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.

Recreating a Sicilian Terror Weapon of 1000 B.C.

  

Charcoal making. The first step in making Luigi, The Claw’s steel copy of a Sicil flame-shaped fighting knife.

Luigi, The Claw, one of the characters in the novel I am writing, Father of The Grooms, has been an active Mafia member since World War II. As a boy he participated in the resistance against the Germans and suffered the loss of his left hand because of a bomb explosion. In recognition of his service he was given work as a draftsman for American sponsored archaeological excavations that took place on the island as the war debris were being cleared from Sicily’s historic towns.

     While employed he learned that some of the Late Bronze Age inhabitants of Sicily, The Sicel, made a dagger with what the later Greeks described as a “flame-shaped blade,” which fascinated him. Because each progressive civilization pillaged the tombs of each previous culture, metal objects from this period were, and are, very scarce.  I visited three of the most important museums on the island, and I never saw an example of this type of knife.

     Nonetheless, Luigi imagined that he was a direct descendant of these early Sicilians who had fought against everyone else who had invaded/occupied the island including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Austrians, Spanish and in his own lifetime the Germans. In honor of this long history of resistance against exploitation of natural and human resources, he decided to have a knife maker build him a workable modern copy of this historic knife from modern steel.

     Wavy bladed knives are typically thought of as being produced in Indonesia where the kris is a well-known pattern of knife and short sword. Although wavy-bladed knives are not unknown in Europe, they are much less common than knives and swords with straight or slightly curved blades. Today this shape is most commonly seen on bread knives which may have one wavy edge and a straight back.

     The soils of Sicily have not been kind to bronze objects. Thinner items like cooking pots are often eaten partly through by the elements and corrosion of various sorts, including the so called “bronze disease.” This type of corrosion attacks statues and other objects, and museums must guard against it by making sure their bronzes are free from surface salts and kept in a humidity-controlled environment. The older the bronze is, the more delicate it becomes.

     To have maximum psychological effect, Luigi wanted his knife to be wide at the hilt and then have its wavy blade undulate down to a point about 10-inches away. This would be a good compromise between portability and visibility to potential opponents. His blade was also to be sharpened on both edges so that it would rip and cut with either upward or downward strokes.

     The practicalities of making cast bronze blades tough enough to use in combat dictated that they be thicker than correspondingly long steel blades, and they often employed a reinforcing spine that ran down the center of the knife. Such a feature is unnecessary on a steel blade, and it was omitted. The thinner point presented some problems from a design perspective as it might tend to either bend or snap off. This point would need to be protected from too radical a quench by applying a protective layer of mud or edge heating with a torch and then applying the quench.

     In Venice there is a water-powered hammer that has been used since Medieval times for making blades and armor. Since I am writing fiction I might take literary license and relocate the forge to Syracuse for the purpose of making the knife. I do not know if that location has ever been featured in a movie, but it would be interesting to include it in a flashback.

     In the meantime I had to decide what Luigi’s knife was to look like. I often make wooden models of new knives that I am going to build so that I can establish the blade’s shape, grip size and the general proportions of the work. In this case I salvaged a plank from an oak pallet and drew out a preliminary design, which I cut out with a band saw and thinned on the heavy belt sander that I use for knife making.

     I derived an appropriately shaped blade and had to give thought about how to shape the grip. Many primitive knives that have pommels shaped like horses’ heads or other animals. I also considered ending the grip with the head of a god. However, all of these shapes tend to prick the palm or back of the hand with some of the ornamental details unless the grip was very long indeed. These were interesting from a design and historic point of view, but not as functional as they might be.

     In researching the Sicel, one of the few decorative elements that I saw came from the door of a tomb. This was a coiled spiral with a longer vertical element which was a stylized version of male sexual organs that were rendered in more recognizable form on another part of the door. This was obviously significant to a culture that also worshiped a mother goddess of fertility and rebirth, something like the later Demeter in Greco-Roman times.

     Use of these design elements would allow me to have a cross-guard with rounded knobs on the blade to be mimicked by a smaller double-ended pommel. These elements would allow a firm grip to be sustained on the knife for either stabbing or thrusting with the pommel knob fitting on the crease of the palm and the fingers pushing firmly against the cross-guard when needed to penetrate something tough, like leather armor.

     It often happens with new technology, like the transition from stone tools to bronze, that the objects being made are somewhat over designed compared to the simplified models that follow. Whereas such a knife would be made today with wooden grips that might have three pins, I am going to grind the tang full width with the olive-wood grips extending over the top of the blade and secured to it with additional pins and a central medallion. Whatever might happen to the knife, that grip will not fail.

