APIARY’s Elizabeth Knauss speaks to Philadelphia writer Augustus Cileone about his new book, Feast or Famine.
Mike Accordo, an English teacher, has not spoken for a long time after becoming catatonic following a traumatic event. As part of his recovery, he visits Florence, Italy, with his mentor/surrogate mother/unofficial therapist, Ambrosia D’Italia. By dictating his memoir, he is able to hear his own voice again and is able to converse with his friend at the same time.
Set in the 60s, 70s and 80s, Feast or Famine depicts the contrast between self-indulgence and the desire for religious balance. From South Philadelphia to Florence, Italy, Augustus Cileone takes readers on a trip involving stories about gangsters, murder, drugs, rock and roll, recovery and friendship.
Augustus Cileone was born in Philadelphia. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in English from Temple University. He later studied at Saint Joseph’s University and acquired teaching certificates in elementary and secondary education. Cileone has been honored for his writing by Annual Art Affair, Hidden River Arts, the annual Writer’s Digest writing competition, The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, the Montgomery County Community College’s Annual Writers’ Club Poetry and Fiction Contest, Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and the Annual StoryPros International Screenplay Contest. Don Ron Books is also including a short story in their collection entitled South Philly Fiction.
APIARY: Your book is set in South Philly with stories revolving around gangs and murder. Take us with you through the blocks of your neighborhood and let us know where these ideas were born.
AC: I was born in South Philly and lived there until 1974. My neighborhood was around the 9th St. and Snyder Ave. area, and it was primarily populated with Italian Americans. The gangster, Angelo Bruno, lived around the block from me, and I parked in the space where he was killed the day before his death. Mostly, the Mafia types only dealt with running numbers. Gambling was part of the culture, and many relatives liked playing cards and going to the racetrack. Drugs and rock and roll became part of the background during the time I attended Temple University.
APIARY:I read that you enjoy mystery novels and films and have even published your own: A Lesson in Murder, published by Oak Tree Press. Should we expect a similar seat-of-your-pants twists-and-turns type book with Feast or Famine?
AC: Feast or Famine is more of a satiric fictionalized memoir. There is some suspense as to how the main character became traumatized, which is revealed toward the end of the book.
APIARY: How does the contrast between religious restriction and yummy Italian food play into your own mind and stomach?
AC: When I was growing up, food was everywhere – my mother put it on my pillow when I went to bed at night (just kidding). The women were always trying to please the family with their cooking, and when the men weren’t talking, their mouths were filled with pasta and meatballs. But, we all went to church on Sundays and listened to the dangers of indulging one’s appetites. I thought this would make for a good metaphor involving the individual’s need to live by rules but also the desire to break them.
APIARY: Your book takes place from the 60s through the 80s. What type of research did you perform and discover through your writing process? Do you recommend any info-gathering techniques for other historic fiction writers?
AC: Since the history involved in the book followed my own life’s story, I did not have to do a great deal of research into the periods covered. I did have to find out about bulimia, since one of the characters suffers from it. I also had to inquire about the differences between life in Italy and America. Also, I had to make sure the technology and word usage was consistent with the past.
APIARY: Why did you choose Florence, Italy as the counter location to South Philly? What significance does it hold for you?
AC: I visited Italy in 1979, and I found Florence a beautiful locale. It was also a great place to emphasize Italy’s glorious artistic past. Its compact size allows for people to experience it on an intimate level, and the leisurely pace of life contrasts with the full-speed ahead movement of American life.
APIARY: Do you have any book signings/readings coming up?
AC: Unfortunately, e-books are not conducive to signings. I will be at the Tredyffrin Public Library at 582 Upper Gulph Rd, Strafford, PA 19087, for a mystery writers’ panel on April 12 at 7:30 PM. But, that will be for my first novel, A Lesson in Murder.
APIARY: Where can we find Feast or Famine?
AC: It’s currently available at the Kindle Store at Amazon.com. Even if you do not have an e-reader, you can download free software from Amazon to read e-books!
Augustus Cileone will be speaking on a mystery writers’ panel TONIGHT at the Tredyffrin Public Library at 582 Upper Gulph Rd, Strafford, PA at 7:30 p.m.