Vincent Zandri's Blog - Posts Tagged "mfa-programs"

The following blog is now appearing at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

I thought I was done writing about this particular subject... the subject of the old guard and establishment writers/MFA profs, publishers, and booksellers ragging on Amazon Publishing because, oh gee, they are doing something the old guard can no longer do: sell books.

This past week while I've been away, bestselling author and fellow Thomas & Mercer (Amazon) author, Barry Eisler, was invited to do a live chat with some Seattle Times reporters and the bestselling literary novelist, Richard Russo. Russo, whose books I like but who is also in that MFA-you-should-set-your-sights-on-teaching-at-the-community-college-don't-forget-to-pay-your-tuition is a huge hater of Amazon. And the ST has just run a scathing 4-part series on Amazon picking them apart like they are Satan.

Maybe they are Satan (if you believe in that kind of thing) but more than likely, they are not. They listen to both authors and writers and so, they now are able to offer great books at low prices. And yes, it's putting big publishers and bookstores out of business. I know, I'm supposed to cry for these people, but they had a chance to survive and in fact thrive in today's digital book publishing world, but they haven't. And now they are going the way of the 8-track.

Bon voyage.

I'm not as knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the publishing industry as Eisler and say, J.A. Konrath are, and I've never self-published a book, although one of my indie publishers is entirely based on the self-publishing model even if my deals with them are agented. But I have also been published by the majors and once more, I've just signed a 7 book deal with T&M for a "very nice" advance, part of which I'm spending right now in Italy and Paris, where I've been for the past month.

Ok, maybe you think I'm bragging?

Maybe so.

But while Eisler goes on to defend the obvious author/reader benefits being provided right now by Amazon publishing, try and consider for a brief moment just how Big Six Publishing not only tried to crush my career a few short years ago, they literally cost me a marriage.

Once more, I'll bullet my near suicidal relationship with the Big Six and, in particular, Delacorte Press...You know, the supposed "good guys" of the industry.

--I was contracted in 1999 for mid-six figure two book hard and soft deal.

--I was told to change the name of my novel, The Innocent to As Catch Can, because another author in their stable was publishing one of the same title. As Catch what?????

--While the hardcover was being produced, talk around the office centered on Delacorte being swallowed up by another publisher. They more or less dropped attention on As Catch what???, and rushed a very poor front cover into production...Yup, an insider pulled me aside and admitted the cover was a total fuck up....Oops, it's just people's lives we're dealing with here...

--I was promised ads in The New York Times and support for a Northeast tour. I got neither.

--Delacorte shut down and was indeed swallowed up by the new publisher only weeks after the publication of As Catch what????

--I was suddenly the bastard child of the new publisher.

--They reneged on the contract and only agreed to publish the second book in the deal in paper. It was of course my right to sue them. But who in the world wants to sue a conglomerate cartel like Big New York? The big wigs laughed at me and went on vacation in the Hamptons.

--The second book was printed. Not published. Not even the B&N around the corner from Times Square had one in stock. It was around this time I met my then editor for a drink in NYC. In her words, "You didn't hear it from me, but they are preventing you from selling books."

--Now that I didn't sell out my 250G contract for no fault of my own, another publisher wouldn't touch me if a gun was pressed to his or her temple. And at one time, the most powerful agent in the world was repping me: Suzanne Gluck. I must assume that an agent of her caliber chooses only manuscripts she sees tremendous potential in.

--Delacorte (Random House) refused to release my rights...even though they remaindered my books. An evil, self-serving move if ever there was one. "We're not going to sell your books, but ahhh, neither can you!" Hitler comes to mind here...Too harsh? Okay, at least Uncle Joe Stalin.

--I went broke.

--I had to sell my house

--I lost my wife

--My children had to move, quit their schools, give up their friends

--I nearly lost my reputation and my sanity

--I could have quit writing

--But I didn't...

--I wouldn't let the motherfuckers beat me

--My new agent, after 8 grueling years, was finally able re-secure the rights to my two books

--An indie, StoneHouse Ink, took on As Catch what??????, changed the title back to The Innocent. It sold almost 200,000 E and paper Books. Plus they published several other novels of mine that have also sold in the hundreds of thousands, primarily in E-Book, of which I was making a 50% royalty as opposed to the 12.5% of Delacorte.

--My career not only shot back up, I could have easily made up Delcorte's advance plus plenty of change.

--Thomas & Mercer signed me to a seven book, "very nice deal."

--The Innocent (formerly As Catch what?????) is about to published in its third edition.

--I got my wife back.

--I travel all the time and write fiction for a living.

--I make more in royalties per month than most editors in their paychecks--the same editors who went on to reject me after the Delacorte train wreck...Rejected me because they had too.

Of course, I could go on and on, but those old time writers like Russo who teach at the MFA programs and think that they themselves are not a part of a money making racket designed to lure would-be writers (or no talent writers) into a "literary writing program" that costs tens of thousands of dollars, had better take a good fucking look in the mirror.

You know who you are.

I've been taught by you, criticized by you, ridiculed by you and now I am feared by you. You are old and gray, teaching the same tired lecture. You're also short of breath while climbing the stairs to the next workshop you've been hired to preside over at one of those garden variety low residency MFA programs that are springing up all over the globe like reality TV and Pampers.

And for all you editors who couldn't take me on because I didn't sell out my advance while my rights were held hostage? You can work for me as a freelancer....if the price is right.

Pay back's a bitch ain't it?

Ok, off for some steak frit...It's Saturday in Paris...In the springtime.


The Remains
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Published on April 08, 2012 08:37 • 137 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing at The Vincent Zandri VOx:

It can mean many things, not the least of which is that chemical stuff all the sixties hippies used to inject to enhance the creative process. But it can simply mean, going fast. Back in the olden days, when I started out writing, I sat down with one of my MFA in Writing professors and asked him what he thought was a reasonable output of work for a lifetime of writing.

I can still see the humble, raggedly dressed man ... a man who lived in Vermont and who'd written a couple of novels that were critically praised but hadn't sold very well. Thus his position in life as a teacher, not at one school, but many schools (Poor guy).

I recall him inhaling a breath before saying in a near whisper voice, "If you write two or three real good short stories and maybe five novels, that's something to be proud of."

At the time this seemed like a reasonable answer to me. In fact, the thought of writing five good novels seemed almost overwhelming to me since, like the MFA prof, my goal was to teach writing and to write on the side once I graduated from the program. If I wanted to follow the career path of the literary writer who taught, I would be more or less expected to write one novel every ten years or so. If I toed the line according to that math, five novels would carry me into my 70s.

Fast forward fifteen years.

I didn't become a teacher. I became a writer instead. A journalist, a pro blogger, and a noir novelist. Not only have a I written and published those two or three real good short stories, I've probably published fifteen of them (yes, yes, yes, in very good journals and mags). And compared to some great short story writers out there, like Dean Wesley Smith or Leslie Edgerton, that's absolutely nothing. As for the five novels, I currently have about ten in print, with two more on the way. Five of those ten are about to enter into second and their third editions.

My point to all this braggadocio?

Back to Dean Wesley Smith.
In his blog, he talks at length about "Speed" taken from a larger a piece he calls "New World of Writing." Speed, according to Smith, is what separates a professional writer from an amateur. Gone are the days of writing one book every ten years. Gone are the days when you were considered not worthy of literary status if you even thought about writing more than one book every ten years.

In today's new "golden age" of writing opportunities, where a writer can maintain major, indie, and self-publishing deals all at once, it's the writer who can put out two or three good novels and maybe at least that many short stories per year who is going to bring in about as much annual cash as your average accountant. Maybe more so, depending upon your popularity and your ability to hit some home runs in the sales department, such as having a novel hit and remain in the Amazon Top Ten for a few weeks, like my novel The Innocent did a year ago and has come very close to doing a few times again since. In fact Smith claims that you don't even need to hit a home run to make a great living, and he's got that math to back up his words. You can check out his very informative blog right here. It makes for speedy reading.

I'm still a journalist (even if I only have time to work for one trade publication right now), and I am presently writing and polishing two novels per year on average. I write maybe two or three short stories per year. I'm planning on adding one or two short novelettes to that mix soon. I've yet to spend the entire day writing, while I like to use part of my day for working out, fly fishing, walking, drinking at the local, traveling, cooking, hanging with my girlfriend and our daughter, hanging with my sons, thinking, living, reading, simply being. Imagine how much work I might put out if I wrote for as many hours as some lawyers put in at their practices? It would certainly amount to more than two or three novels per year. More like ten or twelve.

We all need to embrace speed in this, the new golden age of writing. But we also need to find a speed that we are comfortable with. A speed that doesn't compromise the quality of the work. Only when we write so fast that our work suffers does speed kill.

The Innocent
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Published on April 27, 2012 11:44 • 87 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

The New York Times published a story this weekend about how authors, in this the digital age, now find themselves writing not one book every couple of years (or in the case of our namby pamby literary MFA professor cousins, one book every five to ten years), but because of increased consumer demand, two to four or more. I've been writing about this exact topic for close to two years now and I've spouted off in numerous interviews about how this is indeed a new golden age for writers and readers.

Here's the article URL:

Wow, it's really insightful.

I've said before also that writers should maintain a variety of publishing options. Major deals, indie deals and self-publishing ventures. I currently am engaged in all three. I've hit a few home runs over the past year with The Innocent and The Remains most notably, but so long as writers produce good books, there's no reason they can't begin to make a very good living eventually.

How can you too take advantage of this the new Golden Age of writing?

By placing your ass in the chair and fingers to the keys.

All it takes to write a book of sixty thousand words in six weeks time is five pages per day. And that's with the weekends off. I can write five pages in about two to three hours which leaves me with plenty of time to work on a second or even a third book. James Patterson has been doing this for years and so has Stephen King.

We're professional writers.

Writing novels is what we do for a living, and there's no reason we shouldn't be putting in as much time as a lawyer does at his or her firm.

Remember, it's all a matter of ass to the chair, and fingers to the keys.


The Remains
Vincent Zandri
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Published on May 15, 2012 14:50 • 71 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

The newest Moonlights have now been released by Thomas & Mercer of Amazon Publishing, the most powerful publishing house in the universe...The Dick Moolights have been coming at you at a pretty hot and heavy rate lately. That's a lot of dick (Ha!). And understandably, a lot of fans, or would be fans (fingers crossed), are asking me to place them in order so that they might start from the beginning of this very remarkable and uniquely Zandri series (I'm shaking my head and rolling my eyes for you...).

So here goes:
1. Moonlight Falls
2. Moonlight Mafia
3. Moonlight Rises
4. Blue Moonlight
5. Murder By Moonlight (Coming December 18, 2012)
6. Moonlight Sonata (Coming Spring 2013)

So that's the run down peeps....Also, check out the new covers on Moonlight Falls Uncut and Moonlight Mafia which have been updated by StoneGate Ink in order to reflect the fine art the team at Thomas & Mercer did on all the other Moonlight novels.

Happy reading...and to order your Dick Moonlights....Go to:

Blue Moonlight
Vincent Zandri
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Published on September 15, 2012 14:11 • 153 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing in slightly different form at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted on the Vox. But that makes sense since Google found a way to archive my blog without notifying me. That said, I started another blog called The Vincent Zandri Voyager, but that one is primarily for my travels. So now that I’m home and grounded back in New York while I await word on the exact amount of dough I’m gonna have to pay the tax man this year, I’ve decided to resurrect the Vox, only under the WordPress site so that Google can’t stiff me once again. After all, Lawrence Block’s blog is here and what’s good for Lawrence is good enough for me.

So, the rundown on what’s been going on in my literary world:

–I’ve had eight books published or re-published over the past four months. They are, The Innocent, Godchild, The Concrete Pearl, Moonlight Rises, Blue Moonlight, Murder by Moonlight, and finally The Disappearance of Grace. All have been published by Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint except for Grace which was published by StoneGate Ink.

–The numbers since Oct 1, 2012: Currently it looks like I’ve sold around 20,000 units of my T&M books, while I’ve probably moved somewhere around 3-4,000 of my StoneGate/StoneHouse Ink titles. I could be a little conservative on this, but best to err on the light side.

–I’ve also published one title under my own label, Bear Media. It’s my previously published literary novella, Permanence. I’ve moved only a couple of hundred of these. This is the one title I have that I don’t think my mother will even buy.

–How do I perceive the indie vs. the major markets these days? I honestly believe that once more, the state of publishing is undergoing severe and rapid change. Amazon Publishing imprints have acquired many many titles, and it will be interesting to see how most of these do in the long run. As for self-publishing, I’m having a hard time seeing how any newbies out there can possibly make headway amidst all the titles available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. Amazon is still the primary place to sell, but now that tags have been eliminated and authors only afforded two categories under which you can list your books, it will get harder and harder to be found by readers. In other words, most self-published authors will not have the chance to attract the readership successes like Amanda Hocking and John Locke were able to accomplish not long ago. Indie publishing remains strong, and by indie publishing, I mean medium-sized independent publishers of maybe 60 authors or more who rely heavily on the Amazon KDP program. This is still an excellent way to publish but success is not guaranteed unless you’re willing to put in the time on the social marketing scene plus engage in other activities that will result in books sold.

–The outlook. I’m seeing more and more of the traditional majors sponsoring their A-list authors on the Amazon bookstore site, which tells me the majors are getting with the program rapidly. That’s a good thing, since the editors in the big steel and glass towers will get to keep their jobs, at least for a while. But if you are to ask me my advice on how to publish in 2013, I will still give you the same answer I gave you last year: Mix it up. Go for some indie publishing, some self-publishing, and if you can, grab up a major deal, be it with an Amazon Publishing imprint and/or a traditional major. Things are changing so rapidly, almost on a daily basis, that unless you maintain your options and avoid putting all those hard-boiled eggs into one basket, you might find yourself desperately without an income or a future (that is, you’re a full-time author like I am).

–So what’s up for me this year? Murder by Moonlight was published by T&M back in December. The Guilty, the long awaited third novel in the Jack Marconi series (The Innocent, Godchild…) is will be published by StoneGate Ink sometime in the mid-spring (StoneGate Ink moved 100,000 copies of The Innocent back in April, 2011). The rights to Moonlight Falls have been released and I am putting that one out under my own label, Bear Media. In the late Fall of 2013 or early Winter 2014, T&M will be publishing Moonlight Sonata. And currently I’m working on my new series CHASE (you’ll recall I traveled to Egypt a couple of months back to research the first novel…I’ve shown the first 100 pages to my agent, and in his words, “It rocks…I was hook from the second sentence on…) So looks like I have a new serial character to follow me around for the rest of my days.

There you have it, the recent past, present and future of my writing life. Now, what are you doing to navigate the perfect storm of change in today’s publishing industry.

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Published on February 16, 2013 14:31 • 183 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

I get asked this question a lot for obvious reasons. I went to writing school and I’m not afraid to advertise that fact. I’m proud of what I accomplished there back in the mid to late 1990s. The work was hard, but enjoyable since writing and reading were also a hobby at the time, and the students, for the most part, were good, decent people.

Of course, there were some assholes who couldn’t wait to shit on your work as soon as walked through the workshop door. But many of these same people are history now, not having published a word once they were given their diplomas. Most likely they now sell insurance or have drunk themselves to death. One can only hope.

But at the time, writing school was a necessary evil for me. I had no idea I would actually write for a living. I thought I would live the cush life of the writing professor. You know, write a novel every five years or so, publish it with a small publisher, bang the crap out of my pretty young adoring female students. Seemed like a nice life to me. But in order to live that life, I first needed my MFA.

These days, for the most part, MFA programs are a scam and a sham. They have sprung up all over the place simply because of the demand. People feel like writers when they are enrolled in a writing program. Problem is, after dropping 30 or 40K it’s more than likely they will never see their work published commercially. They might venture to self-publish, now that DIYing it is hot shit. But the work will probably be mediocre and not attract an audience the way a work published by a major publisher could (or a hotshot indie publisher/small press).

But writing school was a good time. I drank like crazy, spent days and nights on speed, fucked like a rabbit, and yeah, got some writing done too. It was an escape, but not entirely. I was there to work hard and work hard I did. I was determined to be a success one day. Image

Was the experience worth the cost in the end? For me it was. My creative thesis turned into my first full-length power novel: The Innocent (or, As Catch Can). Mind you, the version I worked on at school was very different. The writing teacher who advised me during my last semester suggested all sorts of cuts and revisions, which I did to please him. But as soon as I got back to New York, I put the cuts back in and reversed the revisions. The book was originally bought by Delacorte Press only a year after graduation in a mid-six figure deal, and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. It still sells at bestseller levels today now that it’s on its third publisher in 13 years. So much for writing school advice.

So, do you need to go to writing school?

The choice is entirely yours. You will meet some like-minded people who will be your friends for life, and you meet some of the most crappy souled assholes in the world who want nothing more than to crush you and your talent. They are the jealous type. You will meet professors who are old and washed up and who will hit on you. But you will also meet some genuinely great teachers who embrace the fact that teaching writing is as much a spiritual calling as the writing itself.

