Kirkus Review of “Until Death Do You Part” Reviewed

Every author thinks that his novel is the best that was ever written as over several years he may have put all of his energies in writing what he thinks is the perfect book. Book review companies like Kirkus serve the useful function of providing an unbiased look at the book as they evaluate the work from their own mindset of what that “perfect novel” should be and how it should read, which is not necessarily the same as the author’s vision. As a writer, Professional Geologist, hunter, cook, and outdoor guy, I wrote Until Death Do You Part as the book I would like to read filled with facts and local insights something in the manner that Michener wrote in his epic novels like Hawaii. To expand on some points I included footnotes which the reviewer found more distracting than helpful as they “insert the author into the story, explain his writing choices, and promotes his other works.” To a degree, I agree, and the footnotes were dropped in Fleet Cooper’s excellent audio rendition of the book, which is also now available from Amazon and other sources, and likewise footnotes do not appear in the screenplay.

The anonymous review appears below. I do not know if this was written by a man or woman, but I think I may know why some elements in the book turned the reviewer off.

Kirkus Review

What starts as an innocent tour of Italy turns into a dramatic dash to save a family in Smith’s novel.

By the early 2000s, the Italian-American Calsase family is two generations removed from their European roots, so they make travel plans to go across the sea to visit distant relatives. The two brothers of the family are both moving on from failed relationships. In Italy, the story begins with a once-powerful Mafia family in a weakened state. Unbeknownst to the Americans, they’ve had to deal with a spate of arrest and a vendetta murder, which have left the family’s new leader, Luigi, desperate to show his family’s strength but also to keep them safe. He hatches a plan to quickly marry of Cecelia, his daughter – who’s grieving her recently killed childhood friend Davide – and Angelica, his feisty niece, to the American brothers. The plan sets in motion a dramatic series of events that imperil the lives of everyone involved. Over the course of this novel, Smith presents realistic settings by offering painstaking details of local food, both in Louisiana and in Italy; for example, he pays considerable attention to the preparation of wild game for the wedding feast. What’s unrealistic is how the story hinges on the unlikely arranged marriages, which is especially distracting in a story set in the early 2000s. The treatment of the novel’s female characters is also problematic; for example, when one of the brothers asks Luigi which women is his intended, Luigi answers, “No difference. Choose!” and nobody seems bothered by this. Some pains are taken to present Angelica as independent and career-minded, but they’re undermined by constant references to her sex drive. Another distracting choice is the unconventional use of footnotes, which insert the author into the story, explain his writing choices, and promotes his other works.

A gastronomically descriptive but unevenly executed work of crime fiction.

I think that the reviewer did a masterful summary of the plot and did point out many of the favorable aspects of the story, such as, “The plan sets in motion a dramatic series of events.” What I think turned this reviewer off was my references to a lot of “guy stuff” like cars, guns, food, and engineering which I found interesting; but she apparently saw as only slowing down the action. I believe she was looking for something more like a screenplay where a novel is cut down to its action components which are piled onto each other to present as constant a series of action events as possible while viewing significant cultural details only as passing flashes on the screen.

In my novel I wanted to do more than that. I take the reader on a tour of the Southwestern U.S. from California to Louisiana, and expose them to the local history and culture as one of the sons tries to struggle home with “The Busted Beast, ” an old International Scout II that he, his brother, and father had rebuilt. On his trip he samples a homemade tamali the size of a dinner plate, a goat curry, seafood, and picks up crawfish for the family’s reunion dinner, which is to celebrate his brother’s return from combat in Iraq. That brother contributes to the novel’s gastronomic events by shooting a wild boar and making a version of Brunswick Stew that figures in the novel as a vehicle to carry poison to be served during the wedding feast. The culinary climax of the novel is the slicing and serving of the wedding cake in which different layers contain combinations of fruits and nuts native to the island – something not equaled by the Pope’s pastry chefs in Rome in size or complexity.

Other vehicles that play significant parts in the novel are a Fiat 500 which two Italian undercover agents rework and have painted in the manner of a donkey-drawn wedding cart from the 1500s, a red Ferrari driven by Luigi’s feisty niece, and a variety of Mercedes touring cars and sedans. Many of these vehicles are involved in a dramatic race to safety down a series of steep switchbacks while being fired on by turn-coat police.

I like my guns and knives too. As I build knives, I made the wavy-bladed knife shown on the cover that also plays a significant part in the novel, and discuss several others. I also discuss in some length the Colt 1911, Walther PPKs, Thompson Submachinegun, and what was once an expensive guns designed for shooting live pigeons which has now become a cut-off shotgun used by a childhood friend to kill Davide in order to sustain his family’s honor by completing a 200-year vendetta. This horrible event is the final straw in a lifetime of blood and murder that strengthens the feelings of Cecilia and Angelica that they must leave the island if they are to have a life, even if it means marrying two men they have never met.

I think that the reviewer bonded with Angelica and strongly felt that I had done my character a disservice by letting her agree to an arranged marriage, which others, say of Indian or Middle-Eastern extraction, have no problems with.

Although I have no talent in that direction, I also like the visual arts, particularly painting. This is the reason that two of the characters are painters – one of the brothers and Luigi, The Claw. By coincidence, both like to paint with old mineral-based pigments. Roger, the younger brother, assist Luigi in completing “his great work” which is a heroic sized painting of “The Death of Archimedes,” and in doing so forms a strong bond between him and his future father-in-law who might one day kill him should he dishonor the family which he is now about to join.

