On Happiness, and SPELLS AND OREGANO …

I have one more draft of this manuscript to complete–the final edits before the copy edits.  People who don’t write novels probably assume that everything on the pages is made up because it is after all, fiction.

But the reality is that if a writer is too lazy to do research, what he ends up with is a story that pulls a reader out of the world he’s created to say, “That doesn’t make sense.” Even when you’ve created a world that includes spirits like this one does, which many would argue don’t exist, there has to be a consistency in how those spirits operate. In Cooking for Ghosts, for example, the spirits look as alive as you and I. In Spells and Oregano there is one spirit who does not. But there’s a reason.

When it comes to other elements of one’s story you have to call in the experts. With Cooking for Ghosts, one of the best tidbits of information I received was from a businessman who told me I was using the wrong kind of private plane for an international flight. These are soupçons of information that can make or break your readers’ appreciation of what you’ve written, their willingness to suspend disbelief. That’s why I thought it would be fun to list some of the questions that came up and the research I did to give the atmosphere of the story an air of verisimilitude. It’s also one way to give a shout out to the people who willingly and patiently talked to me about things I knew nothing about. Here we go:

What would one wear to an Art Deco Ball?
What kind of tubs are in the deluxe suites aboard the Queen Mary? How long would it take for one of those bathtubs to fill?
How can you knock someone unconscious without killing them? (In real life, not in cartoons)
Can a patrol officer shoot a gun out of someone’s hand?
When do you need a plastic surgeon for a cut on your face if you want to minimize scarring?
What are some of the challenges of running an exclusive restaurant? Are the cordon bleu chefs truly as temperamental as they are portrayed in films?
What are the best kind of cherries to use for Brandied Cherry Tarts?
How long does one remain a detective on a police force?
What does a body look like after drowning
What kind of guns do police officers carry?
What was a standard issue weapon for Navy Seals back in the 1970s?
What kind of oregano do Italian chefs like best?
Where would a young couple go on a date in Long Beach in the year 2014?

I also talked with:
Someone who is fluent in the Sicilian dialect of the region from which my characters’ family originated
The head of the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, who graciously gave me insight as to what it’s like to be a gay man in one’s thirties.
Vietnam Vets and people who work at Veterans hospitals. ( We should all know what I learned. If we did, we’d never have another war)
Queen Mary aficionados who gave me information on everything from what I would have to do to move a body around the ship without being seen, where my characters would go for a rendezvous, what was that funny looking thing I saw in a photo of the Sun Deck, and can you sit on it? What was the name of the room where the historical videos are shown?

I’m compiling everyone’s names to be listed in the GREAT BIG THANK YOU page in the novel

I also did online research on many topics: what band was playing at the 2014 Tenth Annual Ball aboard the Mary, who wrote the song, “Somewhere at Sea” the official song for her launch, what songs were most popular during the Big Band era, who made the fifteen-foot-long anniversary cake (which was a replica of the ship) and much more.

As you can see, I have a lot of fun with this. I meet the most amazing people and learn the most astonishing things, which have all taught me not to take anything that anyone does for a living for granted. The most thrilling interview I had was with David Copperfield. I’ve always been interested in magic, and Mr. Copperfield is one of the most talented and gracious of all. Everything you read in the story about magic comes either from something he told me, or something I found when doing research on him and his work. I owe him a debt of gratitude for the time he took talking with me, and for being such an amazing talent whose work has been documented in hundreds of YouTube videos.

It’s surprising how few lines any number of the things listed above actually have in the novel, but a writer needs to keep certain things in mind when creating a genuine atmosphere.

The most fun was the revisit to my childhood, because for the first time, a number of my characters are Italian Americans. The commentary they make is all stuff I heard and experienced, including how wonderful are the Italian ices at Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn. (They SO are)
Spells and Oregano is not about any of these things, however. It takes place on the Queen Mary, because the ship is a beautiful setting and a remarkable piece of human history and art, and I fell in love with it, as have so many others. But in actuality, the novel is about one’s willingness to be happy, and how hard that choice can sometimes be. For most of us who are not suffering with clinical depression, happiness is a choice. Or not. You would be astonished how many choose to be unhappy regardless of how good their life circumstances are, and how many others make the choice to be happy even when faced with dire challenges. There are people who will always dig for treasure among the rubble, no matter how deep they must go, and others who will never see the treasure hidden only by a thin covering of silt. In Spells and Oregano, you’ll meet both of those types of people, and whole lot of others in between.

I’m nervous about putting this one out into the world, because it’s a sequel to Cooking for Ghosts, and that novel has so far been very well-received. An author’s concern is always that the second book is compared to the first and falls short in a reader’s heart. There’s also the time element. I worked on Cooking for Ghosts for several years, whereas I had a limited time to complete Spells and Oregano. What I hope is that people who give up the hours that it takes to read it will feel those hours were well spent.But there is a long list of people whose willingness to share their expertise with me made them my friends, and I appreciate them beyond measure. If you would like to read an excerpt from both novels, they can be found at the link below. Thank you for reading:


Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.