Italian Mafia History and Romantic Suspense with Dana Delamar

Podcast episode 25Romantic suspense author Dana Delamar explores themes of family and destiny in her Blood and Honor series of novels. As someone who was trained as a life coach, and who believes firmly that life is all about choice, it was fascinating to me to talk to Dana about the path that those in Italian mafia families must take, whether they like it or not.

Research plays a big part in Dana’s books – she’s been to Italy and looks forward to going back. (I hope she takes me with her!) And as she mentions, all of us authors live in fear of any kind of legal entity ever getting a hold of our browser history. Dana’s will be sure to include searches about money laundering and body disposal. 😉

You can find out more about Dana and her books on her website DanaDelamar.com. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook.

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on iTunes. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

Transcript of Interview with Dana Delamar

Alexandra: Hello, mystery readers. I’m Alexandra Amor. This is It’s a Mystery podcast, and I’m here today with Dana Delamar. Hi, Dana.

Dana: Hi, how are you doing Alexandra?

Alexandra: Very well, how are you?

Dana: Good.

Alexandra: Let me give our listeners a little bit of an introduction to you.

danaone_0057_crop_9x5qDana Delamar is the author of “The Blood and Honor” mafia romance series which is set in Italy among the Calabrian mafia. Her first book, “Revenge”, received four stars from the RT book reviews, and was a top pick at the romance reviews. And was a double finalist for best first book, and best romantic suspense in the 2013 Bookseller Best awards. Her other books in The Blood and Honor series have been multiple award nominees and winners. Dana is a voracious and an omnivorous reader everything from biographies to Booker prize winners, to mysteries, thrillers, and anything to do with vampires. She says her parents let her watch way too many hammer horror films when she was a kid.

Let’s start by talking about “The Blood and Honor” series.

What drew you to writing about the mafia? I guess that’s my first question.

Dana: Well, the thing was I’ve travelled to Italy a couple of times. And after I came back, I met a man while I was there, and a friend said to me, “Well it sounds just like a romance novel.” And I thought, “Hey, why don’t I just actually try to write one?”

I wrote a contemporary romance, and handed it to my sister who said, “Parts of it are really good.” And so I decided to revise, and I was thinking, what if my hero is not such a good guy?

Then I thought about the mafia, and I started doing some research. And it led me to the Calabrian mafia which is also known as the Ndrangheta. And they’re actually the world most powerful mafia in the world today. They control billions in assets, and they fly below the radar. They are not as well-known as say, the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia. But they are extremely powerful, and they are a definite threat. They are even in the United States and in Canada. They are not as powerful here as they are in say, Italy or Germany. But they have little fingers all over the place. They are in South America, Australia. They have clans they’ve formed all over the place. And they control the cocaine trade. And they are extremely, extremely powerful.

Alexandra: Holy cow! Yeah, that was one of my questions. Was this family based on something real, and obviously, it is.

Dana: Yeah.

Alexandra: Okay. And so there are sort of two families involved in the books that you’ve written, and I’m going to pronounce these wrong. Lucherri and Andretti, is that right?

Dana: Lucchesi and Andretti

Alexandra: Lucchesi and Andretti, okay. And so what I liked when I was reading the descriptions of the books was that each book is kind of its own romance, of course. And there is a mystery or suspense involved. And then it’s someone from one of either of these families.

Take us a little bit through some of the stories or some of the genesis of the books.

MalavitaDana: In a way, I decided to take the idea of Romeo and Juliet with the two opposing houses and put that into a mafia story. So each story is about one or two people coming together from different sides.

The very first book, which is the prequel “Malavita”, which is free, is definitely Romeo and Juliet’s story about young Enrico Lucchesi who is betrothed to Antonella Andretti when they’re really young. She is 16. He is 18.

And he doesn’t want to marry her. But if he doesn’t, his family is over because her father has been attacking his family. And so trouble ensues obviously, and they do eventually find a happy ending more or less. But that’s set 25 years in the past before the rest of the series continues. So you get the background of the origins of the feud between these two families, and it erupts again 25 years later as we see in the next book, which Enrico is also the hero in that book as well.

