I'm proud to be able to introduce my guest blogger today, my friend and bestselling author, Vincent Zandri. That's right, bestselling author. Vincent is a hell of a writer and is rightfully getting the recognition he deserves as he's right now ranked #10 at Amazon for Kindle books with his The Innocent. Not only do Vincent and I share at the end of mystery sections in bookstores, but thanks to Vincent's urging, I'm now also being published by StoneGate Ink, and later this year Vincent and I will have The Innocent and Dying Memories in a double e-book. Here's Vincent:
Albany, New York: A City Stuck in Noir By Vincent Zandri
I travel a lot.
Sometimes I travel on assignment for one of the news agencies I sometimes work for, and other times I travel to simply grab a month or so just to write in peace and lonely isolation. Less occasionally I travel as a tourist. Whatever the case, I love the process of travel, the freedom it offers, the constant moving, the crowded airports, the smell of burning fuel, the planes, trains, and automobiles.
But even though travel is one of my passions I always seem to land back in Albany. Albany, New York that is. The capital of New York State. More than once somebody will tap me on the shoulder. Usually a down-on-his-luck suburbanite dressed in a wrinkled suit, bent over the bar, nursing his second or third scotch, bloodshot eyes looking like they’re about to burst into tears. I’ll feel the tap and I’ll turn to him and he’ll look into my eyes and ask the one question that I already know is coming: “Why the hell do you stay in this town when you don’t have to?”
Ok, it’s possible if not probable, this man doesn’t want to escape Albany so much as he wants to escape his life…the overdue bills, the mortgage he can’t afford, the marriage that was over along ago, the kids he feels entirely disconnected with, the hopes and dreams of youth that have given way to middle-aged spread, high blood pressure, and unbearable desperation. But the question is nonetheless a valid one.
I’m known as an “Albany writer.” Perhaps the only writer living in my area more known for their books than me at present is William Kennedy, another not so anonymous Albany writer. Oh, and he scored a Pultizer too. But even though I’ve spent enough time in other places like Florence, Italy for instance, to set at least one novel in them, I always seem to gravitate to Albany. Why?
I think the answer has everything to do with noir and hard-boiled fiction.
You recall that famous vintage noir photograph of the dark street corner, a hot blond dame perched beside her fedora capped toughie outside a gin-mill enveloped in fog and lit up only by a long vertical sign that bears the word “BAR” in red neon letters. Well, Albany is still like that. Maybe the fedoras are long gone, but the dark street corners are still there as are the neon signs and the hot dames. The bars are dark and usually occupied by tough guys who want to get drunk quick. Not exactly a rosy picture I’m painting of my hometown, and I’m sure the Albany Chamber of Commerce might send some spies out after me if I keep this up, but it’s that same desperate hard-boiled quality that keeps me coming back here.
Albany is a genuine relic, an authentic concrete jungle in a world fast becoming one big Disney Land. It’s a forgotten-in-time city of barely one-hundred thousand that has long been overshadowed by New York City 140 miles to the south. It’s a town that was run by corrupt political figures who’d spend more time having their palms greased than they did reading the numerous telephone book-sized bills that were passed across their desks day in and day out.
Just last week, one of the top detectives in the APD was arrested by one of his own men on a DWI charge. Said senior detective had been tailed to a downtown bar earlier in the afternoon while the arresting officer waited him out. When the drunk dick got back in his car and drove off with a headlight that was mysterious no longer working, the arresting officer pounced on him and made the bust. Now if that doesn’t sound like a set up I don’t know what the hell is. It will also no doubt be the basis for one of my Richard “Dick” Moonlight novels to come.
There are other similar hard-boiled stories that seem to spew forth from Albany like the coal dust from the old garbage burning plant down on Sheridan Street, across from the old Times Union Newspaper building where Martha Gelhorn, Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, worked in the early 1920s. There’s the one about some of the APD blue getting involved in an illegal body parts harvesting op that created the basis for Moonlight Falls. Then there’s the one about the prison warden accused of aiding and abetting a known cop killer’s escape from Green Haven Prison and eventually being accused of murder in the first himself. That one became The Innocent. There’s even the one about the asbestos removal company that cheated on its removals exposing thousands of people to deadly cancer-causing asbestos fibers. I personally knew some of the players in that train wreck. And, let me tell you, what a hell of a novel plot it will make for my new forthcoming hard-boiled novel from StoneGate Ink, Concrete Pearl. And yeah, I will have to watch my back when it gets published.
I know, I know, lots of other cities and towns all across this great country boasts the same hard-boiled stuff. The crime, the corruption, the neon. But this is the town I was born in. This is the town where my kids live, my ex-wives live, and where my descendents are buried six feet under soil that remains rock hard and frost-bit for six months out of every year. That reminds me, have I spoken yet about the winters up here? They’re enough to drive you to drink.
I keep thinking about that poor palooka at the bar staring down into his scotch. I can’t help but feel his pain in wanting to leave his life. I was there once myself. I was unhappily married, kids underfoot, working a job I hated, and swimming in more debt-ridden bills than I had breaths in my lungs. And my writing was going nowhere.
I used to just drive around the downtown, with no particular destination in mind, until inevitably I’d stop at some corner juke joint, belly up to the dark end of the bar, order a beer, and light up a smoke. I remember making a solemn promise to become a bestselling hard-boiled author one day, and to shake the Albany dust from my boots as soon as humanly possible.
I kept the first promise.
But the second promise I broke, and that has made all the difference.
Vincent Zandri is the bestselling author of THE INNOCENT (As Catch Can), GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, and the forthcoming CONCRETE PEARL and MOONLIGHT RISES. A foreign correspondent, photo-journalist, and adventurer, Zandri divides his time between Albany, New York and Florence, Italy. For more information on him and his books go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM