A Childhood Gambled on God and the Mob (Good News)


This week has brought good news on the memoir front.

(If you are new to my blog—I’m writing about my childhood, about growing up in an organized crime family.)

 1.  Some of you may remember that I’ve needed a copy of my dad’s death certificate in order to apply for my father’s FBI file.

My father and I

The Freedom of Information Act assures my access to it, as long as I have the appropriate supporting documents.  But in order  to qualify, I have to prove my dad is, indeed, deceased.  Acquiring either my father’s social security number in order to file for a copy of the death certificate with the State of Pennsylvania myself, or acquiring a copy already in my mother’s possession, have both required my mom’s cooperation.  And due to no small miracle, she has come through.  She gave me a copy of both my dad’s social security number and a copy of the death certificate on Friday.  I can begin applying for the FBI file this week.

2.  I’ve come up with a working title for  the memoir as part of the proposal writing process.  I’d love your feedback.  Remember, however, that my childhood involved both a father in organized crime and a mother who was what some might call a “religious fanatic.”

My mom and dad in New York (1980)

I  wanted the title of the memoir to evoke the oddness of that parental pairing.  Please tell me what you think of it in the comments below:

Praying for the Mafia:  A Childhood Gambled on God and the Mob

3.  Though I series of emails with my friend Chrissy (“Silver Fin of Hope”) and the urging of my partner Sara, I’ve drafted what I think could be the first chapter of my memoir.  I’d long considered the possibility of linking parts of my past to the years I lived in Vietnam and Haiti, but when Chrissy raised this issue last week, I suddenly realized one way I might accomplish that.

So many memoirs I read these days set the scene for their more distant past by sharing something that happened more recently.  I’m thinking, specifically, of Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle, as one example.  In the piece below, I’ve taken material I included in several blog posts, some written more than a year ago, edited heavily, and assembled what could become chapter 1.

The opening scene involves an interview I did with Baby Doc Duvalier just days before moving home from Haiti and links that experience to my current commitment to write a memoir about my father.

Kate, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Fito, Kathy (March 2011)

Please offer any feedback in the comments below.  And, please, be willing to share negative criticism, as well.

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Praying for the Mafia:  A Childhood Gambled on God and the Mob

Chapter 1—What does one Wear to Meet a Former Dictator?

Until the last minute I didn’t believe it would happen. As we wound our way up the dark, mountain road into the hills outside of Port-au-Prince, I didn’t know what to expect.  I had read that Baby Doc lived on Montagne Noir, but we weren’t headed in that direction.

Wondering if we would be searched when we arrived at Duvalier’s house, my friend Kate, who had agreed to accompany me to meet Baby Doc when my partner Sara refused, removed a pocket knife from her purse and left it with our Haitian driver, just in case.

I, on the other hand, was more worried more about what I was wearing than the pending interview.  It was easier that way.  I had ironed two outfits, but ended up wearing a knee-length plum skirt and sleeveless blouse just a shade lighter (one I had tailored when we were living in Vietnam). I hung a striped silk scarf from India around my neck and carried a purple pouch purse from Bangkok over my shoulder—something small, but something to hold what I assumed would be the essentials—a notebook, pen, and camera, one that refused to work properly when I tried to document the event.

Perhaps this couture consciousness was a decent distraction from the seriousness to come, but my attention returned to the drive—our endless, winding ride—as our Toyota SUV rendezvoused with our friend Richard and his friend Fito in a white pick-up truck.  This would be the final leg of the journey.

We passed the home of Rene Preval, then the president of Haiti, and stopped just before Duvalier’s road, so Fito could call ahead to announce that we were almost there.

Passing a rather grand-looking, well-lit house of the left, we continued down the street a bit, before turning around and circling back to that same stone house, now on our right. This was it, we assumed, but there were a number of cars out front. Was there a party in progress?

We were met at the gate and ushered in along the driveway, where two vehicles were parked, one an SUV, the other, a Haitian State Police pick-up truck, but no officer in sight. As we approached the front door, we passed floor-to-ceiling windows that looked into the living room, where a number of people were gathered on two off-white couches that faced one another. Duvalier’s Italian wife, Veronique Roy, cigarette in hand, answered the door when we knocked, welcomed us in, and escorted us onto a covered patio to the left, where she offered us something to drink, and when we declined, promptly left.