Alexandra: Oh, okay. Fascinating.

You’ve said you’ve been to Italy more than once. And what are your favorite parts of Italy?

Dana: Oh, gosh. What aren’t my favorite parts of Italy? I really, really, really loved Positano. It was really beautiful. Portofino is just amazing. I really loved Capri. I don’t know if that’s the island that’s off the coast, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous like the most perfect little…probably like the ideal village you might ever picture. It’s really gorgeous but with a lot of designer stuff thrown in so you walk down the street and it’s like, “I want that, and I want that.” It’s really cool.

I just love all of it. I loved going to the Uffizi in Florence and seeing all the art, and seeing The David in person. It’s just amazing. I actually got tears in my eyes when I saw it. It was just so fantastic.

Alexandra: Oh, wow that’s great. I’ve never been to Italy, but I’d love to go.

Dana: Oh, save your money and go. Definitely do. It’s one of the things you really should see before you die.

Alexandra: Okay. I’ll put it on my bucket list for sure.

Dana: Definitely do.

Alexandra: With your research into the mafia, have there been things that have surprised you along the way?

Dana: Quite a few actually. It was funny because, in the second book, “Retribution”, which is about Enrico’s son, his love interest is Delfina Andretti who wants to be a fashion designer. And I had this idea what if the mom invested in the fashion industry. And I thought it was a little farfetched but in doing my research, I discovered that now they actually do have fingers into that industry, too. It surprised me because I thought, “Oh, I’m kind of making stuff up,” but it really was true.

RetributionAnd the thing that just surprised me the most probably is how deeply their fingers are into so much of Italian society, how many politicians have been arrested, police officers, all kinds of people who have gotten involved in this world.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that when the economy…especially when it fell in 2008, a lot of businesses needed money, and banks weren’t loaning. And the mafia stepped in and said, “Hey, we’ll loan you the money, but in exchange, you got to launder some money for us.”

Because one of the things they like to do is run a legitimate business, but run money through it. They especially like restaurants, bars, nightclubs that kind of thing where there’s a lot of cash business. But they do it with other things too.

Another one of my books involves the mob taking over a bank, and I thought that was a little bit farfetched, but they actually have done it. In some cases, it’s called bank capture. That was fun for me to write. I just came up with things. And at one point, my chief partner said, “You write just like a mobster.” And like, “I missed my calling.”

Alexandra: Barely, yes. But you can live it through writing which is great. And a lot less dangerous one would think.

Dana: Yes, a lot less dangerous. I would not want to be one of my heroes or my heroines getting shot at, dealing with all of that stuff. It’s too crazy.

Dana: I have done quite a bit of gun research actually. I was fortunate my father taught us how to shoot when we were kids. I held probably my first gun when I was eight or nine, and it was quite the experience. But he was largely trying to teach us the power of guns, and why we did not want to play with them. And we learned very quickly that, yes, you don’t want to play with that.

I hadn’t fired a gun in quite a few years. I went to the range with my brother in law. We fired some guns. That was fun. I want to do it some more with some more recent guns. But we had a lot of fun when we went and did it. But I would hate to have anybody look into my browser history because of all the things I’ve researched. How to dissolve bodies in acid, this gun, that gun, bombs, all kinds of stuff. It’s crazy. I’m sure I’m on an NSA watch list somewhere.

Alexandra: I’m sure you are. I’m sure so many writers are.

When you do research, do you find that you disappear down the rabbit hole, or are you able to pull yourself out at some point?

Dana: It can definitely happen. A couple of few times have to say to myself, “Hey, all this research I’m doing is not getting the book written.”

A lot of time what I do is I do enough research so I feel I know enough about the topic to get going. And then I just use word’s comment feature and I’ll put something here and say like, double check this, research this just so I can keep writing. Otherwise, I can spend days and days reading things, and reading books about the mob. It’s fascinating just reading all the crazy things they do. But then I have to get the books written so…

Alexandra: Yeah, exactly.