I’ll say it again. The choice is yours. Do you want to be a serious writer who makes his or her living from words? If that’s the case, writing school can teach you a lot. It’s what you make of it. But if you just want a place to escape to in which you can play pretend writer, save your money and sell insurance.


Murder By Moonlight
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The following blog is now appearing in slightly different form at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

We create and carry on conversations with ourselves. We live as much on the interior as we do the exterior. Perhaps more so. We make sure to catch passing glances at ourselves every time we walk by mirrors not because we think our hair might be out of place, or something might be smeared on our lips, but because we are the most important person in the room.

We wake up and we prop ourselves up for the day's work head, convincing ourselves that we are the best at what we do. No one can beat us. We are brilliant and the world is ours for the conquering. We might have spent the night besides someone else. A precious loved one perhaps. But we have most definitely slept with ourselves and we will face the day with ourselves.

We Google ourselves.
We check our Amazon rankings obsessively.
We check to see if our name pops up in the news.
We imagine that our marketing peeps think only of us.
We send proposals and stories to editors and agents, and wonder why they don't get back to us
within the hour.
We cheer ourselves when the work is going well and beat the shit out of ourselves when it is going
We measure our life, deadline to deadline.
We break hearts because it's the romantic thing to do.
We drive by a car wreck and see a story in it.
We drink too much, eat too much, exercise too much, nap too much, sleep too little, worry a lot,
ignore problems, and put off the bills.
We dream of escape while escaping, envision dirty sex while making love, feel pain when
laughing, keep to ourselves when socializing in our favorite bar, make ourselves the center of
attention at a dinner party in someone else's honor....

We are narcissists and novelists and our world revolves around us. Notice I'm writing from the "We" POV. Whoever said there is no "I" in "We" ain't never been to a writer's conference. There is no bigger collection of "I's" in the world than a writer's conference. Still we feel compelled to attend. After all it will help propel the career forward...My career.

So, novelist, what will you do with yourself today?

Murder By MoonlightVincent Zandri
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Published on March 31, 2013 06:50 • 147 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing in slightly different form at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

In the wake of Writer's Guild Pres Scott Turow's death of the great American author rant printed this past week in the NY Times, I thought I would take a roll call of those professionals and professional organizations whom I had the pleasure of working with back when I was first published by one of the Big 6 Mega-Houses more than ten years ago now.

--The agent...GONE
--The acquiring editor...GONE
--The acquiring editor's boss (the editor-in-chief so to speak)...GONE
--My marketing manager...GONE
--The office in the Bertlesman building...GONE
--The imprint...GONE
--The independent bookstore where I did my first signing..GONE
--The major chain bookstore where I did my second signing...GONE
--The other major chain bookstore where I did my third signing...GONE
--The other, less popular major chain book/CD/DVDs store where I did my fourth signing...GONE
--The post office from where I used to snail mail my queries and manuscripts...GONE
--The book page in the local newspaper...GONE

...Okay you get the point...I'm sure there are a few people and things I've missed here, but when you look at the evidence in bulleted fashion you begin to understand the ever changing nature of this business and why authors such as Mr. Turow (and he is a great author for certain), who more or less cling to tradition, are a bit glum about the future.

But be it the climate, geography, society, technology, the orbit of the earth around the sun, or simply the recipe of Coca Cola, things change. Existence is not static. It's always moving one way or another. We don't read off of cave walls anymore. We have Kindles for that.

Some of the people I've worked with, published with, played with, laughed with, gotten gloriously drunk with, even played music with along the way were pretty great, and many have moved on to greener pastures, mostly in other industries. I'm greatful for the opportunities extended to me back then. Only one person I know of remains an editor at a big house. So you see, as writers, we must always be flexible and willing to adapt. Or, in the words of a fellow author, we must find ways to survive.

I'm an American author and I've survived and then some.

I'm still here. Gonna be here for a while longer.

Murder By MoonlightVincent Zandri
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Published on April 14, 2013 07:30 • 156 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing in slightly different form at The Vincent Zandri Vox:

Writing is a business.
Think of yourself as (Name Here) Inc.
Which means, change the title of this blog to, Your Eggs in BasketS...Plural.

It's a tired cliche..."Don't put all your eggs into one basket." But you know what gets even more tired? Being broke all the time.

