Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Detail With Russell A Vassallo

1. Tell us the book title and your author name.

The book title is Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs and it was written by Russell A. Vassallo.

2. What inspired the book?

My early days in Newark, NJ were filled with mobsters and tough guys. By the time I was twenty I had almost been killed twice in mob-related incidents. After recounting these stories to my wife as a routine part of living in Newark, she convinced me that they were anything but routine and should be captured in a novel. Hence, Streetwise is a memoir of my connections with the Mafia and my grandfather’s affiliation with that organization.

3. What makes this book special to you?

For one thing it recalls a lot of my younger days in Newark NJ and the colorful people I was privileged to know. For another it reminds me of how lucky I am to be age seventy-four and able to write. When I was sixteen a drunken man lined me up against the wall because I had been tossing firecrackers in the air. He thought I was shooting at him.

4. What makes this a book that other people MUST read and WHY?

Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs is a totally different kind of Mafia book. Most books of this genre focus on the violence of the Mafia and the business end while my book delves into the characters and personalities of the men who shared that occupation. The Mafia didn’t always succeed at what it did and when it failed the results were usually humorous. For example, the hijacking of a truck that was supposed to be loaded with expensive furs and turned out to be filled with slaughtered beef.

It is a personal recounting of my experiences within a Mafia-connected family and the power that came with that connection. It is also a personal recollection of how dangerous such an association can be. Reviewers tell me it’s a one-of-a-kind-book.

5.What people NEED to read this book and WHY?

Streetwise is a book for general audiences. I would think that women who like biography would enjoy this book even though it’s a male-oriented book. One chapter deals with my efforts to save a young prostitute from a life of drugs and orgies and the resultant warning from the local Don when I interfered in his business.

Men especially would enjoy this book. It’s a power book. In a sense its an adult book, but today, adult can mean many things. Generally any audience that has mature reading interest will be fascinated by what I have to say… by what I have experienced.

6. What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Even when I am far from a typewriter I am writing. The thoughts flood into my mind no matter where I am and often, something I see reminds me of a past experience and I go back in time. I told my wife recently that once I get the first and last lines, the remainder of the story is already written. I tend to write in a straight line because I am dealing with personal experiences.

This was the case with Streetwise. I was reading a book that mentioned the legal execution of a man who had murdered a local gambler in my neighborhood and I mentioned to my wife that I was less than six feet away when that occurred. She slapped me on the arm and said: “When are you going to start writing?” That night I did.

Tips for sparking creativity? Write that first line. Sleep on it. Ask yourself what if… And let your character dictate the story to you because you know him, know what he will do, know how he will interact with other characters. Let your character take you to a point and then employ the fork-in-the-road approach. What if this happened, but what would happen if the other thing happened. Struggle for that tantalizing first sentence and finish leaving the reader wanting more.

7. What do you think motivates people to become authors? What motivated you to0 get into this unusual industry?

Certainly not the money. Writing is probably one of the lowest paying professions out there. No, I think people become authors for a number of reasons. They need to express themselves. They need recognition from others? They want to feel their lives have been worthwhile and should be preserved somehow. They like the feeling of having accomplished something. I know when I won my awards for my first two books I was filled with tremendous pride that I had proven I could write.

8. Tell me about the most unusual thing you have done to promote any books?

About the only thing I haven’t done is go door-to-door and I don’t intend doing that. I do have a friend who did. Our routine is pretty usual. We talk about our books wherever we go. We speak at various organizations. We entice bookstores with profit potential. But I don’t think we’re doing anything more than what we have read about in promotion-type books.

9. Why are you the BEST person to write this book? What is your background or in your research makes you qualified to do justice to this topic?

There is no one better to write this book because I lived each and every day of it. It was my family that was involved in Mafia activities and it was me who witnessed some of the events that unfolded.

10. If a potential reader thinks that your book wouldn’t interest them, what would you say to convince them to buy?

I’d tell them that it’s not just another Mafia book and that it recounts personal experiences within the organization that I personally witnessed. People are enamored to know that I was part of a dreaded organization, even if only9 on the fringes. And I would tell them that it’s a book written from personal experience. No fluff.

11. Why does the topic of your book interest you? Why would it interest potential readers?

For one thing it involves my past days among people I loved and who I saw in a very different way than the law viewed them. So my interest is born of family ties and the power that came with being family-connected. It would be of particular interest to people because they’d finally have met someone who was part of a feared organization and survived to tell the tale.

12. Is there a way to tie your book topic to current events?

Everyone believes the Mafia is dead and gone and that the federal government ended it with convictions in the Pizza Connection. The fact is that the prosecution of the Italian Mafia splintered the criminal world into a number of Mafia organizations that are much more ruthless than the Sicilian Mafia ever was. There is now a Mexican, a Chinese, a Russian, an Irish, a Dominican Mafia as well as others. Where once the Italian Mafia had rules that excluded civilians and political figures from being targeted, the other Mafias are actually savage. They have no compunction about executing innocent bystanders or political figures. There is a host of unsolved murders of judicial and law enforcement officials that in all probability trace to one of these Mafia groups.

Few will deny that with the absence of the Mafia from Las Vegas, the city has taken a decided turn downward. Gangs now roam the streets. Drunks and the homeless lay in gutters not far from glittering palaces. Con men abound. None of this occurred when the Sicilian mafia controlled Las Vegas. Crime abounds in a town where the Mafia once get order. Law enforcement is unable to accomplish the same rule of law because their hands are tied by civil rights organizations and the so-called liberal weeping willows of the criminal world.

My book is tied to every episode of mob violence that occurs on an almost daily basis.