Dana: Yeah, pull myself back sometimes and go, “Okay, stop there.”

Alexandra: “That’s enough, yeah.” Exactly.

The female characters in your books, are they directly involved in the mafia themselves, or are they more attached to the family?

RedemptionDana: Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t. For example, Kate Andretti in the beginning of the book “Revenge”, this was the first book of the series, book number one. She’s actually an American who marries a man who is in a mob, but she doesn’t know it, and he takes her to Italy.

She discovers after she gets there that her husband is up to no good. And he threatens to kill her which is when Enrico steps in, and he offers her protection. She doesn’t know that he’s a mobster, though. He hides it from her for a while because he knows she doesn’t want to be involved in the mob. But eventually, she does figure out what’s going on. And she eventually becomes much more involved. She helps him with making decisions and things like that. And in fact, she even shoots a few people.

Some of the other characters aren’t as involved, but in the last book in the series, the heroine is a judge and so she is an anti-mafia judge. And while she’s not directly involved with the mob, she’s involved in the fight against the mob. So she’s had a very difficult life. Her father was killed by the mob, so she has a definite anti-mafia bias. But then she falls in love with the hitman so…

Alexandra: What are you going to do?

Dana: What are you going to do? And he’s so cute.

Alexandra: I’m fascinated by the idea of writing about kind of an underbelly organization, people who work on the shadow side of things. Whereas many mystery novels, they are about a good guy. Someone who’s working for the police or a detective and so this is the flipside of that.

What’s that like for you?

Dana: Well, the interesting thing about it is… You know that saying that every villain thinks they’re the hero of the story?

Alexandra: Yeah.

Dana: So I took that idea, but I said, “What if some people are worse than other people?” And so one of the things the characters are dealing with are trying to fight what they consider to be a worse evil.

For example, if you look back in the old days of the mafia, they were more concerned with… Actually, I should back up a little bit. About 150 years ago, the mafia was actually formed to help expel the French Bourbon kings from Italy. They were originally formed as kind of a militia, and they also helped to protect the citizens from the bandits that would roam the countryside.

The French controlled Italy at the time, but they didn’t really enforce a lot of rules, and so it was kind of lawless. And so these mafia groups formed this brotherhood to help protect the citizens more. And in exchange, they would take a little bit of money that was kind of like protection money. And it literally was protection money.

And then over time, they became more and more successful. And as Italy got a new government, that government also turned out to become kind of a weak government. So the mob provided more stability, jobs, law if you will. They really formed the structure. And part of their structure was really about honor. They talked about taking care of the family, taking care of the community. They were much more of, shall we say, like an organizing force with affinity.

Later, they started getting into the drug industry, and the Calabrian mob resisted it for some time. Their main focus was actually kidnapping for ransom. They did that for a long time. But the lure of money was coming in, and they had huge…what they call the mafia war that went on during a lot the 80s and 90s where the number sides were fighting and a lot of it was over whether or not to go into the drug trade.

In my story, I took that as the stance the Lucchesi family as against drugs, and they want to go back to more of the old style mob being more concerned about their community versus the Andrettis and some other families that really want to pursue the drug money because it’s hugely powerful. So I have this ideological war going on in the book. And so I thought it would be kind of fun to play with, “Okay, I’m bad but you’re worse.”

Alexandra: Yes, yeah.

Dana: If that makes sense.

Alexandra: No, that makes total sense. I like that.

And every villain does think they are the hero, and they believe in very deeply, or they should, in what they’re doing.

Dana: Exactly. While the Andrettis feel if they don’t get strong and they don’t get money, then other mobs that are trying to come in, like the Russians or the Albanians or other groups, will be able to come into Italy. From their standpoint, they’re defending their territory and defending the Italian way. So, you have it on both sides, and it’s quite the fun clash.

Alexandra: Oh, yes. That sounds fascinating.

Were you interested in the mob before you started writing this series?

