Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The flower bed … She told me so … The Great White Hunter … The Mad Ones … Auditions … The birthday boy …


The flower bed ... The boss was out from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday creating her flowerbed … listen to me, this was work … her back was sore, but she was out again Sunday putting on some finishing touches. It’s a pretty little garden alright and the neighbors seem to approve, but because my room (the front room) faces the worksite, I was feeling too guilty to watch. I ducked out and headed to the gym instead and tried to double-up a workout (squats and bench) so I’d be free to torture DOC (pain free) at his Sunday barbecue. I even thought of taking Spartacus along for the ride, but DOC is an award winning rifleman and Spartacus has put on a few pounds (making him perhaps too easy a target for the rifleman). Now that we have sod and flowers, the walk leading to the house is a bit outdated and crooked (it looks like there’s been an earthquake or two), but I’m sure the Principessa will figure out how to spend another few grand updating that scenic sore spot with yet another architectural wonder.

Oy Vey.

She told me so ... about that idea to double-up on squats and the bench press on the same day ... the boss has insisted I’d get a brain aneurism sooner or later from weightlifting but I’ve always been able to reassure her that that would require I have a brain to start with. Then I headed off to the gym (so the neighbors didn’t assume I was hiding behind the shades in the front room, which is what I usually do when she’s out there plowing what has become the casa Stella farm). Somewhere between the warm-up squats and the heavy ones something went wrong … which I didn’t realize until I tried to get back out of the car upon returning home. Either I blew out my right knee or I bruised something real bad (not to mention the hangnail on one of my chubby toes). It (the knee) hurts and so does the hangnail. So Saturday night while I tried to find a position in bed that wasn’t pure torture, the wife uttered those always inspiring words: “I don’t want to say it …”

“So don’t,” I said.

Then she said it anyway.

The Great White Hunter ... it was a barbecue at DOC’s joint and after our GPS took us on a tour of Newark, we arrived just in time for the war stories. I thought I’d heard it all until DOC showed me the baby claymores (i.e., mines) he’d set throughout his yard and around the pool. I would’ve thought they were just for show until every so often, between bites of pasta and sips of suds, there’d be a little firecracker-like sound and a small puff of smoke and sure enough, a mouse had met its maker. DOC said his best tally to date was the two, two and two he nailed on successive days in kitchen mouse traps, but “the baby claymores are so much more fun.”

When someone suggested he use the glue traps, the great white hunter shook his hands and said, “Ew, then you gotta see them squirming and everything.”

Lately DOC’s had a squirrel visit the attic directly about his bedroom and it has been causing his lovely wife, Sahara, some sleep. After showing me how the little devil made its way across his roof to the attic, DOC showed me how he intended to handle that particular problem, with a homemade SAM (surface-to-air missile).

“I hope to catch him when he jumps from the electric line to the roof,” DOC said.

“Check, please,” I said.

The Mad Ones ... Tom Folson, a writer, director and producer of television documentaries for A&E and Showtime, has written a compelling bio of (subtitle) Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld. It’s written in the staccato style I favor and is loaded with some interesting tidbits about the Gallo brothers (Larry, Joe and Kid Blast) and the celebrity/angst they experienced during the height of the mob’s power in New York. The book revolves around “Crazy” Joe Gallo, the Tommy Udo-looking middle brother, whose mob resume was something first brought to Hollywood through Jimmy Breslin’s The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, an offensive (to the Gallo brothers and other discerning wannabes) depiction of the wild crew from Red Hook, Brooklyn (in which actor Jerry Orbach portrayed Joe like a buffoon—a role that almost kneecapped the great actor, but would eventually lead to a genuine lifelong friendship with Crazy Joe. Hollywood would take another stab at some of the Gallo mob history with several scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (adapted from the novel by Mario Puzo). The Mad Ones portrays Joe Gallo as something more than just another thug (although that’s a tough one to swallow based on his actions, reputation and what landed him in jail), but Gallo did read Camus, Sartre and a lot of beat generation literature. He also wrote poetry, took up painting and was about to write a book. Joe Gallo was fearless and wily, but too often paranoid to the point of self-destruction. The Mad Ones is a quick study, but a good one. Folson doesn’t make excuses for the Gallo brothers, but he does point out some of the hypocrisies of New York politicians and how they sometimes welcomed the efforts of the Gallo brothers in calming the mean streets of New York (the same mean streets they would engage in a decade long war with the Profaci (later Colombo) family and the people who set up Larry Gallo for an attempted garroting (made famous in The Godfather when the Frank Pantangelli character is nearly garroted in a bar by the fictional Risotto brothers). “Sleeps with the fishes” and “go to the mattresses” are two more Gallo wars turned Godfather highlights. If you’re into true crime and/or mob stories, The Mad Ones is a highly recommended read.

