Sunday, November 21, 2010

Featuring: Testarossa by Julie Dolcemaschio

This week, I have finished off reading Testarossa by Julie Dolcemaschio.

Things are never as they seem, especially in police work. John Testarossa is an LAPD cop with an NYPD attitude, and he has seen it all. The dead, the dying and the decomposing are all in a day's work for the red-headed Italian from New York. When an arm rolls up on a Santa Monica beach, and the dead body on which the arm was once attached is discovered, John and his partner, Alex Ortiz, enter the world of college sports, athletes, and the illegal drugs that enhance their performance. Rage and revenge come together in a toxic cocktail John is all too familiar with. John knows rage. It came to define him as a young boy, and ultimately as a man. He carries a dark secret, and it is through his narrative, and a compelling back-story, that the true man is discovered. And in the beautiful Dr. Karen Gennaro-a woman with a few secrets of her own-John finds a soft place to land. But he knows all too well what falling in love with a cop can do to a woman. What sustains this hard-boiled detective is the bond he shares with his brave and dedicated partners. When that bond is destroyed in a senseless act of violence, will his past, and a desire for vengeance, destroy him? In Los Angeles, where Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, and the dream of Abbot Kinney's Venice Canals paint a picture of bliss, Testarossa will take you on a deeper, darker journey.

My thoughts: This is a good story if you like hard-core police and forensic investigation. With all the sports and drug elements, it felt more like a guy's story though. John is one tough cop with great instincts and intuition. I liked his surly, sarcastic attitude mixed in with his juvenile sense of humor, which exploded vibrantly when he was around his partner, Alex. He did seem a bit cocky to me, especially when he was courting Dr. Karen, but it actually worked well with his no-bullshit character. The flirty banter between John and Karen was enjoyable and entertaining for the most part. It kind've makes you wonder if you would ever fall for lines like that.
Overall, the story let's you see what it's like to be a homicide detective in the mean streets of L.A. through dark and gritty details that were so vivid you can taste the putrid blood. At times, I found it to be a bit too technical with all the police and medical jargon, but, luckily, it doesn't dwell too much on it. Also, the writer did give some background history on John's childhood at the beginning of each chapter, but I found it odd that it was written in the third person while the rest of the book was written in first person narration. I felt that inconsistency interrupted the flow of the story. Overall, I'd say this was still a pretty good book written with a laugh-out-loud style.

Now, here's where I get a chance to ask the author some questions.

1. How did you come up with Testarossa and how did you come about calling it that?

I knew from the start that I wanted a red-headed protagonist. Testarossa means, literally, ‘red-head’, and I thought it was not only a great name but it would be a title people would remember. The truth is that when Italians came to Ellis Island, many times they had no papers or identification of any kind (where the term WOP came from, meaning ‘without papers’), and because of the language barrier, misunderstanding arose. “What’s your name?” “Messina.” Well, Messina might be the town they came from, so new arrivals would get stuck with that (Vito Corleone in The Godfather, for example, came from Corleone. It wasn’t his real surname). Other times they’d get stuck with a name that described their physical characteristics (Grasso=fat, Bello=handsome). I love irony, is all I’m saying.

2. What kind of research did you do for this story and how long did it take you?

I made a lot of it up, to be truthful. I researched the things I really needed to get right, because I didn’t want to get emails from cops saying ‘that’s not right!’. The guns they carry, protocol and procedure—those kinds of things I researched. I didn’t want to insult the folks I was trying to honor.

3. Where did you get John's character and what was it like writing for a man? Was it easier than writing for a woman?

I find writing as a man much easier. I’ve done both, and what I found when writing in a woman’s voice was that some insecurities came out I never realized I had. I couldn’t quite find that same strength I found writing as a man. Analyze that one!