The novel comes to a realistic conclusion that invites further investigation of some of the characters and their lives before and after this life-altering family vacation in later works.

Writing a Press Release

Press releases for books and movies are a bit different from those produced for the business world. The purpose of the author’s or agent’s press release is to immediately attract the reviewer’s interest and hold it until he has read the entire page. These are short, typically one-page or less, typically without photos or illustrations, and depend on the power of the words to compel the reader onwards as he learns about the key features of the novel, screenplay, or movie; and only incidentally about the author who wrote it or the firm that produced it. If the press release reads too much like an ad for the author or production company, it looses power, waste the reviewer’s time, and is likely to be immediately tossed.

The following release about my novel fits nicely on one page and with a little attention to typology can make a handsome document that will attract attention and tell the reviewer exactly what he or she needs to know while provoking curiosity about the novel.

Quantum Discovery 

Announces new Sicilian Adventure-Romance 

Bravery, blood, and bullets mixed with lust and love are features of Until Death Do You Part: An American Family Meets Their Sicilian Cousins when a Louisiana family’s vacation in Sicily turns deadly when they arrive on Monday and are informed that their two sons are to be married on Friday or none will leave the island alive. A potential Mafia war has caused Luigi, The Claw, to want to get his daughter and niece out of the country, and a chance visit of this American family with unattached sons provides the opportunity to send them to the United States. Frank, a divorced Marine Captain with PTSD and his failing artist brother, Roger, agree to wed “two of the fairest flowers of the island” and accept 100,000 euros a year to support their new brides They have second thoughts when they discover they are marrying into one of the most powerful Mafia families in Sicily. As they visit Sicily’s historic sites, they are attacked by a rival mob. Wanting out, they accept a plan hatched by an Irish priest and their gay uncle to be seen by their prospective brides naked in bed with two gay strippers in hopes that the women will call off the wedding.  This wedding has also captured the attention of the FBI and the Italian Anti-Mafia Association who are watching the situation to possibly prevent a union between American and Sicilian Mafia families. Lust ultimately yields to love, and the Americans agree to continue with the wedding, however brief their wedded lives might be.  

Prize winning author Wm. Hovey Smith is a Professional Geologist noted for his 20 outdoor and business books. He developed this novel after five years of research including a trip to Sicily where he gathered much of the information used in the novel. He employs his knowledge of geology, architecture, art, history, business, and the outdoor world to create a novel that not only tells an appealing story, but also highlights Sicily’s 3,000 years of history and culture. He has also completed a screenplay which is being marketed to Hollywood.  

Quantum Discovery aids authors in self-publishing and marketing their books to traditional publishers, TV, and movie industries. For additional information contact agent Calvin Frost.  

                                                                                                Quantum Discovery 

                                                                                                501 W. Broadway, Suite 800 

                                                                                                San Diego, CA 29101 

                                                                                                (888) 755-6875 

Softcover of “Until Death Do You Part” Released to Climax Five Years of Work

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 Americans 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.

Now Available As Softcover, E-Book, and Audiobook

Movie Treatment Ready for Blood Ties

My novel, screenplay, and movie project which began as Father of The Grooms, as a first draft e-book, then as a screenplay under the working title of Until Death Do You Part, has now evolved into a treatment called more simply Blood Ties. This treatment is a 9-page condensation of the 110 page screenplay derived from the 370 page novel – a distillation of a distillation.

Treatments are designed to be quick reads so that a studio reader or potential producer can quickly decide if he or she would like to spend the time reviewing the entire script. The quicker, and easier, the decision can be made to option the script or pass it on for a more complete review the better for all concerned. From looking at the treatment the decisions are made:

A. Is this the kind of movie that I want to make at this time? Perhaps the studio has done three sports-related movies in the past two years and wants something else.

B. Does the story work. Is the plot set up so that events logically follow? No white-horsed hero needs to appear from nowhere to rescue the characters.

C. Are the characters diverse and appealing? Men and women of different backgrounds and ages need to have significant rolls.

D. Is it within the studio budget? A small studio might produce a $4,000,000 film, but not one that will cost ten times that amount.

E. Does the project offer visual appeal? Not often seen areas that are either built up or natural are desirable.

F. Is the project special-effects heavy? These add-ons are often very expensive.

G. Can it be filmed in a time-efficient manner? Films that take the characters through changing seasons require moving actors and or sets or planning to film throughout a year or more.

H. Does the movie somehow tell the viewer something significant about the human condition? What is the point of the movie.

The treatment is designed to quickly relay all this information in its sections which would include:

A. The working title, author, and date.

B. The Logline (A one-line description of the movie)

C. The principal characters.

D. A synopsis of the movie’s scenes which in tightly written paragraphs describes the characters actions and locations sufficiently so that the reader can follow the plot and how the characters face their challenges.

Although I know my characters very well and the details of the novel’s plot, working up the treatment took two days of writing to produce a document that I was satisfied with that met the conditions that it be in present tense, very tightly written, and describe the scenes sufficiently so that the reader could visualize the locations. There were times when I mentally wanted to include material that was in the book, but had been cut from the screenplay. While it would have been possible to write the treatment from the book, I already had the screenplay, and used it as the basis of my treatment.

While scripts are rigid in their formatting, treatments are not. I read a number of treatments on line and found them to be of different lengths, formats, and styles; although all had the same elements. I could easily see the merit of doing the treatment first , then writing the screenplay instead of the other way around. Another writer using the elements of the story would have produced a different treatment.