We were seated at an octagonal, wooden table with white wrought iron chairs, when Baby Doc himself stepped out onto the patio, wearing a charcoal, double-breasted blazer over a cable knit, gray sweater that zipped at the neck.  He seemed smaller, thinner, and more stiff-necked than I’d expected.

Once introductions were made and we were re-seated around the table, Richard did most of the talking and functioned as translator, explaining to Duvalier that I was intrigued by the former president and had hoped to meet him before leaving Port-au-Prince and moving back to the US the following Monday.

Baby Doc, who spoke to us only in French, said he didn’t want to talk about the current political situation in Haiti. Instead he explained how happy he was to be back in Haiti, how saddened he was by the deplorable conditions his people were living in, and how surprised he was by the warm welcome he’d received, especially from young people who hadn’t even been alive when he was president.

I asked the former dictator how he thought the current Haitian suffering could be alleviated.

Duvalier explained that there was no single or easy answer, but that “unity” was essential, unity between the rich and poor, between those who have much and those who have so little, that the government of Haiti needed to give the people “what they want,” and largely that involved not allowing them to live in such inhumane conditions.

Clearly his was an easy answer—a rhetoric few could disagree with—but I didn’t press the issue further. I knew my question was overly broad and understood why he’d answered in equally sweeping terms.

But I could feel myself being pulled in. Baby Doc was feeding me what he knew I wanted to hear. He and I both knew it, but I couldn’t help responding to what seemed genuine care and concern—his whispered tone, his furrowed brow, his leaning closer as he talked to me. I could almost watch myself falling for this rhetoric, and I was reeling because of it.

Still dizzied, I asked the former president what he thought made him unique, “Apart from your father having been president before you, when did you understand that you were unique in and of yourself, that you had something valuable to offer the country?”

Duvalier’s answer here surprised me, as he insisted that he was not “unique,” that he had come to the palace at age 6, that he had had a great education, that when his father told him at 18 he would eventually be president, he had said, “No thank you!” He didn’t want to be president. He didn’t want that job.

So Kate asked what he thought his biggest accomplishment was as president. But Baby Doc said that when you’re president, all accomplishments are equally significant, because “everything you do is your job, your responsibility.” He went on to explain that he had left the country in 1986 and gone into exile willingly, to avoid bloodshed, that as he was leaving, he was more concerned about his people than he was about himself.

At this point, Richard turned to me and asked, “Don’t you have another question, you came here hoping to ask?”

“Yes,” I said looking intently at Duvalier across the table. “A number of people have told me things were more stable in Haiti, when you were president, and things are decidedly unstable now. I read in the media, that you have returned to Haiti not wanting to be president again, but if things were indeed more stable under your administration, why would you not want to be president again? Don’t you think you would have something valuable to offer your people?”

To this Duvalier said simply and matter-of-factly, “We’ll have to see what the people want.”

My conversation with Duvalier ended soon after that, but what the Haitian people wanted at that point was far from clear.  It was an unsettled time for Haiti.  Things weren’t even close to calm, as later that same week the head of one Haitian political party was assassinated in his home, former president Aristide, like Duvalier, returned to Haiti from exile in South Africa, and a final round of presidential elections were held.

But when I returned to the US the week following my interview with Duvalier, when I found myself trying to settle again in middle America after a year in Port-au-Prince and a year before that in Vietnam, I found myself still reeling from having met Baby Doc.  The encounter whirl-winded and exhausted me.  I felt depleted and confused by having liked the version of Duvalier I met that night.

I didn’t like the fact that Baby Doc, the man, had intrigued me, that the details around him had seemed so ordinary.  The fact that his house, though perhaps the grandest on his street, was not as spectacular as I had suspected it would be. The couches in the living room seemed old and worn. There were no fancy fixtures. The wrought iron chairs on the patio needed paint.

But then again, that’s what we all amount to in the end—the peeling paint, the nicks, the scars. The couches need recovering.

The story of Haiti is largely one of exile and variations on that theme—coerced comings and goings, arriving unwillingly on a tiny island, you then don’t want to leave.

So it was for the slaves the Europeans brought from Africa, and so it was for Jean-Claude Duvalier, made president for life at age 19 when his father died, a job he didn’t want, a role he didn’t want to play. He ruled for 15 years, was exiled for 25, and had finally come home to Haiti again.

