Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Out of the Cupboard and Onto the Burner

The next book you write will be published, under whatever name you choose (yours, or a nom de plume). What will you write? Why?

-From Frank

What a great question. Such a great question deserves two answers, don't you think?

I say that because there really are two answers. Two in the cupboard projects that are forcing their way to the counter and the back burner, with an eye on that desired front burner.

The first is a fantasy novel. I grew up reading fantasy. I've always wanted to delve into that genre, and I'm slowly inching toward that goal. I've written a short story that was published in an anthology last year, and that story is essential chapter one of the first part/book of this fantasy novel. I've even commissioned some art work from the talented Zach McCain, who drew the five major characters for me (you can see the rest of his work and learn a little more here (though it is fairly bare bones at the moment). 

The project I want to share with you, though, is something entirely different - a family saga

The idea formed in 2013 when my wife and I went on a month-long trip to Italy with my parents. My family on the paternal side hails from there, thanks to my great-grandfather, Saverio. I learned a lot about him during that time, as my dad shared stories of his crazy journey from Calabria to America. I started thinking about how his adventure would only require a little adaptation to make for compelling fiction. 

I mean, the guy left a wife and kids in Italy to go to South America to make enough money to bring his family to America (not the typical way to do it). He fought in barely legal bare knuckle bouts to earn extra cash. Tragically, his wife and their children died of disease while he was away. He returned home, eventually marrying his wife's sister and starting a second family. This time, when he left them, he was able to earn enough to bring them to this country, and that is how my family's story in America began. He became a grocer in Richmond, California, eventually owning his own store.

What I also learned was that his son (my grandfather) not only hated working at the store, but also wasn't too keen on embracing his Italian heritage. Like a lot of first generation immigrants during that time period, he aggressively assimilated to American culture. My dad said this caused some friction between the two.

Friction between fathers and sons? What a rare thing, huh? It's not like Bruce Springsteen ever wrote a dozen songs about this or anything...

Over the course of that month in Italy, the idea of a fictional, generational family saga coalesced in my mind. One that starts with a character very loosely based on my great-grandfather, with the rest of the characters wholly fictional. The story would be about the different journeys each generation took, but the focus would be on father-son relationships (although lately, I've been thinking the most recent generation's representative should be a daughter, for a variety of reasons). All of this happens against the backdrop of social and generational changes during the time period. Sound nebulous? Well, imagine this:

  • an early-20th century Italian immigrant shopkeeper...
  • followed by a first generation son who experiences the Great Depression and serves in WWII... 
  • followed by a son who comes of age in the Vietnam era (and who either refuses to serve or becomes opposed to the war after serving)...
  • followed by a son/daughter in the 90s-ish who goes into law enforcement... 
  • followed at last by someone at the end of the book who's nature and path not yet defined.

In addition to the normal points of conflict that exist between fathers and sons, many of these historical events both shape these characters and their separate reactions create another nexus for additional conflict between them. However, as my father took great pains to point out to me as we discussed this book in Italia, even when a parent and child are estranged, there is still a bond and a love there.

In terms of format, the story will be told in one volume, but divided into four novellas (as well as a short prologue and epilogue featuring that fifth generation child). Each novella has a single character's point-of-view (third person) for that time period, before moving onto the next generation in the following novella. Thus, the reader will see the main characters first from their own perspective, and then from that of their child and/or grandchild.

Because this is more mainstream and not crime fiction (although I won't be able to resist having crime elements in some of the events within...), and because it is an homage to my own family's history, I'll write it under my real name, Frank Scalise (yes, if you're unaware, Frank Zafiro is actually my pen name for crime fiction!). It's not the first thing I've written under my own name.

The folder and notes for this project all bear the working title For Honor, Four Sons, which is more description than title. While honor is a theme - how each character/generation defines it and tries to abide by it - this won't do as an actual eventual title. So if the coolest title in the world occurs to you, let me know. I'll put you in the acknowledgements and name a (good) character after you!

Where's this book now? Well, the fantasy project I mentioned has wormed its way out onto the counter or maybe even to a back burner that is warming up. This one, alas, still sits in the cupboard, where I occasionally look at it longingly. Part of that is due to another element to this book that differs from a lot of what I write - this one will require far more research in terms of historical content. I look forward to that process (I was a history major, after all), but it is a time commitment, too. That means I'll need to really shift gears and lean into this one when the time comes. For that reason, I do have a feeling that it is one of those projects that when it gets pulled out, will go straight to the front burner.

And then this family saga will be the title I am blatantly self-promoting to you....


Did Someone Say Blatant Self-Promotion? 

Oh, that was me. 

Well, guess what? 

My latest book is In the Cut, the second in my SpoCompton series, from Down and Out Books. You can read about it if you click the link.


Susan C Shea said...

Hah! So you already have a pen name and that's how we know you. Rhys Bowen is so well known by hers that when her husband calls her by her first name, I always do a double take.

Frank Zafiro said...