LET’S WELCOME MICHAEL O’KEEFE AUTHOR OF: A RECKONING IN BROOKLYN
Rad-Reader: Was this a story that you had been wanting to write for some time?
Michael: It was. I grew up in Ridgewood/Bushwick during this time frame. My experience with the Mafia was much like the character, Paddy Durr’s. The “Pizza Connection” case was an interesting platform from which to launch the novel.
Rad-Reader: Were there many rewrites until you were satisfied with it?
Michael: Of course. I think it was Hemmingway who said, “Edit, revise, re-write until you can’t bear to look at it again. Then it’s done.”
Rad-Reader: I am sure you had friends read it first, were they able to give you honest opinions?
Michael: I belong to several writing groups whose members are my beta readers. While they are as invested in my success as I am in theirs’, they aren’t cheerleaders. I get great insight from them. My first beta reader, however, is my wife, Janet. She is an educated reader and a former police officer. Her ear for genuine dialogue and eye for a plausible plot is well-honed. When writing crime, having an additional expert opinion is invaluable.
Rad-Reader: How did you decide on 1964, in going back in time with Butchie’s character?
Michael: I wanted to incorporate the Vietnam War and the Troubles in Northern Ireland as settings and plot devices. The other factor is that the case the novel is based upon spanned the sixties and seventies. The math for my protagonists’ ages needed to add up.
Rad-Reader: I liked how you had the two grandmothers arguing over sauces and gravies. I am guessing it is more of an East Coast thing since I only heard it when visiting relatives in N.Y.?
Michael: Obviously, I grew up with many Italian friends. The sauce/gravy argument is more like a holy war in New York, and it has been waged since the first two Italians emigrated here. Growing up, I found it hysterical. It didn’t matter what you called it. It was delicious either way.
Rad-Reader: I got the whole setup at the beginning with Butchie, ’79 killing – Bonnano family – Brooklyn Knickerbocker was that your idea from the start?
Michael: The murder of Carmine Galante, in Joe and Mary’s Italian Restaurant was one of the most famous Mob rub-outs in history. There has long been a rumor that the cigar found protruding from his mouth was put there by a uniform cop in the 83rd Precinct. As Galante was the architect of the Pizza Connection, his murder had to be a flash-point for the novel. By writing it the way I did, I gave the reader something to think about Butchie’s character—or lack of it.
Rad-Reader: What was the process like coming up with Butchie’s family life – the fight – Vietnam – Joining the force – getting married, did you have this all planned out ahead of time?
Michael: I grew up mentored by a lot of cops in that neighborhood and time frame. The ones I admired and hoped to emulate were war veterans and family men. Many of them survived violent strife-torn childhoods, much like me. So, it was inevitable my characters would mirror that.
Rad-Reader: Was your depiction of staff sergeant Melvin Deforest based on anyone (singular)? Having been around Marines my entire childhood, he reminded me of some.
Michael: Some of the cops who taught me the job as a rookie police officer were Marines. Melvin Deforest is a composite and an omage to those great cops. I threw in the Georgia accent for my own amusement.
Rad-Reader: Your use of “Mustache Pete’s” “guinea” “Mafia” There are many others how and when did you know when to add them to the story?
Michael: Mafia is a common term. I use it to clarify the organized crime affiliation of the characters. The other terms usually appear as dialogue. They are used most often as pejoratives consistent with the characters uttering them. They were in common usage at that time and say a lot more about the speaker than the author.
Rad-Reader: Was Monica’s character always part of your, original idea for the book or did you change it in any way?
Michael: Always. It takes true, innocent, selfless love to bring out the better angels of a person’s nature. I knew from the start that I needed Monica. She completes Butchie’s character. She redeems him in a way he couldn’t do without her.
Rad-Reader: Had Butchie’s time in Vietnam and has your description always part of your original idea?
Michael: Yes. I wanted the cauldron of war to help form and illustrate Butchie’s loyalty to his brother Marines and society as a whole. The war was a great device to show his willingness for self-sacrifice to save others.
Rad-Reader: Was your Eddie Curran character from Belfast always going to be from Ireland?
Michael: Yes. As an Irish American, I grew up with a fascination for the IRA. They were celebrated as freedom fighters and elevated to the status of folk heroes. After much independent study and research, I came to understand they were little more than a parasitic organized crime syndicate, no better than the Mafia. Mario Puzo glorified the Mafia in his books. I don’t do that. I expose them both as the miscreant thugs they are.
Rad-Reader: How did you even come up with that entire story of Eddie in Ireland before he came over?
Michael: I created Eddie. Then I added the internecine war between the IRA, the RUC, and the Orange Order and put Eddie in the middle of it. Add a tragic love story and you’ve got some fertile ground upon which to create.
