F. P. Lione
F. P. Lione is actually two people --- a married couple by the name of Frank and Pam Lione. They are both Italian-American and the offspring of NYPD detectives. Frank is a veteran of the NYPD who survived the World Trade Center rescue efforts. Both Frank and Pam lost friends and colleagues in the terrible destruction of September 11, 2001. The story they tell in CLEAR BLUE SKY rings with the authenticity that only someone who has been there can convey.
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Move over “NYPD Blue.” Husband and wife Frank and Pam (F. P.) Lione have written a New York Police Detective novel that offers all of the intrigue, grit and suspense of the popular television show, but with a believable Christian twist (and none of the profanity). Their latest book, CLEAR BLUE SKY, continues the saga of NYPD’s Tony Cavalucci and his search for faith, sobriety, lasting relationships and peace in his hilarious, too-often heartbreaking extended Italian family. Here, the Liones talk to FaithfulReader.com’s Cindy Crosby about their real-life mob connections, their writing process, a frightening encounter with a serial killer, and which of them has the heaviest Italian accent.
FaithfulReader.com: One thing I love about the Midtown Blue series and your newest novel, CLEAR BLUE SKY, is how authentic your characters and the events in the books feel. How did they come about?
F. P. Lione: Truthfully, they came out of a time of praying and seeking God for direction. We wanted to work together for God and this is what came out of it. One day, during that time, it just came to Pam all at once --- the series, Tony and Joe, New York --- and it all built from there.
FR: The scenes with Tony’s family are some of the best --- and most heartbreaking --- moments of the book. The extended Mafia family in CLEAR BLUE SKY (Paulie, Brother, Aunt Elena) are a hoot. Are they based on people you grew up with or know?
FPL: Yes, we do have some Mott Street relatives. We also grew up in Staten Island, where everyone is “connected” and lots of Mob bosses have lived. Both of our grandmothers came over from Italy. Pam’s family is from Brooklyn, Frank’s family is from Staten Island, so we saw and lived with a lot of this. Our families and neighbors are very colorful people, so we have a lot to work with.
FR: Reading your books is like learning a new language --- policespeak --- plus picking up some New York Italian. Were both “languages” already a part of your lives, or did you research them for the series and the new novel?
FPL: A lot of this is how we talk. The cop language is from the job. We talk loud and with our hands, and we have thick New York accents. We watched ourselves on a recent TV interview and sat there shaking our heads saying, “Do we really sound like that?” And we both think the other has a worse accent.
FR: It’s amazing that you can write such a gritty, authentic book about the NYPD --- and for that matter, a feuding Italian family! --- without using profanity. Has that been difficult to pull off?
FPL: You better !#$*&$% believe it!!! You can edit that, but come on --- you set yourself up for that one. Honestly, it gets easier to pull off as we go on with it. Sometimes we leave curses in for Lonnie, our editor, to read and let her laugh before she edits it.
FR: I can’t figure out why Tony doesn’t weigh 300 lbs., eating all the great food that is described in CLEAR BLUE SKY! Is food that important a part of the Italian-American culture? Do either of you prepare Italian food?
FPL: YES!!! Half the time when we’re writing, we use what we had for dinner that day, Sunday, or a holiday. Sunday dinners are a feast. During the week it’s not as much, but it’s good food. We eat a lot of fruits and veggies --- probably pretty close to the Mediterranean diet --- and we exercise a lot. So we’re healthy.
FR: There has been so much written in fiction and nonfiction about September 11th that it seems difficult to add anything new. Yet I found the 9/11 portion of CLEAR BLUE SKY especially moving. Why did you decide to make that a part of the story?
FPL: At first we were going to start the next book after the towers fell. This was very personal to us, and to be honest, it was very difficult to write. The anniversary of the day is very somber here, it shouldn’t be forgotten. When the question came up of writing about it, we were hesitant, and threw it back and forth until we submitted a rough outline on how we would tell it and it went from there.
FR: In all four of your books, Joe Fiore is a spiritual mentor as well as partner to the main character, Tony Cavalucci. Did you have a Joe in your lives? Or were you “Joes” for someone else?
FPL: (Pam): Okay, truth time. The seed of both of the characters is Frank, who I love like anything. Tony is Frank before he met God (although Tony reminds me of myself a lot of the time). Joe is Frank after he met God. I don’t mean in every way; they’re loosely based on him, they’re both Italian cops from New York in different phases of their Christian walk. Sometimes we’re Joe to somebody, sometimes we’re Tony to somebody, and sometimes we’re Rooney if we’re having a bad enough day.
FR: Describe your writing process. Do you both do the plotting? The writing? The research? Do you ever disagree about what should happen next? And what do you do if you disagree?
FPL: We do a rough outline and expand from there. We do a lot of visual research, go to the places that we’re writing about and research their history. We use the Midtown Library a lot. As far as disagreeing, no, we’ve never had a challenge with that. Rule of thumb --- we yield to whoever knows more about the subject; like, if it’s a cop thing, Frank knows best. We grew up in the same area and went to the same high school…we both come from working class Italian/Irish families, so I guess we see things the same way. If one of us is adamant about something, it usually adds to the subject.
FR: One of the difficult choices for Tony is choosing between his dysfunctional family and his fiancée, Michele, and her son Stevie, which creates some great tension throughout the previous books and in CLEAR BLUE SKY. Some readers would argue that your family should always come first. How would you respond?
FPL: Your husband/wife/children are your immediate family; once you’re married, your parents and siblings become your extended family. We’ve found personally that we have to curb relationships that bring strife and division to our marriage and cause us to disrespect each other just so we don’t offend someone else in the family. The husband and wife relationship has to come first. And while not everyone will agree with that, it’s scriptural; a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. (We’ll probably have to remind ourselves of this when our sons get married.)
FR: What’s the strangest story from your experience as an NYPD detective or that you heard from your NYPD detective parents?
FPL: (Frank): I witnessed a serial killer mow people down on 34th St. It was an evil thing. I wound up being on his lineup where he tried to tell everybody he wasn’t a serial killer, he was a serial opportunist. He sat there laughing after he killed all those people…it was bizarre.
(Pam): I don’t know about strangest, but the scariest was when we were kids during the blackout of 1977. My stepfather was in Bushwick and got caught in the riots. Also, I thought it was strange that women would write to the precinct asking Frank if he was single or sent him their phone number. I mean, if someone wrote me a ticket I wouldn’t be looking to go out with him.
FR: Who are your favorite novelists and nonfiction authors? What’s on your nightstand right now?
FPL: Bible on the nightstand. (Frank doesn’t read fiction). For me (Pam), I’m reading Nelson DeMille’s WILDFIRE, SCREENWRITING FOR DUMMIES and the Bible.
FR: You still live close to New York City, correct? What do you love about it, and what don’t you like about it?
FPL: We live on the Jersey/Pennsylvania border. We’re a little over an hour out of NYC. We go to church there, we food shop there and our families are there. We hate the traffic, hate the crime and love the city. We love the food, the pizza, the bagels, the bakeries, the Salumeria’s and the fish stores…we drive in with a cooler and load up.
FR: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
FPL: We’re working on a novel and a screenplay (hence the SCREENWRITING FOR DUMMIES). We’re taking our time; we need some time off after four novels one right after the other. But once we start writing we fly…it shouldn’t be too long until you see it.
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