And in some ways, so it is for Sara and me. Though we came willingly to Haiti, we were not at all ready to leave, and having left felt like a loss, an amputation. Haiti is the phantom limb, the one I dream about, the one that calls to me at night.

Eventually we all get kicked off one island or another. A tribal council is convened. The votes are cast.

And someone has to go–

In my own life, my father was the one I’d lost.  He’d died when I was 19, the same age Baby Doc was when his father died.  And like Papa Doc Duvalier and his son, for that matter, Daddy was a criminal—a larger than life character—not accused of crimes against humanity, but indicted by a number of grand juries in the US, pursued by the FBI, convicted of conspiracy.

Still freshly disturbed by this Baby Doc encounter, I became more determined than ever to write about my father.  Though I’d toyed with the idea before, I’d made a marginal commitment to take on a memoir project before Sara and I even knew we were leaving Haiti, but home from Port-au-Prince, the unsettling impact of having interviewed Duvalier strengthened my resolve.

I’d long know that my father’s criminal activity when I was a child had left me, as an adult, intrigued by larger-than-life, less-than-reputable, bad guys.

I’d learned from my mafia father that good and evil are complicated matters.

Admittedly, this is not a lesson he taught overtly, but one I came to over time—trying to digest and accept the ambiguity of loving someone who does wrong in legal terms but demonstrates considerable goodness otherwise.

Clearly, my father broke the law.  This is indisputable.

But simultaneously and confusingly for a child, he was kind, generous, witty—the sort of guy one wants for a friend—great fun at parties—charming.

I knew nobody who disliked Daddy, no one who spoke ill of him. Likewise, I never knew him to bad-mouth anyone, to get angry, curse, or even complain.

I think what’s easy to forget is that those who commit crimes, do so in a context, often in the context of otherwise good lives. Those who commit crimes do so also in the context of family. They have wives and children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. Sometimes otherwise kind people commit crimes, cross the line. Good people do wrong, make mistakes.

Clearly, my father’s “crime” became a way of life—so much so that as a child I knew no other context—no other reality.

Sometimes I fantasized that things were otherwise, once I was old enough to understand that mine was not a normal family. I remember being in the sixth grade and a friend asking what my dad did for a living. I dreaded that question. But there, at that table for two—a Monday morning in Mr. Schlosser’s science class, I know I must have offered some explanation. But oddly that part of this particular memory is gone. I have no idea what I said.

Clearly, by the age of eleven, I knew an honest answer was impossible, without simultaneously betraying my father—or, at least, my own efforts to retain some semblance of normalcy, when it was obvious we were nowhere near that. My parents took us out of school to travel. We were well dressed—better dressed than most of my public school classmates. We returned from spring break sun-tanned. We took cruises. Daddy picked us up at school in fancy Cadillacs. He wore cashmere and silk.

Perhaps, this is why I still have issues with honesty—feel the need for such intense transparency.

I’m terrified of being found out, so I over correct in the direction of extreme forthrightness. I can’t tolerate hiding behind a half truth.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this memoir—needing to take a blindingly honest look at the past—to clearly account for what happened, to draw conclusions regarding why, how, when.

Like people, the past itself is never all one way or another, never all bad, all good. Time distorts. We forget, remember incorrectly. There is no perfectly honest recollection. And though I accept this fact in terms of people—that they are never all good or all bad—I still struggle accepting this about myself—that I might not remember fully, honestly, completely—that I, like my well-dressed Daddy, might be wrong.

Are you willing to offer any feedback, positive or negative?  Please share, if you are at all inclined.  I need suggestions.  You are a sample of potential readers, would you keep reading?

81 thoughts on “A Childhood Gambled on God and the Mob (Good News)

  1. I love the title and the opening chapter. My only suggestion would be to tie in the Baby Doc interview again at the end of the chapter, to cement the connection a bit more. Perhaps emphasizing a bit more that there is a fine line between good and evil, and both these men helped you to realize that. (Or something along those lines.)

    I’m really glad you’re doing this. Good motivation for me to work toward the same goal 🙂

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    • Excellent suggestion. Thank you so much. Glad you like the title, as well. I have played with so many options I can’t begin to count. I may at some point post a number of them to see if folks think one of the others is better. Also, if a good title idea occurs to anyone, I would LOVE to hear it.

      Thank you SOOOOOO much for your feedback, Heather. Can’t wait for you to get started on your book, as well. Keep me posted on its progress.