Rad-Reader: I like your characters Mickey and Bunny which really added to the story. How did you come up with them and their story?
Michael: Mickey is based upon a real cop I knew. I wanted the bunny to be Jewish to explore the ingrained prejudice of the time—by everyone. That the love between the Irish cop and the Jewish nurse could flourish in that most inhospitable environment made them heroes, capable of shaping the lives of the troubled youth of Bushwick.
Rad-Reader: I felt at times that Butchie reminded me of Joseph Petrosino or am I just reading to much into the character?
Michael: They shared the same motivations and the same enemies. Most Italian cops and detectives I worked within the NYPD had the same ingrained contempt for the Mafia. They regarded them as an embarrassment. Joe Petrosino is regarded as almost a saint in the NYPD. That you can see a parallel between him and Butchie I regard as high praise.
Rad-Reader: Did you have an idea of how and where you were going to end the story when you began?
Michael: No, but I keep trying to end my stories unhappily, and I can’t seem to do it. I have to leave at least a little hope at the end, even if Butchie and Eddie can’t quite achieve everything they wanted.
Rad-Reader: Did you find yourself having to edit parts out of your story or has it remained the same for the most all the way through?
Michael: Actually, the opposite is true. I have a follower (now a dear friend) who is a retired narcotics undercover detective. He was shot in the chest in 1973during a 2-kilo cocaine buy. He wanted me to tell his story, so I wrote him into the book. His name and character in the book are Angelo Florio. His story was extraordinary and gave the novel a much richer texture.
Rad-Reader: Did it take you a long time to get this book published?
Michael: No. I’m an independent author. I self-publish through Amazon and Ingram Spark. Traditional publishing turned me off. They don’t do anything for you and they keep more than half of your royalties. This way, I’m still doing everything myself, but I keep all the money. Traditional publishing is a dying species for that very reason.
Rad-Reader: Did you have to keep a notebook or list of all the different characters and nicknames as you went along?
Michael: Not for this novel. I wrote the first draft in three weeks when I was confined to the couch after tearing my Achilles tendon. For my upcoming books, I not only keep a character journal but an outline as well.
Rad-Reader: Was there a favorite spot that you enjoy writing and found it made it easier to write?
Michael: Since I started writing after retiring from the NYPD, I have commandeered my kitchen table. I’m presently building an office in the house where I will be writing in the future.
Rad-Reader: What song or songs best describes your characters or the book as a whole?
“Roses are Red – Bobby Vinton”
“Danny Boy – Johnny Cash”
“Mambo Italiano – Dean Martin”
Michael: The streets of New York - The Wolftones.
I love the Dean Martin suggestion.
Rad-Reader: If you could write any other genre what would you like to try to say you did?
Michael: I’m presently hashing out an idea for a historical romance novel.
Rad-Reader: What is your favorite genre of movies?
Michael: Thrillers; Crime, military, political/spy, doesn’t matter. I’m in.
Rad-Reader: What line of work did you do before you decide to start writing? Did you do it while you were writing if you did, did you tell your fellow workers?
Michael: I was a homicide detective in the NYPD. While I didn’t have the time to creatively write while working, my investigative reports had a literary flourish. It used to drive my supervisors crazy. But I found that if I told myself a narrative story about my investigation, I would remember it better. It served me well in my career. Everyone I worked with predicted I would go on to write. The fact that I was a voracious reader no doubt gave it away.
Rad-Reader: What does your family think about your career in the writing world? Do you have any other budding writers coming up?
Michael: My wife, Janet, loves my new career. She’s my greatest supporter. My kids think it’s cool, but they’re millennials. If it isn’t in the context of a meme, they lose interest.
Rad-Reader: What is your next project and when is it coming out?
Michael: My next novel, Burnt to a Crisp, is a Detective Paddy Durr novel. The sequel to Shot to Pieces, I expect to pre-release it on Amazon electronically on November 1st. Full release on December 1st.
Rad-Reader: Where can our readers buy your books? Links
Michael: My books are available wherever books are sold, however, Amazon is obviously the easiest and quickest way to get them. Here are the links;
Shot to Pieces:
13 Stories-Fractured, Twisted & Put Away Wet:
A Reckoning in Brooklyn:
Rad-Reader: Where can our readers find you on the Web? Links
I really enjoyed your book. Thanks for a great story. Also, thanks for doing the interview. Not too often I am able to get an officer who has actually been on the force to do to an interview with me. So, I am so glad you chose us as one of your stops to be with. Continue to stay safe out there.
Thanks for serving your community,
Pat & Char
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