten months out of the program and I was offered $250K contract for my first novel in what would be the Jack Marconi, PI series, The Innocent (at the time it was called As Catch Can). It was like a wallop to the head. I’d gone from dead broke and in debt, to making more money than my dad that year. And my dad owned his own construction business. Of course, there were a lot of bumps and roadblocks along the way after that when I didn’t earn out, but looking back on the past twenty years of professional publishing, there’s only been a handful of years where I haven’t made a significant income, be it in actual earnings or advances, from my novels. Of course, I’m so obsessed with writing, I would do it for free.

What do you attribute to your success?

A sense of humor and beer. Or, to put it more seriously, just plain hard work and discipline. Putting in the time at the typewriter day in and day out. Always believing I could find an audience for the stuff I write. I’m still expanding my audience. And success is relative. For some, just publishing a few books is all the success they yearn for. For others, it’s making a part-time living. Some people want to be the next Hemingway or Mailer or John D. MacDonald. I know I did. Everybody’s vision is different. I’ve only worked one traditional job in my life and that was working for my father’s construction business. I went to work for him right out of college and it was a grind. No one should feel their life is a grind at 21 or 22 years old, so I decided to break away from the family business, as painful as it was for a lot people, and move onto something else that not only afforded me all the freedom in the world, it also satisfied a deep desire to be my own boss. To be creative. I’ve won the ITW Thriller Award and the PWA Shamus Award, and hit all the bestseller lists, so I feel I’ve earned the respect of my peers, which is success in itself. But it’s all been a very strange experience, because many of the people I used to consider my friends are gone from my life now. I have new friends, most of whom I’ve met in my travels (I’m on the road a few months every year). I guess when I broke out of the more traditional mold everyone had prescribed for me, I became a different person.

The Ashes’ premise is so captivating!  Can you give us the storyline?

The Ashes is the sequel to The Remains, one of my most successful novels ever. In fact it still sells tens of thousands of editions each year even going on five years after initial publication. In the first book, my protagonist Rebecca Underhill becomes the target of the same man, Joseph William Whalen, who abducted she and her twin sister inside an abandoned farmhouse in the woods behind their country house thirty years earlier. He’s just been released from prison and now he wants to finish the job he started but failed at. In the second book, Whalen’s cell-mate and “wife,” …a psychopath who calls himself the Skinner because of his talent for skinning his victims alive…goes after Rebecca and her small boy. He plants himself in the cornfield behind their house and speaks to the children, luring them into the woods. There’s a bit more of a horror element in The Ashes, but it’s got all the romantic suspense that was contained in The Remains. As for the third book in the trilogy, I haven’t quite decided on a plot.

Can you tell us a little about your main characters?

Rebecca is in her late forties, and she’s the single mother of a little boy, Mike Jr. She and her live-in best friend, Robyn Painter, run the School of Art together inside a converted barn on the property she grew up on along with her late twin sister, Molly. Sam Goodman, is Rebecca’s new love interest. A former Wall Street success story, Sam is a dark-skinned gem of a man who loves Rebecca with all his heart. He’s moved up to the country to escape the rat race and assume a new life as a carpenter. He tries his hardest to protect Rebecca from the Skinner. Some of the characters in the book are more like ghosts from the past, like Michael, Rebecca’s former husband and her sister Molly. They make appearances from the grave since Rebecca is always talking with them, believing in their spiritual reality and existence.

Out of all the books you have written, which one stands near and dear to you over the others?

The Remains was one of those books that I read once it was finished and said to myself, “Did I actually write this book? Or did someone else write it and I just copied it, word for word?” I don’t even remember writing it, it was such a strange if not frightening, internal experience. It’s as if I were in a trance when I put the words down on paper. It came out of the problems I was going through in my life with my second wife and all the pain that comes with it. Art is most definitely therapeutic if nothing else, and The Remains and to an extent, The Ashes, are proof of that.

What’s next for you?

As a hybrid author, I have more novels and stories being published than I can shake a pen at, if you’ll forgive the pun. As I speak with you, the fourth novel in the Jack Marconi PI series, The Corruptions, is being released by Polis Books. As of this moment, it’s available in hard-cover at a book-store near you. In March, the newest novel in my Chase Baker Action/Adventure series will be released, Chase Baker and the Dutch Diamonds. My novel, When Shadows Come, which was published in April by Thomas & Mercer was selected by Suspense Magazine as one of the Best Thrillers of 2016, so I’m very proud of that. In January ’18 Polis will be publishing my new stand-alone, The Detonator, and in ’19, a fifth Marconi PI novel. In the meantime, my agent, Chip MacGregor has been fielding more than his share of calls for movie rights. For anyone who wants to keep up, go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM or contact Chip MacGregor at chip@macgregorliterary.com

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