It has always been assumed that Crazy Joe was behind the attempted assassination of Joe Colombo at the 2nd annual Italian-American rally shortly after Gallo was released from prison. It is also assumed that it was that attempted hit that brought down the final curtain on the crazy one. Three weeks after Gallo was married a second time and on the night he celebrated his 43rd birthday, after a night on the town, Joe and his company were a little hungry. First they wanted Chinese food, but the joint they went to was closed. They tried another joint, but it was closed, too. They wound up at Umberto’s restaurant (when it was still on Hester and McDougal Streets) in the heart of Little Italy. They used to give walking tours to tourists that included the famous place where legend had it “you could still see some of the bullet holes in the back wall.” For mob and/or true crime enthusiasts, The Mad Ones is well worth the investment. Kirkus gave it a *starred* review.

Auditions ... the ugly one has a few band auditions coming up. Hopefully his semi-destroyed knee will heal in time to keep time ... but if it doesn’t, he can always volunteer to play the radiator, against which he can bang his thick head.

The Birthday boy ... speaking of the ugly one, he turns cinquanta tre (53) oggi (June 1st). And for that, there’s this:

Fifty-three and still a (work) horse;
you’ve steered a wild and crazy course.
With lots of adventure along the way;
four wives, three kids and a few busts (but no convictions—hooray!)

Now you’ve got what you’ve always wanted;
a freckled tomato whose so much smarter,
than you, you dope, so don’t muck it up;
She’s one right broad; when she argues, shut up.

You’ve got the house and garden and sod;
a diabetic pooch and a mouse thinks his God.
You got drums up the stairs and books galore;
to read of urban, country and European folklore.

You’ve got a new publisher, a house that only reprinted tomes.
Now Stark House goes original and Johnny Porno has a home.

You’ve got opera and jazz to sooth your savage beast;
which doesn’t give you license to eat like a wilder beast.
So cool it with the feedings that can fortify an army;
take human bites and lay off the imported salami.

Your mom is still around, proving she’s tougher than nails;
so quit crying about your sissy squats and broken toenails.
You made it this far, you big over-eating dope;
you’re ahead of the game; enjoy the downhill slope.

Soon you’ll have grandchildren you can corrupt in your way;
with a day at the track where you’ll teach them to parlay.
Imagine the bambini bouncing on your lap;
assuming they can find it beneath that mountainous flap,
of gelatinous blubber and breasts that should be holstered.
Yeah, that lap band worked real good,
your belly’s been reduced to just another bolder.

So enjoy this day, you overgrown putz,
go smoke a Cuban and enjoy some suds;
buy your wife flowers (she doesn’t have to plant),
then go kiss your mother for putting up with YOU (a crucible and a half).

You’re more than halfway there,
to that big smorgasbord in the sky;
where the provolone is free,
and there’s Chivas instead of Rye.

And if it should be to a hotter destination you’re headed;
at least you’ll know the company there has been vetted.
Because who wants smiley faces when all is said and done;
you’d be like a fish (okay, a whale) out of water, a dog on the run.

So, Happy Birthday to you, Carmelo Pietro Stella (pronounced Stey-lla);
It’s probably obscenely unjust, but you’re quite the lucky fella.



