New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Vincent Zandri sat down with The Big Thrill to talk about his new novel, ORCHARD GROVE, a tale about a very ordinary neighborhood with not-so-ordinary neighbors. A depressed screenplay writer, his secretive wife, and the seductive serial killer living next door are the cast who take us down a path of manipulation, mind games and dangerous lies.
Hi Vincent. Thanks for joining me. Your main protagonist—Ethan—is a depressed screenwriter. Is there something special about writing a writer as a main character?
Well it boils down to the “write what you know” thing. I’m a writer and at least in terms of my experience, I know what it’s like to live the life of a writer, particularly the ups and downs and sideways adventures. I also know how tenuous this business is and how stunningly fragile loyalty can be. Ethan has been through it all as a screenwriter. On top of the world, sharing smokes with Johnny Depp out in West LA and then, in the not too distant future, facing foreclosure on his house and the failure of his marriage. He’s a desperate guy and they tend to do desperate things. When he falls in “lust” with his lovely new blonde neighbor, Lana, he finds he’ll do just about anything to get her all to himself. Even if it means murder.
I’m interested in the dichotomy between setting your novel in a sleepy, ordinary place and then filling it with extreme and dangerous characters. Can you share the process that went into creating the town?
I’m fascinated by the concept of the evil that lies within, if that makes any sense. Who knows what lurks behind the closed and bolted doors of your neighbor’s house? The pretty, pastel-colored houses that make up a nicely manicured, cozy suburban neighborhood could, in theory, be a breeding ground for murder, terror, evil, sexual deviance, and much more. That nice man who’s waving to you from across the lawn while pushing his lawn mower just might have a few bodies buried in the backyard.
There’s been a heck of a lot of domestic, psychological thrillers released in the past few years and the sub-genre is enjoying enormous success. Do you think readers will keep coming back for more?
I think and hope so. Certainly publishers have noticed the upsurge in the demand for these Hitchcockian novels. Thomas & Mercer and Polis Books have asked me to write more of them. I had always thought the detective PI series thriller would be the ticket to ultimate success, but it turns out I’m enjoying a very nice run with the stand-alone domestic psych thrillers, like Everything Burns and The Remains. I’ve moved hundreds of thousands of units between the both of them.
You’re a bestseller, have received enormous praise for your work, and won the 2015 Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original for Moonlight Weeps. Can you share your feelings on releasing a new novel on the back of such recent success?
Thanks, now you’re making me nervous! Yes, I can’t tell you how honored I was for Moonlight Weeps to receive the Thriller Award in New York City at Thrillerfest. It also just won the PWA Shamus Award for Best Paperback PI Original, which floored me. So to answer your question, I don’t feel differently about the release of new books on the back of the success. Each book represents a new challenge for me, and I still have lofty goals. I still have so much to learn about writing, especially when I read new novels by Harlan Coben, Charlie Huston, Don Winslow and Megan Abbott.
You split your place of residence between Florence and Albany, New York. What does each location offer as inspiration for your writing?
If Albany inspires me at all, it’s a city caught in a sort of time warp. If you drive some of the back streets inside the city you’ll swear you’re caught up in the 1930s. It’s a politically corrupt place (at least it used to be) where winters are long and the desperation is as palpable as the fishy smelling fog that rises up off the Hudson River on any given morning. That is, it isn’t frozen. The corruption is embedded in the old concrete sidewalks. Lucky Luciano was shot dead by the FBI on Swan Street back in the 1930s. You can still find lots of corner bars with pool tables and just because you write novels for a living doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself bellied up to the bar with a half dozen construction and iron workers. More than a few of them read my books. I started out as a freelancer and stringer for the local Times Union Newspaper. So did Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, back in the late 1920s. William Kennedy is still writing in Albany. Donald Westlake was born and educated in the city. In fact, Albany is home to many successful writers. We have two Pulitzer Prizes, a Governor’s General Award, a bunch of Thriller and Mystery awards, just to name a few major literary achievements.
Florence on the other hand is a place where, for a while anyway, I could hang out and be anonymous and write my novels in peace, knowing that I’m writing in the same place that Dante wrote the Inferno and DaVinci painted and invented. I’m published in Italy now and I’m currently in the middle of a tour and the press that goes with it, so the anonymous bit seems to be a thing of the past. But this is a small, ancient town that thinks it’s a city and there is something almost electric about the place. It’s a melting pot of all sorts of cultures that come together in one big explosive creative clash. Italians, Iranians, Africans, Chinese, English, Americans, you name it. They all seem to migrate to Florence. It’s no wonder Florence’s sister city is Paris because in a real artistic way, it reminds me of what Paris must have been like in the 1930s. For the most part, it’s one of those places people either love or hate. No middle ground. I happen to love it and it’s been good for my work, both as a novelist and a journalist.
A lot of our readers are interested in the process of writing. What does your average day look like and how do you approach writing a novel?
I’m a working stiff. I work Monday through Friday and put in a half day on Saturday. I try to reserve the rest of the time for my kids and my long-time partner, Laura Roth (the real Lola for any of you Moonlight aficionados out there). The average day is wake up around seven, pour a cup of coffee and bring it with me into my studio. I’ll break around ten for a workout, and then I’ll either go out for lunch or eat at my desk. I write the remainder of the afternoon and usually quit work by five or five thirty. If I’m writing new words, I do five good pages, correcting them at the end of the working day. Routine is key. Although I travel a lot, I rarely take a vacation or more than two consecutive days off. In terms of writing novels, I allow an idea to fester in my head for a while and then I’ll figure out who the characters are (usually based somewhat on real people), and then I’ll outline to a point that it doesn’t interfere with the organic development of the book (that’s fancy MFA speak for ‘making it up as I go.’) Always, in that Hemingway sense of the practice, I make certain I know where the story is going the next day so I don’t get stuck. A stand-alone psych thriller might take me three or four months to write. One of my Chase Baker pulp series thrillers or one of the Dick Moonlight PI thrillers might take me six weeks or so.
What’s next for Vincent Zandri?
This is a big month with the release of ORCHARD GROVE in hardcover. I should also mention that Polis re-released The Scream Catcher in ebook and paperback in December. Catcher is arguably my first domestic psychological thriller and it’s a raw, keep you on the edge of your seat, violent, suspense thriller. In April, Thomas & Mercer will release my ninth novel with them, When Shadows Come. It’s another psychological suspense story, but this one is set in Venice, Italy for the most part. I will also be working on two new Chase Baker novels. I’m currently finishing up a new draft of my newest standalone, tentatively titled The Detonator, and it feels a little like Die Hard meets Fatal Attraction. Plus there will be a new Dick Moonlight and a Jack Marconi on the horizon.
Vincent Zandri is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of more than 16 novels including The Innocent, Godchild, The Remains, Moonlight Rises, and Everything Burns. His novel Moonlight Weeps won the 2015 Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original, and is currently nominated for the Shamus Award as well. He is also the author of numerous Amazon best-selling digital shorts, Pathological, True Stories, and Moonlight Mafia among them. Harlan Coben has described The Innocent as ‘”gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while The New York Post called it “sensational . . . masterful . . . brilliant!” An M.F.A. 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. A freelance photo-journalist and the author of the popular lit blog, The Vincent Zandri Vox, Zandri has written for Living Ready Magazine, RT, Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, The Times Union (Albany), Game and Fish Magazine, and many more. He is a resident of both New York and Florence, Italy
To learn more about Vincent, please visit his website.