I loved the John Kelly character in the first season of NYPD Blue (played by David Caruso). John Kelly was definitely a muse for me while writing Testarossa. I also knew I wanted to write a crime/detective novel where it wasn’t just about finding the bad guy. I wanted a real character study—in other words, something I was searching for, and not getting, in the crime novels I was reading. I wanted a love story, too—a strong, meaningful one.

4. Who was your intended audience for this story? Mostly men or women?

In the beginning, I truly believed I’d equally attract the men with the gore and the ladies with the love. The bottom line is that woman read more than men. I love getting the feedback from the guys. I think that, for most men, when they choose to read they want something special, and I hope I give them that with Testarossa.

5. Please describe the relationship between John and Alex and between John and Karen.

John and Alex are as close as two men can be, I think. They are opposites in many ways. Alex is calm and pragmatic, and John tends to be driven by his emotions quite often. Alex has the ability to quiet John when things get too intense, and John brings a street sense and an intelligence to the work that compliments Alex. John admires what Alex has and what he’s accomplished, and I think John is still somewhat of a mystery to Alex. Alex worries about John. A lot.

John and Karen are two passionate people who were lucky enough to find each other. John is an old fashioned man who has ideas about love and about women, and he has no intention of changing his views. He’s one of those men we don’t see a lot of these days in novels. I‘d say he’s not too PC. And while she is an accomplished doctor who has made her own way and is very sure of herself, she sees something in John that she has been searching for, and it is the very thing she loves about him that she tends to fight against. She’s terrified of loosing herself in a man like John. I think it’s a fear many strong women have when they love a man who’s stronger than they are. It begs the question, ‘Does loving a man like this make me weak? Will I lose myself giving in to that strength’ But I think intelligent women know that in allowing a man to be who he is, both to her and to himself, is quite powerful, and John knows this. He knows the power he has, but also the power she has over him, simply by not running for the hills when he gets so…him. It was important to me that I write a strong male character, and at the same time write a woman who can stand up to him, but also admit that maybe she likes and needs this kind of take-charge man—just a little bit.

When I set out to write Testarossa, I wanted readers to get to know the characters so well that they stuck in their heads and hearts long after they finished the book. I’ve had many readers tell me that they missed these people after they finished the book, and that they worry about John. I think we writers underestimate the deep affect we can have on our readers through not only the writing, but also the character development.

6. I wondered if John became a cop for the right reasons as I was reading this book. What was that reason? Was it truly because of his father?

It takes a certain personality to become a cop, and I think John possesses this personality. He’s altruistic, he wants to protect, but he was also able to use his career choice to avenge a wrong, so in some ways, his father influenced this decision, yes.

7. What kind of advice would you give someone who wants to write for this genre?

None, except write in the genre you’re comfortable with, not the one your agent or author friends tell you is hot right now. ‘Hot’ changes constantly, and if you don’t have a passion for the subject matter, it will show, and your readers will know. They’re very intelligent.

8. Fun questions: What is your favorite Italian food? What is your least favorite? Which one of your characters would you have dinner with and why?

LOL! Oh, my. My favorite Italian food is probably the Pasta chi Sardi in the book. I love Eggplant Parmesan, too, because I have a slight wheat/gluten allergy, so I need to stay clear of the pastas. My least favorite is Lasagna, definitely. Not a favorite at all.

I’d love to hang with Junie Joo. She is so much fun, and I think we’d be good friends. I dine with John and Karen in my head all the time, truth be told.

9. Are you working on any follow up sequel to this story?

Yes, I’m working on the sequel and I plan several more. I’m not done with these people yet.

10. What have you learned after writing this book?

The first is to know exactly what I’m doing and why. My goal, daily, is to write every word with the deliberate intent to affect the reader in some way. I’ve also learned not to allow talent to get in the way of the creative process. The minute I sit back and say, “Gosh, I’m a good writer’, then that’s all I’ll ever be. I’m never good enough; it’s never good enough. Working on that bit, trying to find some balance so that I don’t cease writing all together, is my biggest challenge right now.

Thank you, Julie, and good luck with your writing career!

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