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  2. First of all–YES——-I would continue reading and I want to right now so get busy!!! 🙂 I absolutely love the title—it tells the story but yet makes the reader wonder what in the world!!! I absolutely was drawn in and read without pausing and just wanted to see how you tied the experience with Baby Doc in with your life with your father. Brilliant!!! I think this style will suit you well and though I am not a critic or reviewer by any means I know what I like and I really loved this!!! Good job, Kathy!! Keep it up!!! I will be your tester anytime!!!! Hugs!

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    • I just love you, Beth Ann! Thank you soooooooo much for reading. It feels like such an honor that people want to read what I write. Do you ever feel that way? I will keep going–for sure. I already know how I’m going to begin chapter 2. However, it’s strange how hard it is to take these blog posts and assemble them into something more book-like. Hope you have a great day–and hugs to you, as well!

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      • Writing a book/memoir is quite an undertaking and I have full confidence that you are well on your way!!! Seriously—-I really think you have a great one in you and am so excited to be coming along on the journey with you!!!! I will live vicariously through you! 🙂

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  3. I found this so engaging! I will echo what a poster mentioned above, it might be nice to tie in the interaction with Baby Doc interview. I think the title is interesting and draws the reader in, the only thing is I might expect some reference to your mother and the uniqueness of her views sooner. I am newer to your blog, and so the aspect of your mother is such a different spin than I expected that I found myself wanting to know if there was any tension, how did her view affect your understanding of your father or how you reacted to Baby Doc. (You may be planning this in subsequent chapters, and so I apologize if this is out of place.) I am a big fan of this genre and your first chapter draws me in and makes me want to read more. Great job, thank you very much for sharing.

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  4. I love the title. I really cannot wait to read more of this, and to hear more about how such a pairing came to be (your religious mother and organized crime father). Memoir is my favorite genre, and I will absolutely read your book when it is published. Good luck as you continue this process!

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    • Actually, that’s what the next chapter will tackle–how my parents met and married–how the pairing came to be. I’m so happy you want to read more. I’m excited to hear your response. Thank you so much for this generous comment!

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  5. Kathryn, I would most definitely keep reading! The title and subject matter completely grabbed my attention. You’re a wonderful writer. I have no criticism other than my disappointment that your books isn’t already finished and downloaded on my Nook! 🙂

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    • Ah, I have that same disappointment, but your comment has totally made my day. This kind of enthusiasm helps to keep me going. Thank you so, so much! I’ll work hard to get the story downloadable! Have a great day, my friend!

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  6. Kathy – I love the title! and the contents are excellent.

    Suggestion: at the conclusion of your first chapter, shoot an arrow (think of it as a grappling hook) that whets my appetite (dangles a carrot) introducing me to chapter two, causing me to turn the page to find out more about what happens next.

    Shoot an arrow (grappling hook) at the conclusion of each chapter with a direct hit to the next.

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    • Oh, Laurie, thank you for the suggestion. I understand exactly what you mean. I’ve never heard the arrow metapohor, but that’s a perfect way to describe it. I can definitely do that. I truly can not thank you enough for this suggestion. This is terribly helpful!

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  7. Kathy, woo-hoo for getting the means to proceed with more information for your memoir. Having your father’s FBI file will likely be a gold mine for you. I’m salivating at the possible contents, and I won’t even see it. 🙂

    If it is okay with you, I would like to read your chapter several times when I can really focus on it and send you my feedback privately. I have just gone through the process of having my novel manuscript edited twice by a professional pre-editor, and I can likely give you some really good help from my own experience.

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    • Gosh, Andra, I can’t tell you how much I would appreciate that. Thank you. I agree that the FBI file will likely be a hugely valuable source. I will be curious to hear what you think about the chapter.

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  8. Possibly this is a minor quibble but something that immediately crossed my mind, or maybe I’m dense and I somehow missed this, but as I was reading I was wondering why you were meeting with someone as notorious as Baby Doc. Were you there in a journalistic capacity? I’m pretty certain you guys are not friends. You quickly get into who your father is, but if I was unfamiliar with you or your blog I’d wonder who are you? Of course that could easily be explained in the dust jacket as well since this is a memoir. Overall I think it’s an intriguing opening chapter and it flows well.

    As for the title, I’m in the minority here. I find it wordy and I find myself wanting to say “gob” for God and “mod” for Mob. Sorry. Titles have never been my strong suit. All of your other commenters are probably right and it’s probably perfect.

