Excerpt of Clear Blue Sky
by C.J. Darlington
F.P. Lione Interview
"When God impresses you to do something, he anoints you to do it. But you still have to research and learn as much as you can ... Then rely on Him." -- Pam Lione
F. P. Lione is actually two people--married couple Frank and Pam Lione. They are both Italian-American and the offspring of NYPD detectives. Frank Lione is a veteran of the NYPD. Their Midtown Blue series features police officer Tony Cavalucci, whose trials and triumphs have filled four novels so far. The fourth book in the series, Clear Blue Sky, has just released from Revell.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
PAM & FRANK: Not until a couple of years ago. Pam used to write as a child and some of those writings were found when her grandmother and uncle died. In retrospect, Pam always had a desire to write, and she saw a story in just about everything. It wasn’t until we sat down together to pray about God’s direction for our life that this all came into play.
What books would you say influenced you most as a child?
Frank was not a reader. He only read if you forced him. For me, (Pam), I read whatever I could get my hands on. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gone With the Wind, all of Paul Zindel’s books. (They took place on Staten Island where we grew up). S.E. Hinton, and even the required reading at school---I just loved to read. The library was one of my favorite places. It still is.
What inspired you to write your first novel, The Deuce?
We had set aside a time of prayer and fasting. We prayed for direction for our lives and what God wanted us to do for Him. We love being together, and we wanted to work together. To be honest, it just came to Pam one day and Frank saw the vision of it.
We’ve always worked well as a couple and wanted to see each other more than we did while both of us were working. One day the whole concept of writing about the NYPD, and writing together, just came to Pam. She told me about it and I saw the vision of it.
How did the publication of this book come about?
We originally sent out the first three chapters and a query letter to one person. They turned us down, so we started to put everything away and forget about it. Then our next door neighbor Geri said, “At least send it to ten people and give it a chance.” She was right. Our agent was the 7th answer, and he was a “yes”. He approached several of the bigger Christian publishers and while they really liked the writing and the story they felt it was too “real” for their audience. Thankfully, Baker Books was willing to take a chance on us, and we’re still writing books together.
Give us a quick run-down on the books in the Midtown Blue series.
The Deuce introduces our main characters Tony Cavalucci and Joe Fiore, two veteran cops from Midtown Manhattan in Times Square. The Crossroads takes on New Years Eve in Times Square and chronicles Tony’s life as he battles alcoholism and his insane Italian family. In Skells you see a lot of spiritual growth in Tony, but he doesn’t lose who he is in that. It deals with God’s take on the lost and how He wants us to deal with them. Our fourth book, Clear Blue Sky (to be released August 1st 2007) will deal with Tony and Joe as the summer comes to a close in New York City and the events of September 11th unfold.
How does the process of husband and wife team writing look like for you?
During the research phase we’re in the midtown library and in Times Square a lot. When we start writing we’re pretty organized and sane. By the time we finish a manuscript we’re exhausted, shaky from caffeine, we’ve been eating take out for three weeks and the kids say we have a scary look in our eyes. Every time we start a manuscript we say we won’t end up that way, but so far we have.
Do you ever find it challenging to write together? For example, what do you do if one of you wants to take the story one direction and the other wants to take it the opposite direction?
We’re usually on the same page. We go by who knows more about a subject and go from there. We’ve never banged heads over a storyline. We usually sit down ahead of time and outline where we’re going.
The Midtown Blue series is a very real, and sometimes edgy, look into the life of New York City cop Tony Cavalucci. As a Christian writer, where do you draw the line in how far you’ll go in portraying violent/adult situations?
We initially kept in mind that our older son will be reading it. When we started getting a lot of mail from 16 and 17 year olds, we thought of them. The funny thing is we hear from a lot of high school kids telling us they like how real the books are. Real doesn’t necessarily have to be explicit or offensive.
What sort of challenges did you face in making your books accurate and real-to-life, and yet clean enough for the Christian market?
Mostly the language. We knew we couldn’t curse, but we didn’t realize we couldn’t even say little words like hell or damn. “Pissed me off” is a favorite New York saying, but it was a big no no to include. This made it very challenging because even though our Christian characters weren’t saying the words, we couldn’t have other characters say them either. At one point we asked Lonnie Dupont, our editor at Baker, “What are we gonna do? Have them say, ‘Gosh darn it Fiore, that wasn’t nice that he stabbed that guy’? I mean, let’s be real.” As time went by we felt the Lord was showing us how to do it without offending anyone. Some of the crime scenes had to be toned down as well, but they’re still not as graphic as you might see somewhere else.
Tony comes from a traditional, but somewhat dysfunctional Italian family. Tell me about your family. I believe your father was a detective?
