Connected guy: Ed Falco's prequel to Mario Puzo's 'The Godfather,' 'The Family Corleone,' arrives Tuesday.By Joe Brier, for USA TODAY
Connected guy: Ed Falco's prequel to Mario Puzo's 'The Godfather,' 'The Family Corleone,' arrives Tuesday.So what are they doing hanging out with the Mafia?"It's a joke between us, a constant source of amusement," says the elder Falco, whose new book, The Family Corleone, a prequel to Mario Puzo's wildly popular 1969 novel The Godfather, goes on sale Tuesday. "We're not sure how we both ended up in the Mob. We like to think it's coincidental."Edie Falco, of course, is famous for her award-winning role as Carmela in The Sopranos, the hit HBO series revolving around a Mafia family.Not that the two are complaining. The Mob connection seems to work quite nicely for the Family Falco."Yeah, it was funny that an actress from a suburban Italian-American family ended up being associated with a Mob family of some renown, years ago though it was," Edie Falco, who now plays a drug-addicted nurse in Showtime's Nurse Jackie, says by e-mail. "Then my uncle goes and writes this book about another Mob family of some great renown! Just when I thought I was out."But the Falcos are not out. Ed Falco got in on the Mob action because his literary agent, Neil Olson of Donadio and Olson, represented Puzo and now the Puzo family. "He thought I'd be a good person to work with Mario Puzo's themes," Falco says. "And I was interested in getting into popular fiction."The Family Corleone is based on unproduced portions of the screenplays of Godfather 3 and 4, both written by Puzo, who died in 1999. The prequel follows two sequels to The Godfather, both written by Mark Winegardner, who did not get the prequel nod — the best-selling The Godfather Returns (2004) and the less successful The Godfather's Revenge (2006).In Falco's prequel, Mob boss Vito Corleone is most interested in the future of his family. His youngest children — Michael, Fredo and Connie — are in school and clueless about Daddy's "profession." Adopted son Tom is away at college. It's Sonny, his 17-year-old and most unruly son, who worries him most. Much of the book revolves around Sonny's desire to get into the "business."Booklist, which reviews thousands of new books, already has given The Family Corleone its blessing, saying it "channels the original so well that readers will be vividly reminded of Puzo's strength," leaving them "dreaming of just one more movie."Falco is well-known in academic circles for his award-winning short-story collections, three novels, nine plays and his poetry (written as Edward Falco). But it wasn't all that much a stretch for him to venture into Mob territory as "Ed" Falco. The themes of gangsters and betrayal have appeared in Falco's work before, in his novels Wolf Point and Saint John of the Five Boroughs among them."Gangsters have always interested me. Outlaws," he says.But talking in his neat, book-lined office on the Virginia Tech campus, Falco says he is no mobster. He has no criminal record and only hints at once having had a gambling habit. Ponies. Poker. "But I was never particularly good at it," he says with a laugh. "That's why I'm a writer."Having published through small academic presses with small press runs for much of his 25-year career at Virginia Tech, Falco was eager for a larger stage. The Family Corleone has a first print run of 130,000 copies."I jumped at the chance. I wanted to write something that had an audience. The literary world can be very small."Falco, who writes in the morning now that he's 63 and goes to bed much earlier than he used to, says the book came to him quite quickly. "I wrote it in about eight months. It's usually a much slower process. Two years or so."He calls writing both a "puzzle and a challenge" and confesses that dealing with Puzo's long shadow was intimidating."But I went into it with a certain bravado," says Falco, who is as soft-spoken as the original godfather, Marlon Brando, star of the classic 1972 blockbuster movie now celebrating its 40th anniversary as a pop culture icon. "I knew the milieu."It comes through. The Family Corleone is filled with the smell of simmering tomato sauce, cheap cigarettes and the taste of ripe figs, picked from a tree in a Brooklyn backyard.What intrigued him most was working with "monsters who lived under the mask of civility. I liked peeling away the outer layers."He was also interested in the time— the Depression-era '30s in New York, a city inhabited by Italian and Irish immigrants who were battling for turf.Falco's editor at Grand Central, Mitch Hoffman, said Falco rose to the challenge."Ed had to take the kernel of a story — a story involving truly beloved characters that everyone knows — and he had to honor the legacy of Mario Puzo," Hoffman says. "All the while expanding that into a contemporary story that feels fresh and new and his. And he pulled it off."Falco is well aware that the legions of Godfather fans will have the final say."I like the book. Other people will have to decide," he says, realizing all too well that some Puzo fans have a "certain position" on The Godfather brand. "They don't want people fooling with it."That would be Rachel Clements Case of Lynchburg, Va., a big fan of Puzo's original."I'm not a fan of prequels or sequels written by someone other than the original author," says Case, a stay-at-home mother of four. "I won't be reading. When something is as great as The Godfather, you should just leave it alone."But Alan Simmons, a copywriter from Bella Vista, Ark., is willing to take a look. "I'm a huge fan of The Godfather and I'm fascinated by Italian-American culture, so I would definitely read it. I'm normally not a fan of prequels, but for this I would make an exception."Falco does come to the job with certain advantages. He grew up in an Italian neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father was a house painter. His mother a seamstress. But the only time his parents spoke Italian was in anger. (Falco is divorced and in a relationship. He has a daughter and stepson.)"Every word in there I grew up with," Falco says with a laugh. "My parents didn't speak Italian around us kids, but they cursed in Italian, so I knew all the exclamations."He just didn't know how to spell them. Like v'a Napoli! which translates to "Go to Naples!" which turns into "Go to hell!"Not that the project hasn't come with larger controversies.In February, Paramount filed a lawsuit accusing Puzo's heirs of approving sequels to The Godfather without the studio's permission and in violation of previous agreements. Puzo's heirs came back with a $10 million countersuit in March over the studio's attempts to block The Family Corleone.The Puzo family says it has informed Paramount several times of the publication of Falco's book and noted the studio did not object to the 2006 sequel.In a statement, Paramount said: "The studio has tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo, whose novel The Godfather was acquired in 1969 and helped spawn one of the most celebrated film trilogies of all time. We have an obligation to and will protect our copyright and trademark interests."Grand Central, publisher of The Family Corleone, has distanced itself from the lawsuits, which are still pending, and is proceeding with publication.Hoffman, Falco's editor, says he's "happy to be publishing this great book" despite the legal hassles. "I hope they all revolve their differences."If there's a film to be made out of the newest Godfather book, Falco isn't saying. (Paramount also would not comment on possible film rights.)"The book is out. Film rights are another deal," Falco says, refusing to even play the who-would-play-who game in a film version of his book. (Francis Ford Coppola made three Godfather movies; the first two were classics, the third, not so much.)Falco did concede, however, that he wrote the book with various scenes in mind. "Yes, I tried to do some scene writing, because I loved the (first) movie. I hope it translates visually. That was part of my job."Part of his job was also to bring his characters to life, like young and reckless Sonny (James Caan in the films). "He's an Italian guy you easily recognize. Like one of my uncles. Not terribly smart but full of opinions! A sweet guy who might smack you up side the head at any moment."Wasn't he worried about reinforcing stereotypes? "I tried to make them individuals."As for the 21 graduate students who are in his MFA program, he doesn't quite know what they think about all this — a Mafia novel from their most academic of professors."I'm known as a literary writer of short stories," he acknowledges. "But evolution is natural."Or maybe it was an offer Falco couldn't refuse.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to email@example.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. 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