The significant points are that the treatment be fast to read, clearly show the progression of the story and character arcs, and be as brief as possible. Quoted passages are generally discouraged as are pictures. They have their place, but are best used to construct storyboards. Long passages describing motives, relationships, and settings are discouraged. The characters, their actions, and the locations are more significant.

This treatment is available on request to studio readers and representatives.

Father of the Grooms Transformers

If available, the church used in The Godfather will be used in the movie of Father of the Grooms.

As in the popular movie series, the published draft novel, Father of the Grooms, has been transformed into a screenplay, Until Death do You Part, and will appear first as an Audio Book under that title with the softcover to follow. From a writer’s point of view, the leap from novel to screenplay necessitated radical changes to convert a 400 page novel to a 110 page screenplay. This exercise was much more than selecting and cutting content, although that certainly occurred. The difference between the screenplay and novel involved changes in formatting, tenses, and rearrangements of sections to provide a more gripping start to the movie and have it build towards a satisfying climax.

At present, the screenplay is in its seventh iteration after receiving feedback from as many screenwriting contest. This process has much improved the screenplay. Among the major improvements were adding a well-defined villain at the opening of the first act as well as tension-building elements throughout the screenplay. Not only was this feedback used to improve the screenplay, it was also used to improve the novel which was undergoing its own transformation.

The title of the novel was changed to Until Death Do You Part to more nearly reflect the screenplay’s contents and the text sent in for professional editing. In turn, this corrected text has been sent to ListenUP Productions in Atlanta, for conversion into an audiobook which will be released later this year. This followed the simultaneous release of my last business book, Make Your Own Job: Anytime, Anywhere, At Any Age, in late 2020 in both softcover and audio formats. The novel as an audio book offers more challenges that the business book because of its mix of characters of different ages, sexes, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. These include two adult brothers, the heros of the novel, who have different personalities and outlooks toward life. They along with their father, mother, sister, and gay uncle make a trip to Sicily to reconnect with their Italian roots for the first time in three generations. Unknown to them, their family is one of the most powerful Mafia families in Italy, and because of their own needs, the Sicilian side of the family needs to get to women out of the country and use some not so delicate persuasion to have the two sons marry two women that they had never even heard of.

The Sicilian side of the family is run by a retired enforcer who has returned to oversee the family’s operations after the Don and his Segundo have been arrested because of information provided by a rival gang in Naples. This threatens a Mafia war and he seeks to get his daughter and niece safely out of the country by marrying them to these visiting Americans who “are given an offer that they cannot refuse.” With many misgivings, all agree to the wedding. The rival gang sends down a crew to prevent this wedding at all cost and a cat-and-mouse game starts with four attempts being made to kill various members of the wedding party. Father Flanagan, an Irish priest who is to perform the ceremony, elicits the aid of two gay male strippers to seen by the prospective brides in bed with the two grooms in hopes that the brides can have the wedding called off, but nothing doing. “A contract is a contract,” and the wedding will proceed as planned. All of this is successfully resolved in the screenplay and novel.

The characters mentioned and many more who have supporting parts will make it particularly tough for a single voice actor to preform. I look forward to receiving the reads from the three voice actors who will audition for the part. After the publication of the audiobook, I will make another round of changes before publishing the novel as a softcover.

Luigi The Claw’s Knife Completed

Luigi's knife Damascus 1 Color corrected.

 

From wooden model, to soft steel, to the best of Alabama Damascus combined with a heavily figured olive wood from his native Sicily, Luigi The Claw’s wavy bladed prop knife has been finished. This knife will be featured on the cover of my novel, Father of the Grooms, and in the movie. The knife appears several times in the plot, but is never used except as a weapon of intimidation. Perhaps the director will have a different view of that, but in the book no one is butchered by it. We have some shot, burned alive, crashed, and blown up; but there is no dicing and slicing. The knife, with its owner, is buried in the Sicilian soil from which both were derived.

Luigi was orphaned during World War II, participated in actions against the Germans and lost his left hand during a bombing. In recognition of his service to the Allies, he was given a job with American archaeologists who were conducting salvage operations in Sicilian cities where modern buildings had been destroyed and exposed traces of the island’s classical cultures. With 17 invaders going back 3,000 years, each spade of earth revealed something of significance that the archaeologists were attempting to recover, describe, and depict in their learned publications. These publications required illustrations, and it was discovered that Luigi had a natural talent for drawing. While working with the Americans he was taught to draw their finds as well as do more elaborate street sketches where the buildings and sights were reconstructed in charcoal, watercolors, and oils. Even with only a single hand and a stub, he could draw and paint better than many with years of formal training.

He became particularly interested in the ancient weapons with which so may hundreds of thousands of his countrymen were killed by Carthaginians, Romans, Normans, Arabs, and 13 other invading cultures over its long history. He chose as a symbol of Sicilian resistance a wavy bladed bronze knife that was so feared by the Greeks that they considered it “unfit for civilized warfare,” and forbade its manufacture. He had it made by a bladesmith in Venice using a water-powered power hammer than had been making weapons and armor since the 1400’s.

He selected as raw materials iron and steel made from various weapons used during the numerous sieges of Syracuse including the one where the town’s most famous citizen, Archimedes was slain. One of his life goals was to do a museum-grade heroic-size painting of the death of Archimedes which he, with help, completes during the novel. With the steel and iron beat into a Damascus blade and handled with olive wood, Luigi felt as if this weapon was a real part of his culture and when attached to his stub, part of himself – ready to attach or defend as necessary.

