Freelancer of the fortnight: Vincent Zandri, New York
Posted: 14/04/11 By: Clare Fisher
Why did you choose to become a freelancer?
Free is the obvious keyword. Being a freelancer allows me to chase after whatever story I choose. It also allows me the freedom to travel, to seek out new places, new people, new experiences and most of all, new stories that often are overlooked by the mainstream press.
I can also take the time I need to step away from journalism and concentrate on a new novel I'm writing, or more recently, a screenplay. But the best part about being a freelancer is knowing you can tip a few with your mates on any given night and not have to worry about getting up for work the next day.
If you trained, where? If not, how did you become a freelancer?
As for academic training, I went to writing school after college, where I wrote my first novel 'As Catch Can' (Delacorte). But for me, the best training for freelancing was having suffered through a full-time job.
I worked for years at my dad's construction business. When I say years, I mean I put in an entire career before the age of 25. By the time I graduated college I knew that by entering the full-time, 9-5 workforce, I ran the risk of slow suicide.
I wanted to do something different and it was either going to be drumming for a punk rock band or writing. I chose the latter but eventually became both. Today I'm a full-time freelancer, novelist and part-time punk rock drummer for The Blisterz.
Do you specialise in any particular field and what areas do you write about?
Because of my lay engineering and hands-on construction background I spend a lot of time writing about construction and architectural-related topics.
Any given day might see me writing a story about a new bulldozer or the world's first wind turbine-powered skyscraper such as the Bahrain World Trade Center. But then I also write personal essays, travel pieces, human interest stuff, fly fishing, hunting, hiking, rock climbing, hard news and just about anything that hits me over the head as new and compelling.
Which publications have you been published in?
I started out as a sports stringer for the Times Union Newspaper in Albany, New York. That's the same paper incidentally where Martha Gellhorn, arguably the world's first female war correspondent (and Ernest Hemingway's third wife) started out. I also wrote some of my first essays and perspective pieces for them.
I've also written for New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, Game and Fish Magazine, Appalachian Journal, Orange Coast Magazine, Buffalo Spree, and more recently, Culture11 and lots more.
My bread and butter pub is www.globalspec.com, the world's largest engineering resource; and Russia Today TV, which I contribute to fairly regularly.
Which articles, in which publication, are you most proud of?
My proudest moment was being able to write about my eldest teenage son who suffers from severe and recurring depression. I wrote a personal essay called 'Breakdown' which was anthologised in slightly different forms in Common Ties and Washington D.C.'s Culture 11.
While he was sick, I wasn't able to write at all. That went on for a period of about two or three years. I was also suffering from the pangs of my second divorce, so that was a difficult time indeed. I'm planning on writing a book about it one day.
What are the best and worst aspects of freelancing?
Hands down, the best aspect of freelancing is having the freedom to travel. I love to travel. I love everything about it, from waiting around in airports (of course I write about airport design), to airplane food (I ask for seconds).
It's great to meet someone in a bar who has read one of my articles or books. I think freelancers lust that kind of validation and I think they also have a lust for discovery and adventure. Tough to get that with a traditional job.
As for the worst part?
Chasing the money or not getting paid for weeks on end. The security simply isn't there and you probably won't get rich. But then, I haven't missed a meal yet.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes in relation to your experience as a freelancer?
Back when I was touring with my book 'As Catch Can' I had to sit beside Monica Lewinsky and her mom from Penn Station in NYC to Red Hook in upstate. It was a little surreal since the huge news of the day was her affair with the President and many riders had their faces hidden behind copies of the New York Times, which bore the headline 'The President's Lover' or some such nonsense.
Of course instead of conducting an on-the-spot interview, I totally chickened out. But I recall them being very nice and chatty, while as for me, I hadn't even showered after having been out all night in NYC with my agent. Thinking about it now, I missed out on what could have been the interview of my life. A total choke!