The Remains and Moonlight Falls author Vincent Zandri is an award-winning, best-selling novelist, essayist, and freelance photojournalist. His novel As Catch Can (Delacorte) was touted in two prepublication 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). Translated into several languages including Japanese and Dutch, Zandri’s novels have also been sought out by numerous major movie producers, including Heyday Productions and DreamWorks. Presently he is the author of the blogs, Dangerous Dispatches and Embedded in Africa for Russia Today TV (RT). He also writes for other global publications, including Culture 11, Globalia, and Globalspec. Zandri’s nonfiction has appeared in New York’s Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, Game and Fish Magazine, and others, while his essays and short fiction have been featured in many journals including Fugue, Maryland Review, and Orange Coast Magazine. He holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College and is a 2010 International Thriller Writer’s Awards panel judge. Zandri currently divides his time between New York and Europe. He is the drummer for the Albany-based punk band The Blisterz. His noir novel The Concrete Pearl is forthcoming from Stone Noir next year.
We’re talking today to Vincent Zandri about his latest thriller, The Remains. Thank you for this interview, Vincent. Can we begin by having you tell us why you chose to write thriller novels opposed to other genres? Do you think perhaps you might write another genre one day or will you stick to thrillers that you are widely known for?
I’ve actually written and published in several genres, from literary to noir to mainstream thriller, as is the case with The Remains. Actually my publisher for The Remains, Stone House Ink, is more known for their Edgy Christian Fiction novels, than anything else. So now there will be people in the industry out there who will scratch their heads and say, When did Zandri switch up to Christian? But it turns out that in this case, the Christian designation is a mere technicality. I’m not a practicing Christian. But the publisher, Aaron Patterson, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime young editors who just happens to love your work and will do anything to publish it. In Christian terms, he’s been a gift from heaven for me and resurrecting my career, which one (nameless and shameless) major publisher in New York almost succeeded in burying. He’s even publishing my out-of-print books and willing to start a brand new imprint in order to do it: Stone Noir. So you see, while I get to remain in my noir, thriller, comfort zone, Aaron gets to publish both Christian fiction and something quite different from Christian fiction while at the same time, bringing the two audiences together. Pretty ingenious when you think about it. But to answer your question more specifically, I will definitely one day write outside the thriller box, be it a more literary effort like my first novel, Permanence (which is being republished later this year in e-book and trade paper), and/or memoir. In fact, my most anthologized literary short story, “Portrait” has been translated into French and will be published in Paris’s new arts and literary magazine Chos’e.
Q. Did you outline before you wrote your book or did you just go with the flow?
In general, I outline, write character studies, sketch a little, think a lot. I write the first draft by longhand and that provides me with a detailed outline. I probably write as many as ten drafts trying to get it right. When you’re working on a first draft it’s important to stop every day at a place that will make certain you can carry on the next day.
Q. Who was your favorite character in The Remains and why?
All the characters are favorites in one way or another; even the bad guy. Of course, in this case, my protagonist, Rebecca, is a woman who has endured a lot over the years including the burden of a secret abduction that took place nearly thirty years ago. The only one who knew about it is her twin sister and best friend Molly. Now, with Molly dead nine years before the novel begins, she must cope with that secret on her own. Until one day, she realizes the man who abducted her is back. And he wants to kill her. She must fight not only him but her own worst fears. I think we can all relate to that kind of situation, in both a metaphorical way and a literal way. I’m going for raw, baseline human emotions in this novel. In a word, it’s pretty scary.
Q. Who was your least favorite character?
Least favorite? Can’t say that I have one. But another favorite character, if you don’t mind me answering the question this way, would be the autistic savant painter, Francis. He helps Rebecca throughout the novel by sending her warning signs that she’s in grave danger. He can’t communicate like you and me so he must try and communicate with her through his paintings—paintings that end up mimicking Rebecca’s dreams almost exactly. Francis is based on the real life autistic savant painter, the late Francis Scaramuzzi of Albany, New York.
Q. Can you tell us about the setting and why you chose it?
The setting is Albany, New York and the rural countryside that surrounds it. Like William Kennedy before me, I base almost all my work on Albany since I know it so well, and can maneuver it like no other place. I also feel a certain loyalty toward the small city since I was born and schooled there. If one of my movies is ever produced, I should hope at least part of the filming takes place in Albany.
Q. What was the hardest part to write?
I had to do a lot of research into artists, painters in particular. My girlfriend, the artist and College of St. Rose art professor Gina Occhiogrosso helped me with that. Besides that, writing about autism presented several challenges, trying to get the body language right and the manner of speaking. Autism is an emotional condition. Oftentimes autistic people are narrowly focused geniuses. We “normal” people can’t imagine the internal processing they are accomplishing at any given moment. I’m awed by them and their gifts, even if I don’t entirely understand them.
Q. What was the inspiration behind the story? Where were you when you came up with the idea?
I’d just been separated from my second wife and it hit me very hard. That was my mental state. But for the few years we had been married, I really hadn’t written any fiction that was worthwhile. Ironically, there was simply too much drama going on! Now that we were apart, I went back to writing like crazy. I can’t say where the story of Rebecca and her pursuer came from exactly. It just sort of evolved organically. I’ve always been fascinated by the chase and the hell people will go through trying to stay alive, especially when confronted with an evil adversary in the deep woods. I also have been fascinated with an abandoned house that suddenly appears in the woods, in the last place you would ever kind of expect it to be. A big, ugly, dilapidated, tortured, crooked old man of a house. I guess The Blair Witch Project pulled off the same kind of thing pretty effectively. Like that movie, I wanted the novel to resemble a nightmare, and I hope I have succeeded.
Q: What’s the best thing about being an author?
There’s the travel, the freedom, the ability to write what you want to write about. But by far the best thing about being an author for me is when I walk into some crowded bar and someone I don’t know pulls me aside and says, “Man, I loved As Catch Can. Sentence for sentence one of the best novels I’ve ever read.” Doesn’t happen to me all the time, but when it does, it sort of validates to who I am, what I do, where I’ve been and where I’m going.
Q. Thank you for this interview, Vincent. We wish you much success!
Thank you for having me.