 

 

First Draft Edition of Father of the Grooms Published

Wm. Hovey Smith’s first novel which has the working title of Father of the Grooms was published as a First Draft Edition on the first day of Spring on Amazon.com as an e-book. This novel has the subtitle: Murder, Marriage, and Mafia: An American Family Meets Their Sicilian Cousins which will be the title of the softcover edition. The next stage of this project will be the production of a screenplay, which will be followed by the softcover edition and perhaps ultimately a movie that might be started in 2024.

Writing the novel was a nine-month process following a five-year gestation period and a fact-finding trip to Sicily. Inspiration for the novel followed a chance meeting with a family of Sicilian origin who lived in Louisiana and another family who lived in Mississippi whose sons were having difficulties in getting or staying married. In the novel the fictional family makes a trip to Sicily to reconnect with their heritage after being absent for three generations. Going on the trip are a mother and father, their two sons, sister, and gay uncle.

Over the years the family has kept up a correspondence with the Sicilian side of the family and has been invited to return for a visit many times, but now, it seems, this is the opportune time to go. One of the sons, a Marine Captain, has two months leave, and the other son has returned home after being kicked out of a San Francisco apartment by his girlfriend, and the uncle and sister can leave their hairdressing shop for a week. The father makes a joke that perhaps his sons would do better if they married “the old-fashioned way” with an arranged marriage.

In order to safeguard the lives of two young women, the Sicilian side of the family elects to take this suggestion more seriously. When the Americans arrive on Monday, they are informed that the weddings will take place on Friday. Should they refuse, the entire family might have “an unfortunate accident” while on their tour of the island. A plot is hatched between the uncle and a transplanted Irish priest to create a circumstance where the would-be-brides would call off the wedding. Additional complications arise when another Mafia family makes several attempts to kill one or more members of the family, and members of the Italian Anti-Mafia police and FBI become involved.

The First Draft Edition of the novel has all of the plot elements, settings, and characters needed to craft the screenplay. Writing the screenplay, which is much more dialog driven, will enable the author to refine the dialog, perhaps add segments that are not presently in the novel, and ultimately complete the book at some future date. In the meantime, the First Draft Edition can draw attention to the project.

The book may be ordered from Amazon.com and other e-book retailers worldwide for $4.99. If you do not have an e-book reader, apps will allow you to read the book on any computer or tablet and on many smart phones.

First Draft Sent to Publisher

The First Draft edition of Father of the Grooms which will likely be published in softcover as Murder, Marriage and Mafia: An American Family Meets their Sicilian Cousins, has been sent to Book Baby for publication as an e-book. It is unusual for authors to publish first drafts of their novels, and I am taking this step because all of the elements of the novel are present from which I can derive the screenplay. Screenplays are often written from novels, but the resulting movie can be quite different from the action and dialog as described in the novel. The reason for this is that the movie is very much driven by the pictorial presentation of the scenes and the character’s dialog. Whereas descriptive passages and even insights in what the characters are thinking might be used in a novel, such actions and thoughts must be most often shown or expressed in dialog between characters, unless the character is literally talking to God or that information is supplied by a narrator’s voice-over.

Entirely new scenes are sometimes employed to flesh out a characters’ personality or help explain some actions that were written as exposition in the novel, but are needed to make these actions part of what seems to be a logical progression of what previously happened. Examples of this in the novel is that I had to derive some reasons why both the grooms and brides-to-be would consider arranged marriages in the 21st century, much less marrying two people they had never met.

To keep the action looking more like real life, there were also some aspects of the characters that were brought out in the novel that were not fully developed which could be exciting scenes in a movie. The brides-to-be have been trained in the use of firearms and knife-fighting since childhood, but I do not have them doing any shooting or knife-fighting in the novel. After the screenplay with such scenes is ready to be sent to potential buyers, such events might be added to the novel along with some of the more interesting dialog sequences developed for the screenplay.

I do not describe the screenplay as being finished, because it never really is until the movie is finalized and gone through final edits. Even while it is being shot, the director or actors might suggest lines that seem more appropriate that those I have written, and these will be substituted on the fly. Some directors tell their actors to develop the scene as they would have written it, and sometimes these independent after-takes make it into the movie. The director’s task is to make the movie as visually appealing to as large an audience as possible, and not be a slave to the screenplay. If something does not work on the screen to accomplish what needs to be shown, then that segment is replaced with an action-dialog sequence that does.

Time on set and running time are also significant considerations in doing the screenplay. Action that may take place over several hours in the book, need to be compressed into minutes to make the movie watchable. Time is also money. The less time that is spent on expensive locations, the more economical the movie is to produce and the more likely that it will actually be done. A screenwriter crafting a screenplay needs to think like an actor, producer, and director. The author has complete liberties to take his characters through time and space without giving any considerations to the real practicalities that movie-making requires so long as he writes a story that his readers can believe. For example, the movie “Avatar” has a completely derived future world, but takes the viewer through action sequences that audiences could relate to and introduces them to characters that they could like and despise.

The novel took nine months to complete to the First Draft stage after I returned from a fact-finding trip to Sicily. This exploration of the island added considerably to the novel in that my experiences enriched the descriptions of the scenes and places visited by my fictional American family and suggested activities that they would participate in. The novel would have been a much dryer and less accurate work if I had relied solely on published print and video sources. I could have physically written the same numbers of chapters and words, but not nearly so well. From my building the first mental concepts of the novel to finishing the First Draft version his taken five years. It also might be argued that it has taken a lifetime, because, like all authors, some of my life experiences have made it into the book.

