Ignore the shitty graphic that I made but I wanted something up here.
Thank you so much to Smith Publicity for reaching out to me to do an interview with Sean Rea for his novel The Don of Siracusa. I appreciate you sending me a copy of this novel as well! Click on the banner for the book information, and come down to see my interview with him!
The Don of Siracusa
by Sean Rea
Release Date: August 8, 2019
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Stefano Caruso always does things the right way. With a grandfather who was forced to flee the venal Sicilian mafia and start life anew in America, Stefano now heads the corporation his father and grandfather built. Handsome and successful, he’s on top of the world…until one day he has an unexpected visitor and gets shocking news. Stefano is being cheated and lied to, and the company his family built from the ground up is in mortal jeopardy. That’s when Benito Cuggi, the face of the modern-day mafia, comes into his life. Cuggi appears to live by a strict code of morals that the laws of Western society cannot enforce. Loyalty and trust are rewarded, while betrayal is punished. Now Stefano faces a difficult choice. Can he ally himself with what he’s been taught to hate and fear? Or should he let what generations of his family built be stolen out from under him?
Fraught with moral complexity, Siracusa is a fast-paced, exciting crime thriller that pits good against evil and righteousness versus deception, while asking whether good men should sometimes do bad things to punish evil….
Is there a real-life inspiration for your novel?
The real-life inspiration comes from what I thought was a hole in modern mafia and crime fiction books. I saw the need for a novel that wrote on the complexity of modern organized crime. If you grow up in Toronto, New York, Chicago (hell most metropolitan areas), then it is likely there are organized crime groups operating behind the scenes as well as right out in in the open. In fact, you may often cross paths with “connected” individuals and think they’re perfectly nice people.
So, the answer as to whether I drew on real-life inspiration would be – not necessarily. The events and characters of the book are 100% fictional, but I definitely did draw some inspiration from books I’ve read on the structure of the modern American Mafia. I found it very interesting the ways that organized crime had restructured into legitimate businesses, and that gave way for me to create a character like Benito Cuggi – a modern business magnate that was also somewhat secretly the “Don” of a massive organized crime family.
Godfather 1 or 2? And why?
Very difficult question.
They both hold so much importance to me, but if I had to choose it would be the original Godfather. One thing I love about book-to-film adaptations is seeing the way that a novel is expressed on screen. I think Coppola’s adaptation has a pureness that more filmmakers adapting novels should aim for. The characters, especially Marlon Brando, could not have been more perfectly cast, and their performances are legendary. The same can be said for De Niro’s performance in Godfather 2. Godfather 2 in its own right is one of the very best examples of a sequel done right. Coppola no longer had the source material, but he crafted a beautiful double narrative of son and father – the birth and decline of the Corleone family. But the thing I love about the original Godfather is that the movie feels like the book – an incredible accomplishment. Not to mention the communion sequence is one of the finest pieces of cinema ever created.
What was your inspiration to have Stefano flee to America?
NOTE: Stefano is American born – his Nonno Gio was the one to flee to America (Thank you Sean!)
America was an opportunity for many Italian immigrants, many of which were fleeing poverty, mafia violence, and uncertainty, in order to pursue a better life in America.
My main character’s Nonno and Nonna (Italian for grandpa and grandma) did not have such a unique story for the time. Sicilians especially, lived in a country that thought of them as lesser citizens, and were subject to daily life amongst criminals, mafia, and corrupt policemen. America was an opportunity to start over – although that means leaving everything behind.
As a Canadian with Italian heritage, these stories are commonplace amongst friends and family. So, it only made sense for my character Stefano, an Italian American born and raised in New York, to come from a family of immigrants that fled uncertainty.
Have you ever been to Sicily? What is the best thing about it?
I have Sicilian heritage, and I have been a few times in my life (one of those times being whilst preparing the final draft of my novel!).
Sicily is quintessential Italy to me. Tradition is sacred, the culture shock almost smacks you in the face when you visit.
The people are warm, the food is incredible, the sights are jaw-dropping, even the water tastes better. There is such a complex interaction of history there, as Sicily has spent time subjugated under many different cultures and nations – Arabic nations, Dutch, Italian, Greek, and more.
Taormina is a beautiful cliffside town that feels vibrant and alive. Siracusa and the fortified island of Ortygia are breathtaking and feel as if they haven’t changed in centuries. The small mountain towns are humble, but welcoming.
The best thing, and it may sound like a very simple answer – has to be the culture. Life is very different in Sicily. Friends (and strangers!) congregate to the piazzas, they send drinks each other’s way, they have an espresso and a cigar. There is always live music just around the corner. They laugh, they sing, they dance.
It is something I find myself missing back home.
What is the main theme that you want readers to understand after reading your novel?
There are a few pretty dominant themes in my novel, but perhaps most importantly is the concept of morality, or more precisely the complexity of morality.
