Donny Lentini is a talented young man hungry for his mother’s love. To please her, he becomes guardian angel to his mob-wannabe father. When the father is murdered and found with his hands hacked off, Donny is dealt a set of cards in a game called vengeance. The pot is stacked high with chips; the ante, his soul and the lives of loved-ones.
With the help of friends—ex-con, defrocked Jesuit Bill Conlon along with former high-school nemesis, Antwyne Claxton—he digs for whether the murder had anything to do with the mob’s lust for a real estate parcel owned by the family of Donny’s lover. He’s new at this game. He doesn’t cheat, but plays his cards well.
And he gets what he wants.
I slid my foot over to touch Dad’s. I had promised Mother I’d look after him.
“Is this about the money you lost at the table?” I said. “Should we play a few more hands?”
German pounded his fist on the desk. “Don’t try to second-guess me, you punk! You’ll talk when I say, got it?”
I kept my eyes fixed on German’s. Six…seven…eight…
Dad reached over and put his hand on mine. “I didn’t lose the cleaners,” he said. A bead of sweat meandered toward his jaw. “The union was working on ’em going back three years now. It was already a done deal by the time I got there.”
“Whatever,” German said. “Just don’t let it happen anymore. And tell Donny here to mind his manners or you’ll be back driving a truck.”
The baseball bat leaning in a corner near German’s desk was an exclamation point that punctuated his directives. If it ever came down to that, I’d slash his throat with a rusty knife. Yet I still had to walk a tightrope. Dad would have preferred the bat to the demotion. Dad was a climber and German his future.
German picked up a couple of coded folders and put them into a filing cabinet, slamming the drawer down its rails like a runaway train. “Oh, and Joojy wants to see you. I don’t know about what.”
“What about?” Dad said. “You don’t hear? I said I don’t know! Maybe that thing. Now get outta here, both yiz. I got to take my daughter to ballet.”
Lanny Larcinese will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN Giftcard to a randomly drawn winner during the tour.
Guest Post By Author: Writing What You Know
People know more than they think they know. “Write what you know,” is often
interpreted, especially by writing aspirants, as being restricted to what they have directly
experienced. So am I qualified to write about street gang warfare when I’ve never been off the farm? Short answer: yes; longer answer: hell yes. I may not know it now, but can learn it through a combination of research and imagination.
Much human experience is shared and not specific to time, place, or circumstance. While I
may never have been privy to street gang warfare, I can nevertheless understand struggle,
competition for space, the need to control. Staying with my farm analogy, don’t I see those kinds of things among a litter of nursing puppies, a birthing cow, a fox stalking the chicken coop? So yes, “knowing” is enhanced by research, but research should also include an inventory of the world we inhabit as well as vision of its universal commonalities.
Writers of all stripes are often asked how we create fictional characters reflecting the
vagaries of human existence, many of which we may or may not share, such as strong vs
vulnerable, smart or naïve, as well as all the tics, values, mannerisms and appearance of those
who populate our stories.
Many writers initially conceive a plot or plot circumstance then create characters in
service of it. I do the opposite. I begin with a character that has an acute need, imbue him with strengths and/or weaknesses, and a backstory. Only then do I develop plot events designed to bring out those characteristics. Mystery and tension are not only whodunit, but whydunnit—or can be a yearning; a journey toward redemption or whether it is attained or insurmountable; or whether sabotaged along the way. A beginning writer has enough human experience to write such a story.
A seven-year old knows events and experiences surrounding the disappearance of
his crayons, and a sixteen-year old understands the thoughts and feelings of not getting a date. The common features of those experiences shared by most are mystery, frustration, anger, loss, etc. Then there is place, i.e., where the crime or story action giving rise to the mystery occurs—city or country, house or street, mountains or desert. As a lifelong urban guy, I know cities. I know the urban landscape. My stories take place in cities and often the city becomes a character of sorts: “I guess South Philly was like that and always like that: look right, juke left.”
Zermatt, Switzerland, a picturesque ski resort in the shadow of the Matterhorn, is not to be
confused with humid, sweaty New Orleans or the suffocating encroachment of people in a
tenement. And if the writer doesn’t personally know the locale but deems it important to the story, they may go visit it. I did just that for my work in progress, Fire in the Belly, based on the MOVE cult conflagration in 1985 Philadelphia in which the police dropped a bomb on a row house killing fourteen and burning sixty-two houses to the ground.
I did profuse research about the event, much of which included physical descriptions of the layout. But the site had features unusual for the typical Philadelphia row house street, i.e., a rear alleyway with a different elevation from the front sidewalk levels. It was a critical feature of the event, and therefore my story, and once I saw it directly, so much more made sense. But for all its descriptions in various records I researched, a personal visit to the site proved invaluable.
For me that was an easy drive; for writers putting their stories in unfamiliar locales, it
often entails a visit. Google Maps only gets you so far. Familiarity with place is crucial for
verisimilitude. The story must be anchored in both place and time, and a gunshot on an Amish farm sounds different from a gunshot on the South Side of Chicago. And while Google Earth may show the streetscape, it doesn’t show street life.
So writers may start out ignorant of many aspects of the story they intend to tell.
Thankfully we have Google, Wikipedia, libraries, city halls, county and church records, police data bases, myriad online sources, and even Facebook posts: “Dear Writing Tribe: Has anybody ever been to Yosemite in winter?” Mystery writers, especially us hard-boiled crime types, joke about risk if our Google searches are discovered: how many sticks of dynamite will blow up a Buick; how long does it take a body to decompose in a bog; who’s the capo in Newark; will a shiv to L4-5 cause paralysis, etc.
In short, Google is our friend; it’s hard to imagine how writers ever survived without it.
Yes, novice writer, write what you know, yet be aware you know a lot—not buried deep
inside but readily accessible if you survey your everyday thoughts and feelings. Imagine how
others, in other times and places probably thought and felt the same way even though the
stimulus may have been different. When you put common experience into a story, your reader’s mind will meld with yours. It’s every writer’s mission.
About the Author
Lanny Larcinese ‘s short work has appeared in magazines and has won a handful of local prizes. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s a native mid-westerner transplanted to the City of Brotherly Love where he has been writing fiction for seven years.
When not writing, he lets his daughter, Amanda, charm him out of his socks, and works at impressing Jackie, his long-time companion who keeps him honest and laughing—in addition to being his first-line writing critic. He also spends more time than he should on Facebook but feels suitably guilty for it.
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Amazon | Goodreads
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