Land of Ice and Snow, Smoggy Steeltown, and the Italian Mob
How to Write Mob Comedies in your own Home Town, and not get Taken Out by the Family
by Melodie Campbell
It all closed in on me at the launch of THE GODDAUGHTER mob caper in Hamilton. Eighty-five people stood waiting.
The local television station had cameras in my face. So far, it had been an easy interview focused on my awards and comedy career. The fellow was charming. I liked him a lot. Then he dropped the bomb.
“So…have you ever met a member of the mob?”
I didn’t like him so much anymore.
Yikes! Hesitation. A lot of feet shuffling.
“Yes.” I said, very precisely. So precisely, that everyone in the room laughed nervously. “In fact, I had to wait until certain members of my family died before getting this book published. ‘Nuf said.”
The ‘nuf said’ was the closure. He got it. Being a smart lad, he even let it drop.
Because frankly, I was speaking the truth. I did wait until certain people died. Some of them were in Sicily, but more were in Canada. Some even died from natural causes. (“He died cleaning his rifle” was an unfortunate family expression, meaning something entirely different, if you get my drift.)
This made me think about how close you want to get in a book to real life.
As writers, we research a hell of a lot. Of course, I did research for The Goddaughter series. Some of the study was pretty close to home, as I riffed on memories from my childhood.
My first memory is of a family reunion at a remote farmhouse in Southern Ontario. I was not quite three, and tears were streaming down my face. Big scary uncles picked me up. They tried to console me by speaking softly. But I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking in Italian, or more specifically, Sicilian.
Those were the days of Brio and cannoli after mass on Sunday mornings. And gossip about other relatives, one of whom was a famous boxer. My aunt’s friend, the singer (one of a trio of sisters) who could not escape the clutches of a mob underboss in the States; he wouldn’t let her go. I remember the aunts clamming up about this, when I ventured into the room looking for Mom.
I was a darling of the family, with dark curly hair and big evergreen eyes. Later, when I grew up curvy and was tall enough to model, they doted on me. So my memories of growing up in such a family are decidedly warped.
They were warm and loving. Very witty. Loads of fun. And massively protective.
In the screwball comedy THE GODDAUGHTER REVENGE, you will find a mob family that is funny and rather delightful. Gina loves them, but hates the business. She is always trying to put it behind her, and somehow gets sucked back in to bail them out. I wanted to show that ambivalence. You are supposed to love your family and support them. But what if your family is this one?
How close is too close to home? I do cut pretty close in describing Hamilton. The streets are real. The names of the neighbourhoods are real. I even describe the location of the restaurant where the mob (in my books) hangs out. I changed the name, of course, because the last thing I want is readers thinking this hot resto is really a mob hangout. And besides, it’s fun when fans email me to say, “When they all meet at La Paloma, did you really mean XXX?” Readers feel they’ve been part of an in-joke.
THE GODDAUGHTER series is meant to be laugh-out-loud funny. But there is an adage that states: Comedy is tragedy barely averted.
No kidding. I’ve been writing comedy all my adult life.
The Toronto Sun called her Canada's "Queen of Comedy." Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich. Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. www.melodiecampbell.com