Frank’s father was a detective and Pam’s step-father was a detective. We come from blue collar working class backgrounds. Our lives have been affected by alcoholism, drugs, divorce and domestic violence (more Pam than Frank). We draw a lot of things from our families. Especially the alcoholism. The dynamics are fascinating. I think we’ve learned more about alcoholism in researching these last few years than a lifetime of dealing with it. We had to take a step back to see it.
What do you
wish the average American knew about police officers?
I think most cops are out there trying to change things in a positive way with people that don’t want their help. It’s a frustrating job, often dealing with backlash not only from the public, but the press and even the department itself.
What do you hope people come away with when they read your novels?
As someone who loves to read, I want them to feel like they’ve just spent the week with two New York City cops who they feel they know and love and totally relate to. We want them to feel they’ve learned something spiritually they can implement in their own life.
When you write a book, do you have a spiritual message in mind ahead of time, or does that grow out of a story’s plot as you’re writing it?
Actually, both. We start out with a rough outline, but so much more unfolds as we write. We usually stick to our outline and the basics of what we’re dealing with. The Deuce message was salvation. The Crossroads is about falling on your face, getting back up and pushing ahead. Skells’ message was about loving the lost and a change in heart. We’re not telling nothin’ about the message in Clear Blue Sky. Just kidding. It has a lot going on, and you walk away with several different things.
There are so many tv shows these days that feature cops, detectives, FBI agents or some other law enforcement personnel. Do any of them get it right?
We love Law & Order. Jerry Ohrbach was the epitome of a New York City detective. He had great one-liners and nothing fazed him.
What’s the hardest part about being a cop today?
Besides the salary? :) For me, (Frank), it was trying to balance family, working several jobs and keeping my walk straight. I think 9/11 has brought a whole new dimension to the job, at least in New York, where every suitcase, and backpack and rental truck is a potential terrorist attack waiting to happen.
Even with Frank’s background I’m sure you’ve still had to perform research for you novels. Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments while interviewing someone or performing research?
When I deal with 1 Police Plaza. Sometimes I think they feel everyone’s a reporter looking to burn them, and they won’t say anything straight out. It makes it difficult to squeeze anything out of them. The PBA is much more helpful.
How much of
the plots of your books are taken from real life events during Frank’s days as a member of the NYPD? I’m
thinking about that scene in Skells where a guy is literally blown off
a toilet or when Tony
and Joe discover a loft packed with marijuana plants …
Yes and no. Actually, the blown off the toilet story is not uncommon in the city. We have sewers, there are no septic tanks, so most people don’t hesitate to throw chemicals and all kinds of stuff down the bowl. We’ve heard of people before who sat on the bowl, lit a cigarette and BOOM. Next thing you know you’re on the 11 o’clock news, the neighbors are talking about you on tape outside your house, and you get a whole bunch of new nicknames. As far as the pot, Frank definitely stumbled across illegal greenhouses several times over the years.
A lot of what we write has a grain of something we’ve seen, read, or heard about from other cops. Most cops, no matter where they’re from, see a lot of the same stuff. People are people, and they tend to do the same stupid things no matter where they live.
How do you share your faith in your stories without preaching?
Tony and Joe’s everyday actions speak volumes, so much more than any preaching would.
What’s been the most challenging part about writing the Midtown Blue books?
The language. Keeping it real while keeping it clean. Cops can have sewer mouths. We knew we couldn’t curse, but we didn’t realize we couldn’t even say little words like hell or damn. “Pissed me off” is a favorite New York saying, but it was a big no no to include. This made it very challenging because even though our Christian characters weren’t saying the words, we couldn’t have other characters say them either. At one point we asked Lonnie Dupont, our editor at Baker, “What are we gonna do? Have them say, ‘Gosh darn it Fiore, that wasn’t nice that he stabbed that guy’? I mean, let’s be real.” As time went by we felt the Lord was showing us how to do it without offending anyone. Some of the crime scenes had to be toned down as well, but they’re still not as graphic as you might see somewhere else.
How difficult is it to be both a Christian and a police officer?
It was very difficult for me (Frank) because I was a cop first. I was set in my ways as far as how I handled myself on the job. All of sudden now I’m supposed to let God lead me. I never looked to Him before, and personally, I wasn’t sure I wanted Him involved in that part of my life. As time went by I went through a lot of what we portray in Skells, where I looked at everybody around me differently, even the perps. I got to the place where I would minister to the perps and was surprised by how many of them knew God and had just gotten off the path. It used to throw them that I was talking to them about God and didn’t look down at them. It always came out that someone was praying for them somewhere and God was reaching out to them.
What advice would you give someone who’s considering a career in law enforcement?