I have some intervening, but related, tasks to get out of the way. One is to build the knife that I show on the cover of the book and another is to assemble a .69-caliber 1777 Dragoon Year IX flintlock musket and take a wild boar with it, as I describe one of my characters doing in the novel. The knife and musket will be built in my shop. They will first appear in videos. Both will later appear in the movie, and one or both may be featured on the softcover for the book. Once these are underway, I will start on the screenplay which will take about four months to complete.

If you wish to help me with this project you may by buying the First Draft edition of the novel on Amazon.com or from other e-commerce book sources for $4.99. The e-book should be available on Amazon about March 19, 2020. You can also get a free app that will enable you to read this book on any computer at: http://www.adobe.com/products/digital-editions/download.html .

Bad Dinner with the In-Laws

In a restaurant like this a pair of American men are to meet their brides for the first time.

One of the most perilous times in a relationship is when the new bride or groom to be is introduced to the family for the first time at a formal dinner. Perhaps you had a less than perfect encounter with your in-laws, but the characters in my new novel Father of the Grooms have it rough when they find that not only are they to meet some nice Sicilian ladies on their trip, they are in fact going to arrive on Monday and be married on Friday to two women they have never seen. They come under increasing pressure when wedding rings are put on their plates and they are expected to choose which of the two beautiful young women sitting opposite them are to be their new brides after having exchanged fewer than a dozen awkward words. If they do not make a selection, their Mafia relatives have made it very clear that the entire family, including their father, mother, gay hairdresser uncle and sister may have an unfortunate accident on the island’s narrow unpaved roads.

Below is Chapter 17 of the novel where the dinner takes place in an isolated walled-in restaurant where the third course of the meal is interrupted by gunfire. I am now some 60,000 words into the novel. My American family from Louisiana arrives on the island to learn about their Sicilian heritage only to discover their previously unknown Mafia links where blood and duty have unexpected consequences on their family holiday.

You may sign up and read the book as I write it by following the link below which also includes receiving a softcover copy as soon as the book is published. My intentions are to complete the book in 2020, do the screenplay the following year, and perhaps a movie version of the title in 2024. In the meantime readers may comment on the book and make suggested corrections. If the corrections are significant you will receive acknowledgements in the book. When the novel is completed, I will be soliciting offers for publication and production. For more information go to: http://www.hoveysmith.com and make a $20.00 donation using the Pay Pal button.

17. Meet the Family

Pick-up at the hotel was to be at 6:30 P.M. By this time packages that had been ordered at the stores and the shirts from the tailor had been delivered to the rooms and tried on.

          “These shirts seem to be made of fairly thin cloth. I am glad that we have some sweaters to go with them, It was fine today with just a light jacket, but I am going to wear both tonight. I can always take something off when we get inside,” William remarked.

“I like the look of the shirt, but these stiff white collars are going to get dirty in a hurry,” Roger said.

“Did you notice these snaps. They are detachable so that these collars can be taken off and washed and starched separately,” Ronald added. “Otherwise they would have been sewn back on each time they were washed. I suppose that the fashion reason for wearing such shirts was to demonstrate that the person did not do physical work to the extent that his collar might ever get dirty.”

“How do the pants and suspenders feel,” William asked Frank. “I have never worn suspenders except on combat gear. They do feel a little strange, but I find that I want to wear a belt along with them.”

“Me too,” Roger added, “I am not use to something swinging loose around my waste. I guess the gals get accustomed to dresses and such, but I want something around the middle. If not a belt, I want something that is at least elastic.”     

“Speaking of women, what do you think that our brides are going to be like,” Frank questioned.

“They were described as, what was it?, ‘Two of the fairest flowers of the island,’ so I suppose that they are not old ugly hags and are something close to our ages or younger. Who knows? We will find out soon enough,” Roger volunteered.

Once assembled in the lobby, Mario moved them into a quiet anteroom off the main floor and spoke quietly. “Let me give you an idea of what is going to happen. You are going to meet some 25 members of your extended family, and there will also be some invited quests, some of which are not necessarily our friends. Whether you speak Italian or not, always reply in English and assume that everyone understands every word you say. Only if they do not, do you try what Italian that you may know.

“One person that you will meet is Donna Carlos who is the wife of Don Carlos, the head of the family who is now in prison. She has largely planned this wedding and your visit. She is a powerful and dangerous member of the family who often has a less than pleasant disposition. Nothing ever seems to quite please this lady. Take what she says quite seriously. It is said that she and Luigi were once lovers, but that was many years ago and that relationship is well known by everyone. Beware of our Sicilian women, they can be more dangerous than the men.”

“What about our brides to be?” Frank asked. “Are they like that.”

“In a word. No. They are very nice, attractive young women that most of the guys here have been lusting after for years. You are very lucky to have them offered to you on a silver platter with a dowry. You would be wise not to disappoint them or the family.”

The restaurant was a 50-minute drive through the crowded streets to the more rural area outside of town where there were olive trees, citrus orchards, and scattered vineyards. The two limousines drove through an iron gate beyond which was a walled-in parking lot. They disembarked in front of the door and were greeted by the doorman. Inside all of the tables had been set end-to-end to make a single long table. About 25 people were already seated. Conspicuously situated among the few empty chairs was a row of six vacant seats near the head of the table. Seated there was Luigi and a stately woman dressed in a striking velvet dress that everyone assumed must be Donna Carlos.