The sands of time have run their course
You've got your lapband, but eat like a horse.
All of us celebrate your special day
Your knees are shot and your hair is gray.

Your arms are strong and marked with sinew
I really don't get what Ann Marie sees in you.

Your days of crime are long behind ya,
Your bank account balance is a cruel reminder.

I'll raise my glass and toast to Knucks
and regret I ever called him an old fat ----

Happy Birthday, Chaz
You're one of a kind

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We got sod … Feeding the boids … The Yin and Yang of it all … Johnny Porno finds a home ...


Welcome to Temporary Knucksline. I have no idea how long this will last and/or if it’ll remain the new Knucksline (away from the webpage) but here it is.

For those uninitiated with Knucksline, it isn’t much more than a journal (usually weekly, sometimes bi-weekly) I use to rid myself of nervous writing energy. Sometimes it’ll be fun. Sometimes it’ll get boring (usually when it comes to politics and/or sports, depending on which floats and/or sinks your boat) and sometimes the DOC will having something to say (but he is always entertaining).

And here’s a roster of the usual suspects:

Knucks … the ugly one … the Knuckman … Knucklespeare … Knucklemania: that would be me.

The Generalissimo: that would be me also.

Charlie: The Knuckman’s imaginary brother.

The Principessa Ann Marie … the boss … the cappo di tutti cappi … the wife … and the always popular old ball and chain: Ann Marie Cucci-Stella (don't you hate hyphenated names?).

Rigoletto: … our fierce diabetic Bichon Frise.

The brats: … my kids, in order of their earthly appearance: Nicole, Charles (not Charlie) and Dustin.

Momma Stella: … The toughest broad I know ... my mommy.

The DOC: … an incredibly talented writer, dear friend, certified (as in awarded) gun nut and marksman … and my substitute father (although he’s old enough to be my grandfather).

Spartacus: … the super mouse that has taken over Casa Stella.

Casa Stella (pronounced Stey-la): … the joint we bought last summer.

With the introductions out of the way … welcome to Temporary Knucksline's first ever post (with a cool surprise ending about a new book of mine).


We got sod … It does my heart good to see the Principessa Ann Marie out and about at 5:00 a.m. to water HER lawn. Last week we got sod. This week we got crankiness in the morning. While I no longer have to do the 3:00 a.m. wake up to get to the gym for 4:00 a.m. (thanks to being laid off from a weekend gig), I still sometimes wake up bright and early (Wednesday, 2:35 a.m.) and wind up heading out to the gym to get it over with. Now the boss gets to join in some of the pre-dawn fun when she has to “soak her sod” … until the sodding of Casa Stella, waking her up fell on me remembering at 5:30 a.m. to yell up the stairs, “Hey, doll face, wake up!” To which she always responded (with definite angst in her voice) “I’m up, I’m up!”

Feeding the boids … the cool thing about all this sod soaking is feeding the boids … which I really have started to enjoy. Watching the little fellas (and gals, I suppose) flock down in a frenzy for that generic white bread (I can’t stand to eat anyway) is actually fun. Of course Spartacus isn’t particularly happy about this form of socialism, but I always remember to leave a skirt stake out to defrost (so he doesn’t chip his molars) before we leave for work.

The Yin and Yang of it all … I’ve finished reading David Payne’s Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street and was telling the boss about the most wonderful aspect of this read being the absolute emotional tug of war (speaking of Ying & Yang) readers will experience as they follow the adventures of half-Chinese/half-American, Sun I (pronounced Sun-Yee) as he confronts life outside the Taoist priesthood (he’d been dedicated to) to pursue an ultimate enlightenment (through his American father’s world) on Wall Street (the Tao within the Dow and vice versa). Confessions is a lesson in philosophy and vocabulary amidst so much more. While the author can write spot-on dialogue of any kind (including Brooklynese), his vocabulary (for this reader) requires a dictionary be handy. I was jotting down words (to look up later) like a dervish.