Dana: I had seen “The Godfather” when I was a kid, and I loved a lot of mob movies. I like that there’s tons of inherent conflict where you have to be loyal, but you also have to commit crimes. Sometimes what you most desire is what you can’t have because of the way you live.

Not everybody wants to be shooting people. Some people want to have peace. But if you are involved in one of these families, you are in it whether you like it or not. I liked all those opposing conflicting things because one of the interesting things about the mafia is they are very family centric. In fact, the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mob, is really family-centric. If your father is in it, you are in it pretty much by default. And the entire male line of the family will be involved in the business.

Therefore, if you rat, you are ratting on your entire family, and you’re making yourself an outcast. Whereas like the Sicilian mob, there’s some family component to it, but they also recruit outsiders and people from other families. It’s not quite family-centric as the Ndrangheta is.

But it was just fascinating to me the idea of if you are in this, but you don’t want to be in it, what do you? And that’s one of the central conflicts that Enrico Lucchesi has because his brothers are killed. His older brother was supposed to be the head of the family, and now Enrico has to step up and take that role even though he never wanted to take it. So that’s one of the struggles he deals with as well.

Alexandra: Oh, that’s fascinating. Yeah, you anticipated my question.

I was going to ask what happens if someone doesn’t want to do it? And he’s faced with no choice.

Dana: He realizes if he’s going to protect his family and preserve what he has left, he has to be part of it whether he likes it or not. And that’s the big struggle he deals with throughout his two books is how to live this life in a way that is not too damaging to his soul that he can establish some sort of code that he can live by. So that’s his story, his big struggle.

Alexandra: Wow, fascinating. I’m big life coaching fan. I took life coach training from Martha Beck, and that’s all about living your right life and finding the life that you want to live even if nobody else agrees with it and all that kind of stuff.

I can see some themes here with Enrico trying to find his right life despite all the pressure from the family.

Dana: Exactly. And when he meets Kate, who is this woman who doesn’t want to be a part of it, that just adds to his conflict. You know?

But he literally can’t live. If he does, he’ll be killed because he knows too much. So, it’s a horrible struggle.

Alexandra: Oh, yeah. It must be.

And is the real mafia and also the ones in your books primarily run by men, I’m imagining.

ReckoningDana: Primarily. Although there have been a number of women who have risen to power in their family, particularly as a number of men have gone to prison. A lot of times, their wives would take over the day to day running of the business.

And in the past, actually, in the very beginning, there were a number of very powerful women involved in the mafia. And in fact, a lot of people claim that it is the mothers who keep the families together and help encourage…let’s see, what do I say? It’s sort of the protection of the family.

And to some extent, a lot of these families come from extremely poor areas, and there’s no jobs. There’s no work, and so this is a way to make money, to take care of the family. And so to some extent, it’s sort of a survival thing. So it all depends on the family. But a number of women have been involved in it.

I thought that was an interesting part of my research I was looking into was have women ever run an organization? And in fact, they have run parts of it. But it is primarily male-driven.

Alexandra: Okay, interesting. Good to know. And one last question.

Do you have plans to go back to Italy anytime soon?

Dana: I would love to. I would love to go right now. But it’s probably going to be a few years away for me. But I’ve had it on the horizon for a while. I would really like to go back. I got married a few years ago. My husband’s never been so it would be great to go with him.

Alexandra: Oh yeah. That would be great. Well, thank you so much for being with me here today.

Why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find your books.

Dana: Okay. You can find my books at all retailers Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple and probably some others. And you can find out about me at danadelamar.com that’s my website.

Alexandra: Perfect. And you’re on Twitter?

Dana: Oh, yes. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Facebook all the time. Probably too much. And I’m on Google+ but not very often. But I’m there.

Alexandra: I think that’s the same for all of us. Well, thank you so much for being with me here today, Dana. It’s been great.

Dana: Okay, great. Thanks a lot, Alexandra.

Alexandra: Okay, bye bye.

Dana: Bye bye.

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