How Close is Too Close to Home?
By Melodie Campbell
It all closed in on me at the launch of The Goddaughter mob caper in Hamilton. Eighty-five people stood waiting.
The local television station had cameras in my face. So far, it had been an easy interview focused on my awards and comedy career. The fellow was charming. I liked him a lot. Then he dropped the bomb.
“So…have you ever met a member of the mob?”
I didn’t like him so much anymore.
Yikes! Hesitation. A lot of feet shuffling.
“Yes.” I said, very precisely. So precisely, that everyone in the room laughed nervously. “In fact, I had to wait until certain members of my family died before getting this book published. ‘Nuf said.”
The ‘nuf said’ was the closure. He got it. Being a smart lad, he even let it drop.
But it made me think about how close you want to get in a book to real life.
As writers, we research a hell of a lot. Of course, I did research for The Goddaughter series. Some of the study was pretty close to home, as I riffed on memories from my childhood. But I write comedies, so perhaps the expectations aren’t as great for me to be entirely accurate. Good thing about that.
In the screwball comedy The Goddaughter's Revenge, I am not very close to real life. Gina must get back fake rings from some of her best clients. So she masterminds a bunch of burglaries that go…well…wrong. It’s great fun, and rather innocent on the grand scale of criminal activities.
But I do cut pretty close to the wire in describing Hamilton. The streets are real. The names of the neighbourhoods are real. I even describe the location of the restaurant where the mob (in my books) hangs out. I changed the name, of course, because the last thing I want is readers thinking this hot resto is really a mob hangout. And besides, it’s fun when fans email me to say, “When they all meet at La Paloma, did you really mean XXX?” Readers feel they’ve been part of an in-joke.
How close is too close? Here’s what I’ve learned. You never want to offend anyone by:
1. Using real names of mobsters past or present. They have ways of finding you. Even the dead ones. We are Sicilian, after all.
2. Using a street number that is real and can be tracked down. Especially if you are describing a call girl establishment. Believe me, this is not cool. Mrs. Harmon hated it. Mrs. Murphy, on the other hand…but I digress.
So in The Goddaughter's Revenge, I want you to feel Hamilton. To smell the smoke of Steeltown and experience the ambiance of a post-industrial city in decline. Like parts of New Jersey, The Hammer is rife with delightfully quirky areas that lend themselves perfectly to a mob caper.
I love this city with character. And I hope that comes through in The Goddaughter's Revenge.
Library Journal says this about Melodie`s third novel, The Goddaughter (Orca Books):
``Campbell`s crime caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans. Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.``
THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/kmgjgsf
THE GODDAUGHTER on Amazon http://ow.ly/dnObH
Follow Melodie’s comic blog at www.melodiecampbell.com