Good novels, particularly those with a variety of domestic and international settings require time, sometimes years, to research and write. In the case of “Until Death Do You Part: An American Family Meets Their Sicilian Cousins,” the germ of a story originated five-years-ago when I met a family of Sicilian origin in Louisiana who had just returned from Sicily and a visit to other members of their family, some of whom had historic Mafia connections. Subsequently, I met a family in Mississippi who had attractive sons who were having martial difficulties. While working on my line of outdoor books, I mentally tossed around a plot that would combine these two families’ experiences into a single story.
It would not be much of a story if I told a travel story about where they went, saw the sights, and returned. For a novel to happen there had to be factors regarding motivation, characters, crises, some climatic event, and a resolution. Ultimately some 70 characters were involved in the story, but initially I had only the Louisiana family that I knew nearly nothing about. I had to make the family diverse, which they turned out to be. One of the sons I decided would be a Marine Captain, an ex-flying officer who had been retrained as a forward observer and deployed during the second Iraq War where he participated in calling in an air strike and was exposed to some horrid sights. Then he experienced a mortar attack and when he was e-mailing home, he found a Dear John letter. His wife had left him for another man.
That gave me a back story for one of the characters. His younger, and slightly smaller, brother was an artist who had taken up painting using old pigments such as used in the 1400s. He was a perfectionist and could never finish anything, although he had talent. As the book opens we find him in San Francisco being thrown out of an apartment that he shared with his girlfriend because he could never make rent money. These events brought both of the adult brothers home, unattached, so they could join their parents, gay uncle, and sister on their trip. Roger, the younger brother, nurses an old Scout II, The Busted Beast, across the desert to Louisiana after having a series of interesting encounters with a transvestite named Dixie Crystal, two bare-breasted nuns and a giant of a guy that he thinks is going to leave him dead in the desert.
With the family thus assembled and on their way to Sicily what could I think of that would add interest to such a book? They had to meet some difficulties that were other than the ordinary things like losing passports, getting robbed, missing their flights, etc. I would need some device that would put them in mortal danger. The Mafia is a useful tool for that. What if both of the guys had to get married to two women they had never met or everyone in the family would be killed? My novel in set in 2004, and not the 1400s, how could I make this happen, and make up a convincing story as to why two women would ever agree to marry two strange men?
Something horrible had to happen. An innocent had to die. I felt bad about it because Davide was a handsome young guy who worked at the equivalent of an ice-cream shop and was beloved by all, including Cecilia, one of the brides-to-be, who was going to marry him. Davide takes his own life to end a 200-year-old vendetta. This tragic act convinces the women that they would be willing do do anything to leave this island of seemingly endless blood and death.
Now some characters are need to stir up the plot. I invented Luigi, called The Claw, who lost a hand during World War II and ultimately became an enforcer for one of the Mafia families. Because he had assisted The Resistance to the German occupation, he was given a job as an artist working for an American team during salvage archeology after the war. Luigi is the father of Cecilia and Uncle to Angelica,. He had raised them both since they were children. Because he fears another round of Mafia wars he wants to get these women out of the country, and by happenstance two Americans are to visit the island who are at the moment unattached. After some persuading, the two women agree to entertain the idea and he and Donna Carlos, the wife of an arrested Mafia Don, are already booking spaces and having the women’s dresses made before the American’s arrive.
Everyone is shocked when the men in the family are informed on Monday that the weddings will take place on Friday. He adds an annual support of 100,000 euros a year to sweeten the pot, and the men reluctantly agree to meet the two women who are described as “two of the fairest flowers of the island.”
As the novel progresses, ties of blood, lust, respect, and bullets bind the two parts of the family together, despite the determined efforts of Apachee, a rival Mob member who supervises several attempted shootings, a bombing, and poisoning. The family’s successful extraction from the island enlist the aid of a wild boar slain with a flintlock musket by one of the grooms, an Irish priest who has become overly fond of Grappa, two gay strippers, the FBI, Italian Antimafia Association, and the U.S. Air Force.
After the outline of the novel was mentally running through my head, I made an 11 day tour of Sicily to gather site information, gain a feel for the food, and have a good look at the island. This trip was of considerable aid in enriching the book with the essence of Sicilian culture. It helped me considerably when I was able to add Sicily to the locations in the book that I described. I have a series of YouTube videos that I took on my Sicilian trip.
This book is now available in softcover and e-book from Amazon.com and other sources worldwide, and as a 7-hour audiobook from Amazon and many other outlets.