Run for your life. :) Nah. Pray. See if that is the direction God wants you in. We need good cops out there, especially with God’s anointing on them.
Now that you’re multi-published authors, what do you know now about
writing that you wish you’d known earlier?
Editing is inevitable. We didn’t know they would change a thing when we first wrote our story. We thought it would go to print exactly the way we wrote it. But lately we find we’re edited less, now that we know what can go and what can’t.
Also, there’s a lot involved in the process: first draft, galleys, page proofs. In a way we’re glad we were green and didn’t know any of this stuff. It might have made it more intimidating.
Tell us about your latest book Clear Blue Sky.
In Clear Blue Sky it’s business as usual in NYC in September of 2001. We chronicle the lives and job of Tony Cavalucci and Joe Fiore as they lead up to the events of September 11th and what unfolds in their life and faith. (Forget it, we’re not telling you what happens to Romano.)
What’s surprised you most in your research on the 9/11 tragedy?
The book was difficult to write. It was hard for everyone to relive it and yet without everybody’s story it couldn’t have turned out the way it did. A lot of emotion is still there. I think now we only take it out and think about it in September, and there’s a part of us that’s glad when it’s time to put it away again.
Was it difficult to write about this topic?
Extremely. We were so burnt out from it. In fact, we finished last September and we couldn’t hear one more thing about it. We were raw. I remember at one point we wanted to stop and not do it at all. It was hard for everyone who had been there who were helping us too. One of the cops that Frank worked with at Midtown South told us he hadn’t talked about it yet. It was very emotional. Our brother-in-law Sal (who is FDNY) had to relive it all again. We are really pleased with the way the book came out, but we’re very glad the next time we deal with it in writing it will be in retrospect.
What authors or books have had the most influence on you as writers?
That’s a hard question. I love so many authors. I love Elizabeth George and I guess she’ll influence us when we write a mystery. As far as cop books, Nelson DeMille comes to mind. Michael Connelly, but a lot of times he makes the bad guys cops.
What are some specific books that inspire you? Why?
The Bible. Because
God speaking right to us.
Rocket Boys by Homer Hickman. I love those coalwood boys.
Failing Forward by John Maxwell. Learning to learn from our mistakes.
The Authority of the Believer by Kenneth E. Hagin. (Frank’s) Learning the authority we have in Christ.
Who influenced you most to become a Christian and how did they do it?
Frank: As a kid it was my mother. She loved God and was very active in the church back then. Later on when I was a cop, it was Pam. I knew it was important to her, and when I went to church with her I heard preaching about God’s promises that I’d never heard before.
Pam: I went to Catholic school, so there was always the fear factor. I accepted Christ as a teenager but didn’t come back until my 20’s. This guy from the neighborhood that had a real bad drug problem told me God had helped him get off drugs, and he asked me to go to church with him. He was so changed that it impressed me. I went to church with him and came back to Christ.
What would you love to write someday, but haven’t yet?
A mystery. A cookbook. Something to help families deal with alcoholism.
Do you ever find it hard to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
There have been times I have to force myself to the keyboard. What I do on those days is go back a chapter, read to where I am and go from there. For me it’s the first line of the book that gets the most thought.
What’s next for F.P. Lione after Clear Blue Sky?
A mystery, more Midtown Blue, and I guess we’ll have to see.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
Frank was a New York City champion in Pole vaulting when he was in high school. Pam had a relative that was on the FBI’s most wanted list back in the 1950’s.(He disappeared before I was born.)
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
There are so many things. We have lots of company, and we love our Sunday family dinners. We hang out in Manhattan on Saturday nights. Going down the Delaware river in a canoe. Playing basketball in the driveway. Gardening. Just being together. What we do everyday is study the Word of God---we want to keep moving forward in that.
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
You mean besides grated cheese, milk and Nathan’s mustard? We’re usually pretty stocked. Right now there’s sausage and peppers, ribs, potato salad, olives …
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Caramel Hot chocolate for Frank. Cappuccino, or peppermint hot chocolate for Pam
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Ah, let’s see. True spiritual maturity. A summer in Tuscany. A house in Naples (Florida). A movie (writing, not acting, maybe both, we’ll see.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Keith Moore, growing up Spiritually, disc 11. (Great series, free downloads.)
Any final thoughts?
Just a little something on getting published. We hear from so many people telling us that God showed them to write a book, yet they still haven’t done it. Whether they’re intimidated, they don’t know how to go about it, or just lazy, the assignment from God is still there. When he impresses you to do something, he anoints you to do it. But you still have to research and learn as much as you can about what you feel you’re called to write. Then rely on Him. But you have to take the first step. And this isn’t just in writing, it applies to whatever you’re called to do. So get writing, or singing, or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.