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    • These are all very legitimate criticisms. First, I had removed the part of the story that explained how I came to be meeting with Baby Doc. I was afraid the explanation was too long and involved. But you’re right. I’ve struggled with that choice. And may need to change it. Second, I’m still not convinced this is the best way to begin the memoir. I have several options. This is only one of maybe 3. I’m thinking about trying out at least one other option. Finally, I’m not at all convinced about the title either. I don’t have the gob/mod problem, but I think length could be a problem. It really helps to hear a range of perspectives. I need to weigh it all. So thanks so much, V. Excellent feedback, my friend.

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  9. My comment in bullet form:
    1. I’m happy to hear your mother was able to offer you the info you needed to retrieve your father’s files. Was the process of getting his SSN and death certificate worthy of its own blog post? 😉
    2. Love the title. Absolutely love it!
    3. I was intrigued to find out how you would tie in your interview with Baby Doc to your own memoirs, and you did not disappoint. Clever and seamless transition, Kathy!
    4. Like another commenter mentioned above, it might be helpful (at some point) to have more context provided re: why you were able to interview Baby Doc. I know it was sort of a fluke, but the context would help cement *you* more firmly in the narrative.
    5. I’m certainly looking forward to Chapter 2! Can’t wait to read more about your parents as a unit.
    6. Are you still planning to weave your struggles with bipolar disorder into your memoirs as well? YOWZA! The task boggles my mind, so kudos to you for having the courage and motivation to move forward. I know you can do it, Kathy, and I will be your biggest fan when your book comes out! 🙂

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    • I’ll respond to #6 first. For the most part, I’ve decided the bipolar story needs to be a separate book. I’m planning to end the one that focuses on my childhood with my father’s death. It is way too much to include it all in one book. Plus, from what I hear, publishers are more inclined to take on a book, when they know there will be more than one. As I mentioned above, I have, indeed, struggled with the Baby Doc context. I think both of you are right–that I need to work some of that explanation back in. However, I’m also still struggling with whether or not this this is the best beginning. I suspect I will do a test run on at least one other version of chapter 1. Thanks for the detailed feedback, Dana. This is all so very helpful!

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  10. I enjoyed the interview with Baby Doc but found that I am even more intrigued by the tales of your father … and your realization that “like people, the past itself is never all one way or another, never all bad, all good.”

    I think what resonates with me most are the relationships you’ve had – with your charming but law-breaking father, with your mercurial mother and with others along the way, past Presidents included. At the end of the day, it’s our sameness — even in the midst of your unique circumstances – that brings me back to your story.

    Excellent writing — loved the title and I want to read more!! 🙂

    MJ

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    • Yes, that’s an excellent point, MJ–it’s our sameness that interests me, as well. And part of that sameness is the fact that there is good and bad in each of us. Each of us loves and wants love, and most of us make big mistakes, as well. That’s partly what intrigued me about Baby Doc. He seemed so ordinary–and appealing. I realized anew–he’s not all evil. No one ever is. But even our greatest heros are flawed, as well.

      Thanks so much for the feedback, my friend. This comment helped me cement some ideas about good and evil that I’ve been wrestling with. I appreciate that enormously.

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  11. Kathryn, having just completed a memoir-writing class, here’s my suggestion: The Baby Doc interview is interesting, but it has little to do with your story and leaves me wondering. It takes too long to get to your story. Also, I need context. Why are you in Haiti? What brought you there? Have you lived there all your life? As a reader, I don’t know. When is this taking place? Again, there’s no way of knowing for certain. I mean, I assume it’s after the devastion they experienced few years ago, but that’s only because I’ve been reading your blog. Getting back to your parents, since, based on title this book is as much about your mother as it is about your father (and there’s no mention of your mother here), I would consider a new chapter. One that tells a story from your childhood that gave you an epiphany. The moment you realized your father was in the mob, was on the wrong side of the law. A chapter that conveys how different your parents were, balancing “good” and “evil,” with you in the middle trying to make sense of both.

    Now, if you want to use Baby Doc story, consider it as a prologue. But you really should add context, and don’t wait as long to get to your parents. Also, you describe the shabbiness of his home and I loved this description. Bring it closer to beginning, when you first arrive. Remember, the reader can’t see what you’re seeing, so describe the room early on. You have a great story to tell about you and your family, so get to it early. People who buy your book will buy it for your story, becuase the title, because of whatever’s written on the back of the book about you. Not necesssarily because of the Baby Doc interview. So, remember that as you work on this. Plus, another thing I learned, humor is very important. Few can pull it off, but I know you can. Books with humor are more popular. The lit agent here had a lot of rules about the kind of books she’ll consider, but then she added if you write successfully with humor, she’ll forgive you anything. Sorry this is so long. Keep writing!

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    • Okay, Monica, I can’t thank you enough for this comment. I think you are right about the Baby Doc interview. I may still use this in a preface, but otherwise, I agree now that it’s too tangential. In fact, having read your comment, I think I have a much better sense of how to begin and will try to post another chapter 1 on Thusday–if I get far enough. Your explanation here is so incredibly clear. I also appreciate your mentioning the matter of humor. I will keep that in mind as I approach version 2. That makes a lot of sense. Again, I can’t thank you enough!

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      • Kathy, one more thing, remember I told you that I have a friend who is a published author, who’s been helping me? Well, I shared your proposed title with her and this is what she said (assuming I can convey what she said):
        Praying for the Mafia: A Childhood Gambled on God and the Mob

        First, you should avoid using words that end in “ing” as it is passive and thus a weak word to use. Pray for the Mafia would be better.

        2. But, who is praying for the mafia? You? Does that mean you are supporting the mafia and all it represents? Or is it your mother who is praying? If it’s your mother, then the second part doesn’t make sense, as it wasn’t her childhood gambled…was it? The childhood refers to you, right? So, the title would appear to be at odds with itself, unless, of course, it was you that was praying for the mafia to succeed.

        Let me know if you have questions! 🙂
        Btw, you’ve inspired me. I may soon be putting some of my memoir on my post (btw, the memoir I’m writing has nothing to do with The Road Taken series that I started on my blog, if you’ve seen that).

        I’m so glad we can help each other! 🙂

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      • Excellent feedback. Please, tell your friend I said thank you! But, yes, my mother had me praying for mafia–both that my dad would “turn his life over to the Lord,” and that, when a trial was going on, my dad would be acquitted. I don’t know what the former meant–if that meant he would break his mafia ties or not. It was mostly a matter of praying for his soul–that he would be “saved.” That was my mother’s language and thus the language I used as a kid.

        Again, please thank your friend, Monica–and thanks to you, as well. I can’t wait to read some of your memoir, as well! Hooray for helping one another!

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  12. I love it! People have offered such great suggestions in the comments so I’ll just say that I find the whole idea fascinating. I think it’s the contradiction between mob and religion in the same marriage that intrigues me the most. I can’t wait to read the finished product.

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  13. You’re such a great writer, I was sucked in from the opening sentence. Great start, Kathy! And the title is really good, too. I’m glad to see you moving forward with this. I’ll be first in line to buy a copy!

    Wait a sec…everything is virtual nowadays, huh? Well, just pretend I’ll be first in line, then!

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  14. Kathy, I find your very clear and lucid stories from your childhood and remembering your dad (counting out cash while he was watching TV, for instance) to be the most fascinating … I’m not sure I would try to blend in current life stories at this point, although you can certainly add them later. (I’m a huge fan of your Baby Doc story, as you know!!) I think your title is a bit long — the juiciest bit is “A childhood in the Mob” in whatever variation you want, but that is your hook. I’m opinionated, what can I say?? But YAY for you for getting the information you need from the FBI .. you are off and running, darling!!

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    • I agree with what you say about the title. I’ve been trying out other options today. It’s a bit much, isn’t it? I also think you are right about the Baby Doc stuff. I may try to include that in a preface, but there’s more story than I can manage here to begin with. Thanks for mentioning it. Enough people now have thought it didn’t work, that I’m ready to start over. I can’t thank you enough for your honest feedback, Betty!

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  15. I am so excited to read this opening chapter. What a grand beginning.

    I was curious as how you received an invitation to interview Baby Doc. It seems like you and Kate had a private audience with him for a long time. Does he give interviews often? Did you receive special permission?

    I like your proposed title. It captures the elements you’re trying to incorporate and gives just enough information to interest the reader.

    As luck or fate would have it, I came across this article on Oprah.com today. Maybe you’ll find some useful tidbits as you continue writing.
    “How to write your memoir”
    http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/How-to-Write-Your-Memoir-by-Abigail-Thomas

    Good luck on your journey! Hugs to you!

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    • Ah, I will look at the Oprah article. Thanks for mentioning it. I got to visit Baby Doc as friend of mine was a friend of his. Baby Doc did it as a favor to our friend Richard. I think you’re right. If I include this material at all, even by way of preface, I will have to include more context. Thanks so much for mentioning this! By the way, I’d love to read your post today. Any chance you could email me the password or do you want to keep it completely private? Either way is fine. Sorry you are having to make a tough decision, though. Hugs————-

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  16. Hi Kathy! First of all, I LOVE the title. It is really catching and is a great description of your unusual parents. I really like this chapter yet was wondering if it would be better as an introduction as a way of intro ducting your unique story. Not sure if that makes sense but that was my first thought. I guess I’d have to see the second chapter in order to determine if that makes sense or not. But you are off to a fabulous start!!! I think your memoir is going to be great! keep it coming.
    ps how crazy that you got to meet Baby Doc? That must have been very strange!

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    • Believe me, Nicole, it was was strange, alright–one of the weirdest things have has ever happened to me. And, as you know, I’ve had what some could rightly consider a weird life to begin with.

      Thanks so much for reading. I think you are right. I’m going to save the Baby Doc stuff for a preface–at least that’s my thought now.

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      • Kathy: I am so impressed by your dedication and writing! I think it is AWESOME you are using your blog as a way to gain ideas and inputs into your memoir! I think your book will be great and keep it coming! Do you have a chapter outline all planned out? How far are you? Did I tell you that I wrote four chapters of a fiction book two years ago and it still sits in my cabinet? I desperately want to finish it but am not sure if it is any good. But I may try someday. You are inspiring me!

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      • Oh, Nicole, I’m so happy to be inspiring you. I think you should pull the thing out again. What’s it about?

        It’s interesting that when I started blogging it never occurred to me that this could be a forum for getting feedback on my writng. But, gosh, what a valuable group of readers I have. I am so, so thankful. And thanks to you, dear Nicole!

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  17. Sorry it took me so long to get to this comment. My life has been crazy the last few days. That being said………
    I love the title.
    I don’t know that this should be chapter one. Certainly, it is well written and interesting and valid and NEEDED, but not as your horse right out of the gate. You may want to begin, like someone said above, with your realization that things in your life were different from the average bear. Another option would be what drove you to decide this was a story that needed to be shared. As you well know, something was eating at you that made you want to start this journey. What was it?
    I also think your mom has to be mentioned in the first chapter because of the title. Perhaps you could start by sharing how your parents were like a living yin and yang for you.
    Maybe what I’ve said here is a bunch of hooey, and that is far more than likely. One thing is for certain. Beginnings are damn hard, Sista!
    Regardless, I CANNOT wait to read this. Truly, I am excited beyond belief. This story is so interesting. Keep going!

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    • Great to hear from you, Sista. I think you are right about not using the Baby Doc stuff right out of the gate. I’ve pretty much decided that for sure. Glad you like the title. However, I’m going to post some other options tomorrow that I think might be better. I’ll be curious to see what you think of them. Can’t wait for the visit from you carp-carrying Ohioans (sp?)!

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  18. Here are my initial thoughts. Your writing is very good. At first I was worried you were taking us too far down the Baby Doc path to be able to tie it back to your own story. I think you accomplished that. I have to admit my ignorance and say I know little to nothing about Baby Doc so I think a few little tidbits of why you feel ambivalent about him might be helpful to the uninformed reader like myself. Finally, you’re bringing your mom strongly into the story with the title. Perhaps you should allude to her briefly in this chapter if she will have a large role in the story. Just a thought.

    As always, I’m captivated.by your writing.

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    • I agree with what you mention about my mom. I’ve been revising the chapter and have added info about my mom in that version. Also, I’ve decided to not use the Baby Doc interview in the first chapter. I may use it in a preface, however, so I’ll keep in mind the fact that some folks may need background info on him. Good point! Thanks for reading!

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    • Oh, wow, D, that’s a good indicator. Glad you like the title, as well. However, I’m going to share some other options tomorrow to see what folks think. I suspect the newer ones are better. I’ll be curious to see what you think. Thanks for reading!

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  19. Uh, YEAH I would keep reading… I was sad when it was over. OMG, Kathy, this is oozing with truth. I think some truths others are unwilling or even able to see about their own lives. I honestly don’t have any other feedback or constructive criticism. I really like it.

    I can’t wait to attend a book signing. 🙂

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    • Yes, yes, a book signing. I would love you to attend a book signing. I would love to have one. How fun would that be! So happy to hear you would keep reading. Thanks, dear Currie! Can’t wait to see you at a signing!

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  20. Having read your more recent post, I know you plan to scrap this piece as chapter 1. Quite honestly, it drew me in and it seems a fitting beginning for your story. But I know that this memoir is your passion and whatever changes you have in mind are what you feel is best, so go for it!

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  21. I am pondering the similarities and differences between Baby Doc and your father. A former dictator and a someone in the mob. Glad you got the certificates you needed. Your writing sizzled here, my friend. You continually draw us in…

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  22. I normally don’t read the comments before I comment, but caught the first one (by 2summers) and have to agree that you should tie in (or tie up, in a way) those similarities between the men, the way good and evil are not at all clear cut. Otherwise… keep writing!! I want to read your book. You have most certainly drawn me in. The title is great, and your lead in is fantastic. I might be biased on that because I remember your original post, it was so powerful for what might seem like a simple interview or visit with someone. Your writing is like that — strong, powerful, keen, making connections most of us might not otherwise see.

    If you come to the Akron or Cleveland area for book signings, let me know. I want to be there. 🙂

    Like

    • Actually, I’ve decided to scrap the Baby Doc material–at least for chapter one. I’m considering using it in a preface, however. I hope to post a revised chapter 1 next week. And, goodness, I will definitely know if a signing brings me to your part of the US! I would be honored for you to be there, Robin!

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  23. Heaven knows I can’t give writing advice so I will just skip right over that. I was really pulled in by your questioning your childhood. I can relate to that (different reasons but theoretically….). I know I am completely over simplifying this, but I think it’s wonderful that despite the crimes your father was involved in (convicted of) he seems to have been a very good father to you. Good, as in, you know he loved you. He spent time with you. He talked to you. He laughed with you. He made you laugh. I see “above the law” parents every where who are not good to their children, or involved with them. I think you stated it very well when you said: “And though I accept this fact in terms of people—that they are never all good or all bad”. I am sure I have done “bad” in life, but it by no means dictates how I feel about my children or what I want my children to know. Though not quite on the same level as the “mob crimes” your father was involved in I am a HEAVY DUTY cusser. I know it, I don’t like it about myself, and I use to tell my children: DO NOT SOUND LIKE ME. I did not see it as a good trait, and try as I may, when my temper snapped (snaps) so did (does) the dam holding back my cuss words. Silly comparison I know. I see it as something “bad” about me.

    I am constantly asking questions about my father, his life, and what was important to him. In asking about him, I’m trying to determine and learn more about me. But no matter what I learn about my dad, I knew he loved me. And no matter what I learn about me, I know I am capable of love. And when it comes down to it, that’s the importance of what I need to know.

    I’m rambling. But I love your writing.

    Like

    • You have said the most important thing when you mention knowing that your father loves you and that you are capapble of loving. That’s what matters, doesn’t it? Love–it’s what’s most important in the end.

      However, in relation to all of this seriousness, I have to mention having laughed when you say you’re a terrible “cusser,” as I am as well. I’m terrible. Drives my Sara crazy. It’s good we don’t have kids, as I don’t think I’d be a good influence in that regard. However, as your children grow, I would imagine that will make you seem all the more human–and lovable, as a result!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read the chapter. I have drafted an entirely new version that I hope to post on Monday–though it’s not as long as this chapter was. I think it’s MUCH better than the first. Hope you are having a happy weekend, my friend. Hugs to you!

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      • David doesn’t particularly care for my cussing either….but he knows its a release valve and we are all probably safer letting that out in one quick cuss bomb than holding it in! 🙂

        Looking forward to the revised chapter. I was so intently reading the first “vision” that I mindlessly ate a pound of pistachio nuts!

        Happy Sunday Friend, and hugs returned.

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  24. Love the title! While scrolling and skimming through the comments, I saw someone mention the connection with your mother, which makes sense given the title of your book. I also saw that you were scrapping the Baby Doc encounter and incorporating it elsewhere, so I’ll just anxiously wait for you to post the revision! 🙂

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