The First Page: ‘The Remains’ by Vincent Zandri
The First Page is one of Literarily Speaking’s newest features. Here we get a glimpse into an author’s work and what better place to begin than the first page? Authors share their first pages and answer a few questions about why they started their books off the way they did. Today we welcome Vincent Zandri, author of thethriller novel, The Remains (Stone House Ink).
The First Page
THE GUARD SERGEANT STANDS at the base of a four-tiered iron cell block, the angelic orange-red rays of the early morning sun shining down upon on him through the top tier chicken-wire windows.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouts, “Joseph! William! Whalen!”
Inside a dark cell, inmate Whalen inhales his final wormy breath inside D-Block. He stands before the vertical bars. So close, the hooked nose on his hairless face and head is nearly pressed against the iron.
“Cry, cry, cry,” he chants quietly to himself. “Cry, cry, cry you naughty kittens.”
An abrupt electric alarm sounds. Metal slams against metal. The noise echoes throughout the concrete and steel prison block. But no one—not inmate or screw—notices it. When the barred door crashes open, the shock reverberates inside Whelan’s chest. It is the sound of freedom.
“Step forward,” shouts the guard sergeant.
There to greet him are two uniformed corrections officers. They will escort him along the gangway, down the four tiers to the first floor.
Having descended the metal stairs to a place called ‘between gates’, Whelan proceeds through a series of opened and closed barred doors, until he comes to Intake/Release.
A female Corrections Officer stands protected inside the barred window of the small brightly lit cubicle.
“Name,” she exclaims, voice detached, but sprinkled with anger.
“Joseph William Whalen,” speaks the inmate, not without a smile that exposes gray-brown teeth.
Bobbing her head in silence, the C.O. turns, locates the prepackaged materials that sit out atop her metal desk. Setting the plastic bag through the small opening beneath the bars she reads off a neatly typed inventory. “One wallet containing ten dollars cash, thirteen cents in coins. One neck tie, one ring of keys, one pocket-sized Holy Bible, one black-and-white photo.”
Slipping his hand inside the clear plastic bag, Whelan shuffles around the items until he comes to the white-bordered three-by-five inch photograph. He pulls it out, examines the faces of two pre-teen girls. Identical twins. In the picture they are smiling and laughing, as though playing for the camera.
Thanks for visiting us, Vincent. Can you tell us what The Remains is about?
Thirty years ago, teenager Rebecca Underhill and her twin sister Molly were abducted by a man who lived in a house in the woods behind their upstate New York farm. They were held inside that house for three horrifying hours, until making their daring escape.
Vowing to keep their terrifying experience a secret in order to protect their mother and father, the girls tried to put the past behind them. And when their attacker was hunted down by police and sent to prison, they believed he was as good as dead.
Now, it’s 30 years later, and with Molly having passed away from cancer, Rebecca, a painter and art teacher, is left alone to bear the burden of a secret that has only gotten heavier and more painful with each passing year.
But when Rebecca begins receiving some strange anonymous text messages, she begins to realize that the monster who attacked her all those years ago is not dead after all. He’s back, and this time, he wants to do more than just haunt her. He wants her dead.
The first page is perhaps one of the most important pages in the whole book. It’s what draws the reader into the story. Why did you choose to begin your book this way?
The prison release of homicidal child abductor Joseph William Whelan sets the stage for the nightmarish terror that’s about to begin for my protagonist Rebecca Underhill.
In the course of writing your book, how many times would you say that first page changed and for what reasons?
Not at all. Other than basic line edits, I had thought out how to start the novel a long time before writing it.
Was there ever a time after the book went to print you wished you had changed something on the first page?
What advice can you give to aspiring authors to stress how important the first page is?
Your first words must bait and hook the reader like a juicy worm will a hungry fish. Lose them in the first two sentences and they will put the book down and never go back. There’re simply too many good books to be read in a single lifetime.