     Similarly, first generations of objects are often designed to fit a single individual, and since Luigi is having a custom knife made, it will fit his hand, which coincidentally, happens to be the same size as my own.

     On flesh the effect of such a knife is devastating. No matter whether it is thrust into a body with a downward, straight-in thrust or pulled upward it will continue to cut new flesh as it is extracted. The Greeks fighting the Sicel apparently thought these daggers to be terror weapons and beyond the use for those engaged in honorable “civilized” combat. Although they wrote about these knives, and feared them, they never adopted them.

     This lesson was not lost on Luigi. By having such a wicked- looking knife made, its presence was often sufficient to bring compliance to whatever demands his Mafia bosses call on him to enforce. He did, on occasion, use the knife with deadly effect to execute those who betrayed what he considered to be Sicilian honor or who were a direct threat to him and his family during the Mafia Wars of the 1990s. During that bloody time 40 or more people died each day during the height of the conflict.

     “How can we help it.” He says in the book. “We came from a bloody past. My life has been filled with fighting and bloodshed; to expect a different future is a worthy, but unrealistic, hope. Yes, my knife caused death; but in more cases it preserved life.”

     I have now made charcoal for my forge, tested and rejected some old steel that I had, made a wooden copy of Luigi’s knife and will pick up supplies for it in the coming Blade Show in Atlanta. The steel model that I will make will use Damascus steel from Alabama Damascus. The contrasting pattern between the etched Damascus and the burl grain of the olive wood along with brass pins will make a stunning knife.

     I will likely make two versions. One edged on both sides for use in the Movie and the other edged on only one side so that it can be legally owned in more states. In either case these will be beautiful, exotic knives with a historic European connection. It’s fun for me to recreate something, the likes of which, has not been seen for 3,000 years. This is the approach that I used with my Hovey’s Knives of China line of cooking knives which are based on ancient Chinese patterns, but made of modern steels in the United States.

Sorry, no photos of Luigi’s Sicel flame-bladed knife design or prototype can be released at this time.  

To find out more about the Father of The Grooms book, screenplay  and movie project go to https://fatherofthegrooms.net. To find out more about Hovey’s Knives of China go to: www.hoveysknivesofchinablog.co.                                                             

When Should A Writer Make a Foreign Trip?

  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a.-bar-vitelli-padrino-savoca.jpg

  This was one of the settings used in the Godfather movies that I may revisit in my book and movie

Foreign travel on an intercontinental scale is time consuming, tiring and expensive. Flight times from the U.S. to China can be 30 hours and 12-15 hours to most locations in Europe. Those living in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America and India also face many hours in an aircraft to reach destinations in Europe or the Americas.

     Most businessmen travel to seek new markets for what they make, attend trade conventions, arrange joint ventures or check out suppliers. They are on the clock traveling on their company’s behalf. Oftentimes such trips are assigned, and to refuse to go is to risk their jobs.

     For writers the choices are not so straight forward. The writer increasingly does not have an advance towards his book, and he is traveling at his own expense. The novel may be set in far-away places and in different eras. It is certainly far less expensive to write about a subject close to your geographic location or sometimes even create a fictional world of your own. Nonetheless, there are times when the novel is set in another location because of a particularly compelling story line.

     Take for example Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. This guy gets around. It is not too strange to find him not only in London, but in four or five other countries during a single book. These make for an exciting read and thrilling movie, but the safest approach for an average writer would be to confine his foreign adventures to places that he has gone before or knows about.

     My own book-in-progress, Father of The Grooms, has brief scenes in San Francisco, Baton Rouge and Washington D.C. in the U.S. There is also one brief incident in Iraq that will consume only a few pages of text, but the majority of the activities, and certainly the most interesting ones, take place in Sicily – a place that I had never been.

     The general story is that a Louisiana family of Sicilian origin has two young men of about 23 and 25 who have had considerable trouble maintaining relationships with women. One is recently divorced and the other thrown out of his live-in relationship with a lady in San Francisco. Dad decides that it is time to have some grandchildren and proposes that they do it the old-fashioned-way by using his family ties in Sicily to arrange a marriage with two nice Sicilian girls.

     Not fully realizing the seriousness of this arrangement, the two guys agree to go on a family vacation to Sicily to meet some interesting women and see their ancestral homeland. They arrive on Monday and find out that the wedding is to be on Friday. Their prospective brides have recently undergone the trauma of having a beloved cousin literally blown nearly in half in the most recent of a series of vendetta killings that had been going on between two families for over a century and augmented by the Mafia Wars of the 1990s. They want to get away from that cycle of bloodshed at any costs – even if it means marrying two American men that they have never met.

     Other interesting characters include Father Flanagan, an Irish priest sent to Sicily to hopefully bring some peace between the waring Mafia families and the two young men’s gay uncle who runs a hairdressing parlor with their sister.

     Miscommunications, misunderstandings and cultural conflicts abound in the plot as the wedding day approaches. It is made very clear that the arrangements have been made, more than 50,000 Euros spent, and if the wedding does not take place, none of the American part of the family are likely to leave Sicily alive for refusing to accept “two of the most beautiful flowers of the island,” as their brides.

     With this general story line it was absolutely necessary for me to go to Sicily to see the locations where the visiting Americans would be taken to become somewhat acquainted with their historic homeland, a dark cave on Mt. Etna where a certain ceremony was to take place, the out of the way location where the Mafia family wedding was to occur, and some of the historic sights they would see.

Could I write this book without going to Sicily?

     With on-line resources it would be possible to do research on the geography of the island, plot out their tour and perhaps pick out some major locations where segments of the plot could unfold. What I would have missed was information on Sicilian wedding customs, the street names where the brothers are going to be taken for their bachelor party, the location for a boar hunt that one of the brothers is going to participate in and information on the types of wine and food likely to be consumed.

     Being on the island helped me better visualize my characters, give me little vignettes and tell me things that I would likely never have discovered, like there are no Catholic schools in Sicily as we have here in the U.S., and that the caves on Mt. Etna were used to store snow for icing down drinks and making flavored ices during the Island’s hot summers.

     It would have been even more helpful had I been able to go during the Fall when our American family is to arrive, but I did have the opportunity to participate in a small town’s Saint festival complete with marching bands, throngs in the streets, etc. The narrow steep streets were so crowded that a person could hardly push their way through. Such a crowd would allow a couple to get purposefully lost to have a few minutes of private conversation away from their ever watchful hosts which will be useful in advancing the story at a critical point.

     Such trips are not inexpensive. My direct costs was about $5,000 including the air fare, my nine-day Secrets of Sicily tour with Dimensione Sicila and a two day stay-over to get to locations that were not covered on the tour. Especially helpful were my conversations with the tour guides, hotel personnel, waiters, etc. who spoke excellent English. Sicily is an economy that derives 30 percent of its income from tourism, so fluency in several languages is often a requirement for employment in the larger tourist hotels.

     In the book two of the places that our prospective grooms are going to be taken by their younger Sicilian cousins are to a whore house and a gay bar. Palermo is a port town, and as I told the young lady at the desk, who by this time knew exactly what I was doing, “There is one thing that sailors have always wanted when they come ashore. It has been so since ancient times and is still true today. I don’t want to embarrass you, and I had rather ask a guy, but there are none here.”

     She did not get my meaning, so I wrote “Whore house” down on a yellow pad. A slightly older woman who was listening in from a desk behind the counter did get the question and while the younger desk clerk told me that the houses were located on Lincoln Street near the port, the lady at the desk supplied me with the name of a gay bar that she had found on line. She also informed me that it would only be open after dark.

     Again, this is the sort of information that can only be obtained by actually visiting the location and interacting with the locals. I was not successful in everything. I discovered enough about an ancient style of Sicilian knife that is significant to my plot that I will be able to make a copy out of modern steels in my forge here in Georgia. I even found some decorative elements from some of the very early inhabitants of the island that would work on the hilt. My copy of this knife will not be an exact replica, but will be a usable, effective knife with identifiable design elements that relate to that culture.

     You can follow my efforts on this novel, screenplay and movie at https://fatherofthegrooms.com and even participate in the completion of the novel, screenplay and movie. The novel will be completed in a year, the screenplay the following year and hopefully the movie started the next.  

Should you take a fact-finding trip to support your book?

     As always, it depends. If your book has major sections set in another country, you should very likely go there if you want your book to get reasonable reviews. One thing that reviewers will harp on is any inconsistencies in facts in regards to the location and the supposed activities of your fictional characters. You can have them do anything that you can imagine to foster the story and plot, but it adds considerable authenticity to the work if you can bring out unexpected things and events that a person would not know, unless they had been to the location.           

Join The Collaborative Effort for a Novel, Screenplay, and Movie

Photo by Tour Operator Dimensione Sicilia who offers a variety of tours on the island that start from Palermo.

You can receive chapters of Father of the Grooms as it is written and a chance to collaborate in the four-year project of writing the screenplay and producing the movie. This is an opportunity for you to help make the next Godfather-type movie at all levels of participation. I will need help in writing an authentic book, and you can be a part of it by supplying your experiences, stories, and knowledge about the places and events that I describe.

The novel describes how a Louisiana father whose sons have yet to have grandchildren makes them agree to go to Sicily where they will meet their new brides. They will be hosted by their Mafia relatives and married off to two beautiful, and for their own reasons, willing ladies. The week before they leave, two major members of the Mafia family in Sicily are arrested. They are told to come anyway. The father his wife, the two sons, their sister and gay uncle make the trip and are shown the family’s vineyards, estates and the sights of their never-before-seen native land. Their activities are shadowed by the FBI and Italian authorities. They arrive on Monday, and the wedding is on Thursday. The brothers get cold feet and want out, and ask their uncle to help. He hatches a plot with the transplanted Irish priest who is to perform the ceremony to have the girls call off the wedding. The plot fails, and the wedding is still on. If they do not go through with it, none of them will leave Sicily alive. The day arrives, they are brought to the church, but in the final resolution of the novel they manage to escape in a manner that does not put them under a death threat.

This will be a panoramic novel that will mainly feature Sicily, but will have significant segments in Louisiana, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Rome and Iraq. I will be making a trip to Sicily in May to gather materials and shortly after will began the book. Participants will receive the first publication copies of the book when it is printed in addition to the chapters as they are written. Depending on your level of skill and interest, there may be opportunities to assist in the movie’s production or appear in the film.

Credits will be given in the book and movie for those who participated. Provided that the script is funded and produced, there may be a small cash payment to those who participate in the movie’s production.

Book Chapters

Book Chapters, periodic updates and information request will be sent to participants. This is my 19th book, so I know how to get this done. You will get your chapters on approximately a monthly basis. These are some of my current titles on Amazon.com.

$20.00

First Draft of Father of the Grooms Completed!

Sign to receive chapters of the new novel, Father of the Grooms, as it is written and have the opportunity to collaborate in the production of the book, screenplay and movie as they are produced. You may participate in this project by providing information and if you have the skills, helping to act in or produce the movie by using the contact block below.

After months of thrashing through my Father of the Grooms book project, it gave me an immense degree of satisfaction when I wrote the words “The End” finally, at long last, on the page. My novel has grown from one word to 325,000 words, which is well and good, but the book is still a long way from being completed to publication standards.

Yet to be done is the sometimes maddening job of going through the entire manuscript word by word and punctuation mark by mark along with items like making sure the characters are consistently referred to throughout the novel and that the elements of the plot and subplots are properly resolved. I do not want a reader who may have self-identified with one of my characters to suddenly discover that his character has somehow disappeared between the pages and is never heard from again.

I best do such reviews by printing out a copy of the manuscript and going through it by reading it line by line while running a straight-edge down the page. This is a slow way to read, but that is exactly the point. This method makes me look at every word, and not only that discover the missing words that should have, but did not, appear in the sentence. Such careful reading also allows a more careful look at the many English homonyms to make sure words like “sense vs. since ” appear in their proper context.

This stage is also typically when footnotes are added which are first positioned where they need to be at the ends of chapters or at the bottom of the pages. Having them at the end is certainly the easiest way to handle them from a mechanical point of view, and these days are the more common way that footnotes are published. Although footnotes loose something of their immediacy of having them at the bottom of a page, as it makes readers turn to the end of the chapter to discover more details about a topic that may have provoked their interest. Increasingly, these are on-line references or perhaps one of my own books or videos.

Once the First Draft corrections are made in the manuscript, I plan to take the unusual step of publishing a First Draft edition of the book as an e-book title. Such a publication will provide several advantages: 1. The draft edition will provide a platform from which to derive a screenplay. 2. This unusual publication will put an inexpensive first-draft novel on the market that can be used as a teaching aid in a novel-writing course, without having the students write their own books, and during editing them during the following semester as is commonly done. Using my First Draft book allow instructors the much easier task of everyone working on one book, rather than on a entire class’ creative compositions. 3. Feedback from readers will allow corrections to scenes and episodes in the book to more nearly reflect real-life places and events.

In approximately two months I expect to have the First Draft Edition of Father of the Grooms available on Amazon.com as an inexpensive e-book. Anyone who makes a significant contribution in upgrading the book to publication-ready status will receive a credit in the book.