One thing I really wanted to do in my book was create realistic characters. I wanted them to talk, think, and behave, like normal people.
I hate when a character is infallible, because every person I have ever met (including myself) has flaws. I wanted to show that even the good guy can be bad, but more importantly, I wanted to make the reader feel like maybe the good guy has to be bad, sometimes.
In creating my book, “The Don of Siracusa” I wanted to play with different notions we have about morality, and in doing that, maybe have readers take a closer look at their own lives. I want people to understand that humans are incredibly complex, and the concept of morality is even more complex. We’re all distinctly unique in our hearts and minds, and we are all existing, reacting to the world around us. Sometimes things are outside of our control.
The concept of good vs evil isn’t actually a dichotomy. Everyone does “good” and “bad” things, I just want to encourage people to look a little closer at how their actions affect others.
What was your favorite genre to read growing up?
Probably fantasy. I am a huge Tolkien fan, and always thought if I were to ever write a book it would be in that genre.
Actually, my first attempt at writing a book was many years ago on a family vacation to Italy. I bought a moleskin and started writing a tale of monsters and heroes. It never came to fruition, but quite ironic that all these years later I would return to writing – and a story that has heavy Italian elements no less.
If The Don of Siracusa was adapted into a movie/tv series, who would you cast to play the main characters?
I love this question. I always imagined Stefano Caruso as handsome, and quite masculine. I never really pictured him as “stereotypically Italian”. Having said that, it would be difficult to cast him, as it would have to be someone that could capture his moral descent, and his world falling apart around him. In these kinds of exercises, I think it’s always fun to imagine the biggest stars possible that also happen to look somewhat like how you imagine the character.
Having said that I think Leonardo Di Caprio or Christian Bale, or in another life even Laurence Olivier, would all make great Stefano Carusos. They have the good looks that I imagine and the acting chops to depict a good man’s descent into darkness.
The current, aged De Niro is an obvious fit for Benito Cuggi. And when it comes to the incredible Arianna Rosetti, I immediately think of Elizabeth Taylor or Audrey Hepburn circa Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I always feel like there’s not enough time in a given day. I love to read, and I’m usually splitting time between 2 or 3 books at once! I love movies, and watching most sports, but especially hockey and football. Sunday is a day I look forward to every week to lay on the couch and watch football and movies all day.
I’m a huge fan of food too, whether it be food I cook or trying out new restaurants. When I want to relax, I try to get away from the city, usually I’ll head up to northern Ontario to visit my girlfriend’s family cottage. Travel is another passion of mine, and something I hope to do much more of in the coming years. I would love to do a driving tour of America at some point, and I definitely have much more of Europe I need to see.
Where would you want to go if you did a book tour?
Going back to my previous answer, I think it would be incredibly cool to tour all 50 states of America, driving from place to place. Driving is very therapeutic to me, so to be able to promote my book and travel all across America would be a dream come true. There is so much of America I really want to visit, whether it be Rhode Island for some great seafood, California for a drive up the PCH, or any number of other great American cities for some of the experiences they have to offer.
My goal is to someday do a North American tour that gives me an excuse to drive across Canada and the US. I think both countries have so much to offer, and so much culture that we take for granted, I want to experience it all.
Any advice for indie writers?
I’m going to try not to repeat the usual advice here. I’m sure everyone has heard the advice to read everything you get your hands on, and to “keep writing”… Obviously reading and writing more often will make you a better writer!
Not to say that it isn’t good advice though. But for me, the number one thing that translated into a noticeable improvement in my writing was an open-mindedness about my writing.
Let others read what you have, and ask for honest feedback, good or bad.
Find test readers that will really tear your manuscript to shreds.
It may hurt to hear “This chapter doesn’t work” or that a character isn’t fleshed out, or that the dialogue is stale, or that your plot is confusing, BUT I promise you, you need to hear those things.
And hearing them isn’t enough, you need to be willing to work to correct them. My manuscript exists in well over two dozen iterations on my laptop. I was constantly changing things and trying to improve on what I had. The feedback I got from friends, and test readers, and eventually editors, was crucial! Lean into their critiques, your manuscript will be better for it.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to take everyone’s advice all the time, as you still know your characters and story better than anyone else. All I’m suggesting is that you should never be defensive about criticism – hell, I like to look at is as being shown my shortcomings as an author and knowing about them allows me to fix them.
To summarize: Find someone you trust (and that’s important – find someone smart, honest, and well-read) to tear your manuscript to sheds, and remedy all the issues they find.
Thank you so much Sean for agreeing to let me interview you for my blog! I absolutely adored your answers and felt like they were fun to read. I appreciate that they were more than one liners and felt like you really took the time to answer these questions, so I appreciate that so much! If you haven’t already heard of or read The Don of Siracusa, go check it out!
Robert De Niro is watching you if you don’t, by the way. Be prepared.