Heads turned and conversations stopped as the  Calsase family made their way up to the head of the table. When they arrived, Luigi stood and made the introductions.

“Donna Carlos, this is Ronald Calsase, his wife Nancy, his brother William, their sons Frank and Roger and their daughter, Mary. This is my daughter, Cecilia, and my niece Angelica. We would all like to welcome you to Sicily and to the family.”

“Gentlemen and ladies,” Donna Carlos said. “This is a joyous occasion where we are to announce the engagement of two members of the American side of the family to two of our own, who are the beloved daughter and niece of Luigi. He has been part of our family for more than 50 years. He started as a boy who grew into manhood and now has reached maturity, as have I. Over the next few days they will visit with you around the island, and I direct that you extend every courtesy to them. If it is not so I will hear of it.

“Please be seated and enjoy your meal. If you must leave early, you and your vehicle will be let out of the compound. Now lock the doors and the gate so that we can enjoy our meal.”

“Were do we sit?” Roger asked.

“There are place cards.” Mary said. “You sit here and Frank, there, next to you.”

Once seated and looking across the table past the place setting through the wine bottles and over the green centerpiece, Frank and Roger saw that they were seated opposite two women who were both dressed in white linen dresses and pearls.

“I’m Frank.”

“I’m Roger.”

“I  know,” Angelica said. “Luigi just told us.”

“We are to be married, I guess.”

“I know that too. What I don’t know is anything about you,” Angelica said.

“Me neither,” Roger replied.

“Across a table is not the best way to become acquainted,” Frank added.

“I agree,” Angelica said. “But this is what we have for now.”

A smartly dressed older man stood up from the other side of the table and placed two small boxes on Frank and Roger’s empty plates. Opening them, they saw that these were engagement rings set with one-caret colorless diamonds that fairly well matched the colorless expression that came over Roger’s face. Not knowing what to do, he pushed it aside so the box now lay beside his salad fork.

He noticed that Frank had discretely shipped his into a coat pocket and quickly did the same. These rings were obviously to be presented sometimes tonight, but this moment did not seem to be the time.

“I hear that one of you is a marine officer who was wounded in combat and served in Afghanistan,” Angelica asked?

“That’s me,” Frank replied.

“And the other is an artist,” Cecilia questioned?

“I’m that one,” Roger said. “Your uncle told me that he paints too. I look forward to looking at some of his work, by coincidence it seems like we both enjoy painting in the style of the 1500s and like to use oils and mineral pigments.”

“Indeed we do.” Luigi replied. “I don’t have anything here in Palermo, but I have my studio in my home in Syracuse. I am working on a painting now, and maybe we can do some work on it together. I do architecture, objects, and scenes well, but not faces. I understand that you specialize in portraits.”

“I do, but I have not found much demand for them in the U.S.”

“That is a shrinking market. Portrait painting is still done here in Italy, but these are usually by a few painters who have political or family connections with those they paint. On a national scale, competitions are held to do portraits of our top political figures, with a strong bias given towards Italian artists, although you could qualify if you had a studio here.”

“Would you like to paint me and Angelica,” Cecilia asked?

“Of course I would,” But that is not something I can do in a day. Even if I had all of my stuff, it takes a couple of weeks to work up the pigments apply the base layer, stabilize the canvas and get everything ready. To say nothing of your posing for it.”

“Can’t you work from photograp;hs,” Angelica asked?

“Yes. I can if I must, but the best portraits are done the old-fashioned way, from sittings.”

“Well, I think that we may have the rest of our lives to get them done,” Angelica remarked.

“Each minute, day, and hour is different. I would want to capture your images on canvas as you are now and as you progress through life, as a member of the family to be, I guess. That is the best I can do. The thing is to start and finish.”

“Frank,” Cecilia hesitated as if getting accustomed to  saying what might be her future husband’s name for the first time. “Frank, what is it like being the wife of a Marine Officer?”

“I use to be deployed on aircraft carriers, but now I am more likely to move around from base to base around the world now that I no longer fly. There is a problem that if I marry into the family, I must resign my commission.”

“No one has to know.”

“Believe me, they will find out. The FBI will do background checks on you and me. If I cannot maintain my security clearance, I can’t advance in rank or remain in the Military. I can accept a disability and get a small pension, but that is not enough to live on. I am going to have to find something else to do. Maybe I will go to work with my dad.”

“We have talked about that many times. There is room in my company for Frank, and maybe even Roger too, but not as an artist,” Ronald said.

“You know you two are supposed to decide who is going to marry who tonight and give us the rings,” Angelica teased, clearly enjoying their supposed intendeds’ discomforts.

Roger whispered to his father beside him, “Which one?”

A booming voice erupted from the end of the table as Luigi spoke, “No difference. Choose!”

Silence suddenly swept over the room and Roger squirmed as seemingly every eye focused on him. To seemingly postpone the decision he picked up his fork and started to sample the food that was on his plate. One item among the sliced meats was a red pickled onion that was obviously added as a color accent to the thin-sliced salami and prosciutto of the antipasto.. When he put his fork on it in an attempt to cut off a portion it rebounded off the lip of the plate, gained altitude, passed between the necks of the wine bottles, cleared the centerpiece, bounced in Angelica’s plate and landed in her lap. This was perhaps a new record for a bounced onion as it had traveled nearly five feet and gained an elevation of about two feet before landing on Angelica’s napkin..

Angelica shrieked and stood up to remove the napkin from her lap and get rid of this unexpected projectile before it stained her dress.

Roger, mortally embarrassed, stood and in the process nocked a water glass over on the table which spilled on his leg.

“They have chosen,” Luigi announced.

This statement was followed by a round of applause as everyone in the room stood and clapped their congratulations to the new couple .

“Give the rings,” Luigi ordered.

Roger dug into his pocket, pulled out the ring box and straining a little to reach Angelica’s out-stretched palm placed the box in her hand.

Cecilia now stood and reached out her hand to Frank who similarly complied. The jeweler was prepared and erected a small table behind the two girls and sized the rings using a small hammer and a mandrel. Soon Angelica and Cecilia were sporting new white diamonds on their ring fingers.

“That wasn’t so hard,” Ronald remarked.

“No, but I think that we had rather chosen our future wives, rather than have them selected for us by a red onion,” Frank replied. “Brother you really got us into it this time.”

The wait staff quickly arrived, pulled back the chairs from the couples to be, cleared the table, installed a new table cloth and replaced the table settings. From their efficient movements, this was obviously not the first time something had been spilled on a table during a banquet.

“Do you want to change seats.” Frank Asked?

“Considering the circumstances that would seem to be a good idea,” Roger assented.

The primo, which was fittingly, an Italian wedding soup was served next.

“This is Italian Wedding Soup, we have this in America too,” Roger observed.

“What would you expect brother, Minestrone,” Mary questioned?

“I had a chance to read up a little bit about their cooking before I came.” William said. “Some heavier meat dish will be coming next. Since this is Sicily, it might be swordfish, sea bass, lamb, goat, pork, or beef. They will serve some chicken here, but there will also be guinea fowl, squab, duck, or even turkey on occasion. What is not native was brought here by the Arabs from the Middle East or the Spanish from the Americas or even Asia. I had a chance to read up a little bit about their cooking before I came.”

Frank and Roger were not so interested in hearing about what they might have next on their plates, but in looking at their future brides across the table.

Frank saw that Cecilia had brown eyes, brunette hair with tents of gold, a thin finely sculptured face and petite nose. under which were bright red-painted lips that slightly parted to exposed a row of evenly matched white teeth. “He found himself with the thought, “Her mother must have really been a beauty to have produced such a girl.”

Cecilia, knowing that she was being intensely stared at, lowered her eyes and did not look at Frank. She nervously played with the food on her plate and ate deliberately so as not to embarrass herself.

“What are you looking at,” Angelica questioned Roger sharply.

“Well, you. You are without question one of the most beautiful women that I have ever seen.”

“You are not so bad yourself.” Angelica replied. Pretending to be warm she unbuttoned the top of her blouse. “It is starting to warm up in here.”

Before Roger could think of a reasonable  reply the waiters were bringing the next course which was Sea Bass with a side dish of brazed winter vegetables that included carrots, radishes, onions, turnips, and two that he did not immediately recognize.

Plunging a fork into a carrot that was in the contorno, Angelica thrust it into her mouth and looked straight at Roger as she lustily bit off the tip.

Roger winced at the obvious implication and, mentally agreed, “Angelica is right. It is getting warm in here. No wonder that they had orgies in Ancient Rome.”

“Angelica, when will we have a chance to be alone?”

“Not until our wedding night,” they say. “My family is very traditional. We will be escorted everywhere we go.”

“Well, until then,” Roger said raising a glass. “Angelica did likewise. They touched the rims of their glasses over the center of the table and drank,” much to the amusement of Luigi and Donna Carlos, who thought that their plans seemed to be going along very well.

“I think a little delayed gratification may be in order here,” Luigi remarked to Donna Carlos.

“I quite agree. The two couples seem to be doing well for a first meeting.”

Frank, now knowing that only a few weeks ago Cecilia had buried the man who she had every reason to believe was the love of her life, found himself wanting to reach under the table grasp both her hands and tell Cecilia that thing would be all right.. She needed comforting, and he wanted to take her into his arms and provide it. Maybe things would work out with this business after all.

Although eating was not what the two couples had on their minds, they managed to maintain a degree of decorum through the meal as it progressed through the salad, fruit and cheese course which included blood red orange slices from trees near Cantania, and the dessert.

Roger selected a raspberry gelato and was surprised at the gritty texture. Looking at Angelica with a questioning expression on his face, she responded.

“We Sicilians like a little resistance in our foods. Our gelatos, chocolates, and even vegetables will often have some coarse salt, sugar or ice crystals in ice cream to provide a bit of a crunch when we eat. Some say that this is to remind us that life has it difficult parts – as if we had not been learning that lesson for thousands of years.”

“In the South we like our crunch in our foods too – like crispy fried chicken, grits, and fish fried with coarse cornmeal. We eat grits, something like you eat pasta, although most often in the morning with eggs and bacon.”

The drivers, waiters, and kitchen staff were served in a separate building that was connected to the kitchen by a covered breezeway. Here there were also tables and chairs, but these had been retired from service in the main dining room. Against one wall was a long oak table on which fresh food was placed periodically. There were also a couple of bottles of wine, but these were not replaced as they were emptied. It was understood by all but the rankest of drivers that they might have a glass with their meals, but their main responsibility was to be ready to safely drive their rides back home at any time.

As members of the kitchen staff came in and out there was a running commentary on the proceedings inside,. This was much like calling a ball game, except here instead of innings the courses were announced as they were served.

A couple of times the Chef came in, to make sure that there was sufficient food for everyone. He did this because he knew that tourists depended on their drivers for recommendations, and a well satisfied driver would return again and again. This was his most direct means of advertising which had the considerable advantage that it was paid for by those dining inside.