If you want to be a successful writer...a writer who actually makes a good living, eats, travels, enjoys life...then learn to write not only in many different styles and even genres, but don't give up the journalism either. When one thing isn't doing it for you or your wallet, something else will. By splitting up your time between several forms of fiction, be it novels, novellas, film scripts, novel adaptations, etc., along with several forms of journalism, photo-journalism, pro blogging, etc., can you ensure yourself steady and meaningful work.

Take it from one who knoweth. Back in the late 1990s, when I landed my first big book contract, I chucked journalism like a bad habit. When the book deal went south a couple of years later due to a corporate merger, I was left with zero means for earning an income. I had to pretty much beg news media outlets to give me another chance. Which they eventually did. Now, I have several new book contracts, but I still maintain my journalism chops. Never again will I be caught with my pants down around my ankles or my baskets empty of eggs.

Murder By MoonlightVincent Zandri
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Published on April 21, 2013 13:01 • 190 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri
The following blog is now appearing at The Vincent Zandri Vox in slightly different form:

The people here don't have clocks. They don't have watches, they don't have smartphones, and they don't have internet (as far as I can tell). They don't have any kind of device that chimes, rings, chirps, vibrates, or belts out the opening bars to some Lady Gaga song stuffed into their pockets. Thy don't need to be reminded of the time. Like one of my travel partners, Vadmir, tells me, 'In Russia, we have saying: those who are happy do not need to know what time it is." Such is the case when it comes to the Peruvian people who occupy LLachon.

A small community of maybe 2,000 residents who occupy a portion of pristine beach-side property along the north/west side of Lake Titicaca, the dark, leathery-skinned people of LLachon are as oblivious of the outside world and its turbulent troubles as an American toddler is of ObamaCare or the escalating conflict in Syria. They wear the traditional Peruvian clothing. The women dress in a half dozen skirts which are supposed to mimic the English hoop skirt of old. And the men dress very much in the old Spanish way--black trousers, white shirts, short black vest, a colorful hand woven fabric belt that holds both coca leaves and alcohol, and a fedora for a hat.

I'm currently researching the second book in my brand new Chase Baker series, so I came to this place to stay with a family who run a mountain-side farm and, at the same time, to absorb authentic Andean Peruvian culture. Considering Lake Titicaca is already about 12,000+ feet above sea level, breathing normally is not easy. Nor is climbing the better part of a small, terraced mountain with a fifty pound pack on my back. But my house "mama," a weathered but somehow bright-eyed woman called Francesca, is already cooking for me over a wood-fired stove. A piece of farm chicken, rice, several kinds of potatos, fava beans, all washed down with tea made from coca leaves.

After lunch, I help out on the the farm, watering sheep and stacking barley. It's hard work and at times I have to remind myself that I'm standing on a mountainside in the Andes and not transported back to one of my dad's construction sites for which I was the laborer during my high school and college days. As we near the end of the barley stacking, I turn to "papa," a man who goes by the name Luciano, but whom I am already referring to as Lucky Luciano. I ask him if he hunts the property further uphill. He doesn't understand me at first, so I demonstrate by making like I'm holding a rifle with my hands, and then mouthing the sounds, "bang, bang..." He laughs and in his hunched over, been-workng-far-too-many-years-hard-labor manner, begs me to follow him back to the main house.

When we arrive, he begins to explain to Francesca about what I want. Only, he's not making like a gun with his callused hands. Instead he's making like I want to smoke. Smoke something medicinal perhaps. Something that might transport me from this world to the outer world. He's got a small chin beard and mustache and he rubs them with forefinger and thumb like he, at sixty-eight years old, is ready to do a little partying.

But then Frnacesca begins to explain to him about what I'm really asking, and suddenly his smile dissolves. Sadly, there will be no smoking tonight. Only thoughts of cooking dinner, perhaps enjoying a Peruvian beer, then going to sleep early in a one room mud brick building attached to bathroom with no running water, but only a bucket filled with water for flushing a toilet with no toilet seat attached.

Maybe I should have smoked with Lucky Luciano. Maybe if I had, I would have no more need for watches, or clocks, or smartphones. Maybe I would have seen and experienced another life outside of the life I know all to well. A life of war, poverty, and political agendas. Perhaps there is something to this more or less ancient existence on Lake Titicaca. An existence that is lost in time, but happy to be so.

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Murder By MoonlightVincent Zandri
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Published on May 14, 2013 05:12 • 172 views • Tags: amazon, barry-eisler, bestseller, kindle, mfa-programs, on-writing, richard-russo, the-innocent, vincent-zandri