It is one of the most anticipated novels of the year. Millions of fans have been waiting for the next Godfather novel and when author Ed Falco received the call that he in fact was chosen for the task, he wasn't certain he could tackle it all. In my interview with the acclaimed author, Falco discuss his own internal battles with the violence in the book, his concerns about perpetuating stereotypes of Italian Americans and what it was like stepping into the footsteps of one of America's greatest storytellers, the late Mario Puzo.
For those who haven't read any of The Godfather books, what is The Family Corleone about?
I think it's about corruption, and I think it's about the role of violence and money and opportunity in American culture. These are immigrant families, and they're facing choices and one of the choices which faces most immigrant populations is to simply take what they want outside the law. And this is a family that makes that choice.
How did you get chosen for this? Because you're picking up where a great master, Mario Puzo, left off.
I got chosen because my agent is also the agent for the Puzo family, and he knows my work. I had several novels and story collections before this, and the themes that I deal with were often themes of violence and corruption. In fact, in 2000 he originally approached me about being one of the people considered to do the sequels to the novel. At that point, I was working on another novel and it didn't seem right to me, so I declined. But a year and a half ago, I started getting interested in popular fiction. He knew that and the prequel came up, so he asked me again and I jumped at it.
Are you worried that novels such as The Family Corleone that deal with so much violence may be encouraging it or glorifying it?
Yeah, that was a huge issue for me. But, of course, that's been an issue for me in all of my writing. How does one write about violence without also a sense that you're using it to attract readers? You know, we live in a culture where violence is such an everyday part of life that there's no way not to write about it, at least not for me. So, it's always a kind of tightrope I'm walking, thinking about questions of violence as an important and legitimate subject and also thinking of it as titillation, you know, and what is the line between the two? In my earlier novels, it was less of an issue because I know The Godfather readers are coming to it in part because of the gangster element of the story, and they're expecting to see violent scenes, so it was more of an ethical question for me in the novel. I hope no one goes out and chops off somebody's head after reading the book. You know, we watch football and we don't go out and crash into the next person we meet, but we watch it certainly for the violence of it. I have to admit to myself that I love gangster movies and The Godfather movies were among my favorites
Being Italian American, are you concerned about perpetuating stereotypes about Italians all having some type of mob connection?
Well, there are actually some startling statistics about that. Something like 75 percent of the American population seem to think that all Italian Americans have connections to crime or know somebody in the mafia, which is just silly. But, I guess these are the same people who think Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. I don't know what to make of it. But the facts are that Italian Americans are like 0.0006 percent involved in crime, so the facts seem to be directly in opposition to the perceived myth, that every Italian American has some sort of mafia connection in their past. Yeah, I was concerned about that. My family are second-generation Italians and nobody went on to be criminals. At the end of the novel, there's a particular scene where Michael recounts to Vito the mass lynching in New Orleans of Italian Americans and the father thinks it must be African Americans who are lynched, yet it was Italian Americans hung from lampposts.
Let's talk a little about your writing style. How do you mimic sort of the style of Mario?
That was a choice we made early on not to mimic Mario Puzo's writing style. I mean, he's one of a kind and his style is largely expository. He does a lot of talking in his books. He just tells you stuff. And that style wasn't a good fit for me. I prefer scenic writing where you show stuff as it happens. Mine is much more scenic than Mario's, which is expository. I tend to go deeper into characters through action, and Mario tends to tell about characters.
How do you tackle something like this? Do you outline first?
I sat down with the book and the movies and all of that material and started imagining this story, and I wound up writing an outline that went like 150 pages when they were expecting 10 pages. So, they had Tony Puzo of the Puzo family, John Karp and my agent sign off on it. From the outline, I just dug into the writing. For me, one of the biggest questions was how to handle the specifics of the material since it's so sprawling. There's the original novel, there are the two sequels, there are the three movies and all of the stuff that has followed. So, there's all this massive material to try to deal with, and much of it is contradictory. There are so many contradictory versions, it's hard to get a chronology. You can't pin down a chronology, you know, and say this happened then, this happened then, because Mario himself was not very careful about details, and so he often contradicted himself within the book. So, the big decision was to treat the whole thing as myth, and once I made that decision and decided that this was really an American myth, it had become part of our mythology, then I could just tell my story and try to set up a timeline that's accurate but not worry about it being precisely the same and allow myself to do variations on things.