“When the California wine industry clashes with the California Mafia, Sarina is caught between her boss, her husband, and her conscience. When an intriguing Russian wine collector complicates her life, and Sarina is betrayed, she decides to do it her way and take no prisoners, in this sexy, balls to the wall thriller.”
Lynn Hightower, author of The Piper, Even in Darkness, and Flashpoint, blurbed my thriller. No greater compliment can I enjoy than having a published author comment like this about something I wrote.
This thriller about a Sicilian Mafia don’s wife, Sarina Donato, from Calabria in Southern Italy, had many beginnings. It didn’t get written in a day. Besides that, I’d written it for many reasons.
I wanted to capture something new about old world customs, connections and business practices that came to America from Sicily and combined it with current business practices of the more powerful Italian Mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta. This was corroborated by a recent in-depth T.V. feature news item aired on Al Jazeera titled “The most powerful mafia you’ve never heard of. (February 26, 2015)” The Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta was the Mafia group, headed by the infamous Calabrian Don Luciano, who sponsored Sarina’s family in America. Sarina and Nick (her Sicilian husband) became the perfect source for the infighting between the older Cosa Nostra, and the newer ‘Ndrangheta members.
While The Godfather series had already been written, the question was how could my Mafia story differ, yet build on the richness, pace and action of these fascinating continent-hopping Mafiosi? Mafia stories are still popular as The Godfather’s director Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, Robert DiNiro and Joe Pesci plan to produce a new mob movie in 2016.
As I was first learning how to write fiction through the UCLA Writer’s Program, to create characters, describe setting, write dialogue, write scene plans and develop plot, create fast paced action, the most important idea about what I’ve done did not appear until the second gun shooting. A thriller must have violence. It must have language and it must have sex. It has to move fast.
My main woman Sarina Donato shot at several people several times, including someone she loved. Her actions weren’t easy decisions, nor were they planned. What happened then was something new in American Mafia clichés. She became the Don.
But, it was not new in Italian or Calabrian Mafia families. How did I know that? I’m an avid collector of newspaper articles about topics that interest me. I ripped headlines from several newspaper articles that I had pinned on my white foam core boards in my office to prove it. In the hotbed of Italian Mafia cities, Palermo, Naples and in Calabria, a woman commonly took over her husband’s responsibilities and handled the pistol or shotgun with ease while her Mafia Don husband was in prison. Why not create an American female Mafia don? Why not?
My background was perfect for writing this story. I married into a Sicilian family whose connections and old world customs and business practices came with them to America, first Boston and then Southern California, in the wine grape shipping business harvesting vineyards in the Cucamonga Valley. But, I knew too much. I worked in the business part-time once a year doing payroll for the pickers at harvest time. So, I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty, and then I used what I knew in my fiction.
Just to have a thriller about the wine grape business was not enough. I had to find another hook for the reader. And, when I did, I had NASA to thank because it was NASA’s satellite cameras that discovered that the Napa Sonoma vineyards were dying. Not because of loss of water, but because the phylloxera insect was eating the grapevine’s roots and pesticide was not the answer. It had happened before in Europe and American grafted rootstock saved the day so that European grapevines could be replanted and thrive again. Again I ripped headlines from news articles and also found out that it also happened to Napa and Sonoma in the mid-twentieth century. This was a palpable threat and for the billion dollar wine industry in the U.S., I could work it.
But, I also needed human threats, characters whose treachery and betrayal of others in combination with the ecological threat made a complex story of passion and purpose. Sarina started out when she arrived at her boss’s home at his request to find something she never wanted to find, and the story began.
When I found a real high-end wine collector in the news who was celebrated way too much, I found a model for my Russian wine collector who complicated Sarina’s life. He was irresistible to her. He became her mentor in wine tasting, sharp shooting and love.
With all my characters in place, oh, I forgot. Sarina’s mother, Sophia, arrived in California from Calabria to get a second opinion on an autopsy report of Sarina’s father’s death certificate. She didn’t trust the Italian medical examiners. I wonder why. Amanda Knox wasn’t going to be the only person wronged by Italian bureaucracies.
And, so the thriller The Don’s Wife showed that the real conflict for a woman like Sarina was whether she’d keep her power, but risk losing her conscience.
That’s why I’m looking for the right agent who falls in love with The Don’s Wife to help me get out her story.