Confessions starts in China and ends up in lower Manhattan. We root for this guy at every turn, even when we see him turning from mellow to monster … he’s befriended by another Chinese-American already living here. Wo is one of life’s poor slobs who (like so many of us) works hard while constantly falling behind … he owns his own restaurant in Chinatown and has two daughters (one gorgeous, the other pretty; the former somewhat icily pragmatic, the other mellow and forgiving). We want Sun I to fall for the latter, of course (Yin-Mi), but he falls for the former (Li). And just when we think we can safely dislike Li, that old Yin and Yang acts up again and we find ourselves rooting for her (to escape). Hey, no spoilers here … go read the thing. It’s a terrific book by one of my favorite American authors. The characters are as rich as any I’ve ever read. Payne paints Wall Street with the Dickensian brush it deserves. My favorite character throughout this wonderful read was a Jewish seat holder named Kahn. This guy’s monologues are Roth-like. He’s hilarious and profound. Author Payne is from the south, but you’ll never guess it. The bonus (to all great reads, I feel) is the education you get: Confessions offers Chinese philosophy, Greek mythology, all forms of literature and poetry, Yiddish, business (to include stock market parlance) and a genuine touch of New York (and China). This guy (David Payne) is one of the best around, amici … so go read him.

Johnny Porno finds a home … finalmentamia, amici, Johnny Porno has found a home. Stark House Press, which until JP, only published reprints, is veering into unchartered territory with our latest effort. Here’s how my agent described it to potential publishers:

It's the summer of 1973 and John Albano is a former construction worker with child support and rent payments he can't keep up with by driving for a Brooklyn car service, but then it's his quick hands and honorable nature that ultimately place him squarely in the middle of a perfect storm of danger.

Albano is just trying to make ends meet when he takes a weekend stint counting heads and collecting the take at illegal screenings of the recently banned porno film Deep Throat for Mafioso Eddie Vento. But a devious ex-wife, her more devious ex-husband, the wiseguys behind the film (including one obnoxious wannabe with a frenzied beef for Albano), the Fleetwood Eldorado used in the opening scene of the porno film and a host of cops (both good and bad-including the deranged one Albano punched out) snowball into an often humorous, sometimes violent, action-packed page turner loaded with the masterful dialogue that earned Charlie Stella six *starred* reviews and countless comparisons to such masters of the genre as Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins, Donald Westlake and Mario Puzo over the course of his six contemporary crime novels.

Basically, amici, it’s a nostalgic look at 1973 New York/Americana (a complete rip-off idea {the nostalgia aspect} from Craig McDonald’s two brilliant crime novels, Head Games and Toros and Torsos (T&T is my favorite between the two because it is loaded with GREAT Americana). After reading T&T last year, I figured I had to explore what I love reading most—American history/nostalgia.

What the government did in 1973 (in its infinite incompetence) was provide organized crime with a second prohibition-like financial score when the New York Court banned the porno flick Deep Throat. I highly recommend the documentary about the film, by the way, Inside Deep Throat. It’s why I wrote the book in the first place. The boss and I watched the documentary and as soon as it was over, looked to each other and simultaneously said (I kid yous not), “Next book.” I had a lot of fun with this baby and was amazed to find how many things had happened the week I randomly chose to start the novel in August of 1973. The dialogue inherent to the characters was fun to write and delving into some other cultural/political issues (regarding gays on the police force, etc.) made the research all the more rewarding. And it just so happens that the year 1973 was when the NYPD started up an organized crime division, which permitted me to reach back to prior books of mine for some favorite characters.

It is wonderful to find a publisher so enthused as to veer in a new direction. Greg Shepard at Stark House made it feel right again. I can't thank him (and Ed) enough. We (the old ball and chain and I) look very forward to moving on … yous have no idea how much so.

Well, some of yous might.

Ed Gorman was the man behind the scenes in all this and to whom Johnny Porno will be dedicated. Tonight he posted this on his blog: