That’s the question I wanted to ask in my new book for Carina Press, named, appropriately, LEARNING TO TRUST. But in order to make that question a really valid one, I needed to ratchet up the tension and the stakes.
I started by making my heroine a flawed human being. I don’t know about you, but it’s the flawed ones I root for most. Lina started life with everything—money, privilege, a gilded lifestyle, but underneath her life was empty. Then she found a friend, Byron Brantley, and then together, they found drugs. When their families threaten to force them into rehab, they run away, and end up in Rome. When the story starts, Lina has lost touch with Byron, and is working in Naples as a waitress. She’s off drugs for good, and is making herself a new life in this dangerous city.
Jonathan Brantley comes to Naples to find out what is left of his brother. He has said goodbye to him years ago, once Byron made clear he wasn’t giving up the drugs. Most families of addicts know that at some stage they have to make the decision to do something drastic. A drug addict can’t give up the drugs for any other reason than for him or herself. They can’t give it up for someone else, even if they say so, if they promise to, because it will fail. It always fails. So at one point Lina decides she is worth it, that it’s time to get on with her life, and Brantley doesn’t. Jon knows this, and he’s not really surprised to discover what he does. Saddened, but not surprised. Except that he finds Lina, too, and they discover something in each other they’d never imagined possible.
Naples is a city controlled by illegal elements. What used to be the mafia, with its codes of family honor and omerta has become a criminal network that is so powerful that politics means little and the justice system isn’t to be relied on, because they own it, too. What’s made it wealthy is drugs, but now they’ve added fake goods, knockoffs of designer gear, perfume, t-shirts and pharmaceuticals to the mix, and they are almost as profitable as the more traditional trade in heroin and other drugs. You know the biggest producer of heroin in the world today? Afghanistan. The huge container vessels leaving Naples for the USA don’t always contain legitimate goods, or don’t always wholly contain legitimate goods. And when you look at Naples on a map, it starts to make even more sense. Geographically, it’s perfectly positioned to take these goods, combine them, or mix them up a bit and ship them worldwide. Discover a few salient facts, and it falls into place. Add the fact that the old criminal gangs in Naples still have links with some of the Italian communities in the USA, and it starts to make even more sense. Horrifying sense, but it’s there.
None of that is made up. Watching documentaries, reading books and newspaper articles puts the power and the unseen life of the criminal into the spotlight, for a change. But I only came across the full scope of it, after I’d written the first half of the book. Jon and Lina have separated, and I needed a way to bring them back together. Earlier in the book, Jon, not wanting to alert Lina’s new friends to the fact that she was once a wealthy New York party girl, lies about his expensive sneakers and leisurewear. He says they are knock-offs, and that’s what he’s doing in Naples. Selling them. Now the criminal associations own that right in Naples, and any new incomer has to toe the line. So they are alerted to the fact.
That was the catalyst I needed, and that was where the book completely turned. I had to go back and rewrite from scratch, giving the story a new emphasis and a new direction, but it was so exciting to discover the facts along with Jon and Lina themselves. I stopped the project to get as much research as I could done, and I kept on discovering new facts, some of which I found hard to believe, so I always tried hard to verify it, but of course, when it’s about an ongoing criminal enterprise, it’s always hard to do.
In the end, I never forgot that at the center of the story is a romance, a deeply felt love story between two flawed people with a lot to learn about trusting themselves and each other.
Except it might not be the end. I’ve written another book, and planned out a third. Discovering this goldmine of story material was a revelation to me, and something I’d dearly like to develop. With more vivid characters and more passionate love stories, of course!
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