“Better than we had in prison,” Michael remarked.

“Yes it sure is,” Vito replied.

“When and where were you two in prison,” an anonymous voice asked from the rear of the room.

“It was all a big mistake over stolen car that we were working on. We were in for a short time at St.Vittore in Milan before we came here to work for our cousin. It was not a big deal, but we are glad to get out of that dump.”

“As are nearly all of us Most have spent time for something somewhere. A guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do to get buy in today’s world where people like those stuffing themselves inside have everything and we pick up the crumbs.”

“Shut up. Albert. “You have a cushy job, are eating good food, and drinking free wine. What have you got to complain abought?”

As if to answer, there were two pistol shots and a burst of sub-machine gun fire at the front gate of the compound.

“Stay inside, that is none of our business,” Albert ordered. “If those mobsters want to kill themselves off that’s fine. They will come for us when they want us.”

At the shots, the lights were turned off inside the restaurant and there were shouts of “Get down.” When there were no more shots and no explosion followed the initial burst of gunfire. Luigi went outside and then returned.

“He turned on the lights and said, “Please be seated. Some of our competition just wanted to give us a warning. That burst of gunfire was not meant to hurt anyone and did not.

“Sit down please, enjoy your coffee and grappa, and help us welcome our American cousins.”

Roger who had never experienced being shot at, excitedly asked Frank, “Do you think they will come back.”

“Not a chance.” Frank answered. “They know that they are expected, and did you see all of those guns come out when the shooting started.? It’s like Luigi said. This was just a warning – about what I do not know. Maybe this is about us getting married or some supposed connection with the American Mafia. It could be anything.”

“This sort of thing is exactly why Cecilia and I want to get out of this mess,” Angelica said. “Somebody we know is being threatened or killed all of the time. We just want to live a normal life.”

“Cecilia, are you all right,” Frank asked?

 “No. No. I am not all right. I hate this place and I love it. I don’t know what to do. Every time I turn around something bad is happening.”

Frank wanted to take her in his arms and hold her, but he could not- At least not now, at least not tonight.

Kickstarter and Go Fund Me Projects Successful

One of the many historic sights seen by our visiting American family as they tour Sicily.

Although there are still a few hours to go on my Kickstarter and Go Fund Me projects for Father of The Grooms, both appeals have met their initial goals. These efforts were made to publicize my Father of The Grooms novel, screenplay and movie project to a wider audience than I could reach with my social media contacts. Those who joined will receive copies of the book chapters as I write them, in the manner of Charles Dickens, Doyle and other 19th Century writers who published their books serially in the world’s newspapers. It seems strange now, but in the 1840’s the front page of a newspaper might feature the next installment of one of some famous author’s stories. This way buyers of the papers would know that they had something they wanted to read in every issue. Is this a potential business model for for some of today’s struggling newspapers? If so, contact me, and I will make a publication arrangement with the newspaper.

Those who want to sign up to receive the book chapters as I write them, have the opportunity to comment on them and receive a credit in the book for significant content can join at any time by going to http://www.hoveysmith.com and making a $20 donation using the Pay Pal button. They might also go to Kickstarter or Go Fund Me and get in on the last few minutes or hours of the campaign.

I have produced a series of videos based on my fact-gathering trip to Silicy and these are now up on the Hovey Smith You Tube Channel. Some are about segments of my trip and I have another, “The Volcanic Nature of Sicilian Food and Wine, ” for those who are particularly interested in local culture and eats. The trip was interesting, extremely informative, allowed me to gather some olive wood for a knife that I will be building and gave me many insights into the culture that I would not have otherwise obtained.

Our tour group visited Mt. Etna the week before it erupted, so I was glad to have been able to make the trip before the mountain was closed. Mt. Etna is the largest volcano in Europe is located between two continental plates and is more or less continuously active. As volcanoes go, it is well behaved. Although its flows may engulf entire villages, they are slow moving. A caution is not to attempt to grill meat using the red hot rocks of the flows. The meat cooks fine, but it picked up sufficient toxic substances from the off-gassing lava that it killed the four people who consumed it. As a geologist, I am interested in which gasses and what toxins, but I don’t presently have that information. Generally these volcanic gases contain sulfur and chlorine compounds along with heavy metals like arsenic, antimony, mercury, lead, etc. none of which are recommended for human consumption.

My next step will be to build a dagger a flame-shaped blade that is inspired by an ancient bronze dagger used by one of Sicily’s earliest cultures some 3,000 years ago. This dagger plays a significant part in the story as it is used by Luigi, The Claw, who is an aging mob enforcer brought out of retirement after the first and second in command of the Mafia are arrested. As a boy he fought against the Germans during World War II and lost his left hand during a bomb explosion. He was hired by American archaeologists who were doing salvage work on the island after the war and taught to paint scenes and objects that they were recovering and restoring. During that time he learned of the earliest Sicilians and came to believe that he was descended from those who underwent 17 different conquests. As such he felt that he was a protector of Sicilian culture and had one of these historic styles of daggers built of modern steel to use as a weapon of intimidation. This dagger has multiple uses in the movie and in promotional materials for the project. It will have a flame-shaped blade like a kris, a grip of olive wood, design elements taken from the culture that used it and a practical fighting-knife grip appropriate for the period.

Next week I will start writing to book chapters and those who signed up for the project will start getting them in e-mail boxes in about two weeks. Many thanks to those who supported the project.