My guest today is Mark Conte. Hello! Welcome back to Writing in the Modern Age!
It’s such a pleasure to have you here again. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out? Where can
we get it?
The Easter Lamb was released on April 2nd on Amazon and Smashwords, and via paperback on CreateSpace. My family had a tradition to buy a live lamb on
the morning of Good Friday, fatten it up Friday and Saturday, then my father
would slaughter the lamb Saturday night and we would have it for Easter
dinner. I always wanted to save the lamb from it’s fate but couldn’t get
my siblings to agree, so I did it in a fictional book and I used a lot of the
funny things kids say and do to make it comical at times, but the ending is
somewhat joyful and will make you laugh and cry too.
Is there anything else you can tell us that
inspired you to write The Easter Lamb?
I have always had a love of animals especially
the peaceful ones who are named as food through no fault of their own.
When I was little, I had 14 different kinds of pets in my house and we lived in
a big city.
So, if this book was made into a film, who would you cast in it?
They have so many new actors today I would not
have any idea, but they are pretty good at casting so I would leave it to them.
Let's tackle some general questions. When reading, do you prefer traditional printed books or ebooks? And why?
Right now I prefer ebooks because my eyes are
not as good as they used to be and I can enlarge the print on my computer.
So, what are you reading now?
Right now I am concentrating on a new book I am
writing about an American sailor who falls in love with a Cuban in the time of
the Cuban revolution. It may be my best book. I have the first
five chapters, the last chapters and 34 pages of notes to fill in the
rest of the book. But I have to warn you. You may need a box of
tissues or a large handkerchief to read it. I also have a sequel to The Ghost that is finished and out to
Great! Let's try another question.
you get an idea for a book, what comes first usually? Dialogue, the
characters, a specific scene? Or do you plot it out before you write?
Every book is different. The Easter Lamb I got the memory and
started from page one to the end. Of
Flesh and Stone, I got the image of the ending when he went to see the
woman who had done everything for him who he had left for another woman and he
is told she is in a mental hospital. I saw him going to the hospital and
when the attendant takes him to where she is, it’s a grave and on the stone, it
says, “One Love.” I did not want to forget one nuance of that dramatic
ending, so I wrote the ending first, then started on page one. This was a
hard book. Every once in a while I would stop to think how I want to do
this scene or another. The male character had to be a normal guy.
He is even a hero at times. Men are clueless. He has no idea what he has
done until he sees her grave and those words.
What do you have planned next? Or is that a secret?
I have the Cuban story I told you about and a
crime story about the arrest of a man 30 years after he has committed a
terrible crime and he goes on trial. Of course, there are things I am not
telling you about the case.
Is there anything you'd like to add? Any advice for new writers?
Pick a song for the book you are writing.
It could be any song, but from then on it’s the theme for your story.
Every time you play that song, you will see your characters and you will see
how they react to the situations you want to put them in. It’s a great
way to write a book and you’ll never have writers block.
Wow, such a great writing tip! I'll have to try that one. Thanks, Mark.
Readers, here is the blurb for The Easter Lamb.
In the Vianello family a lamb is bought on Good Friday, fattened up all
day Friday and Saturday, and slaughtered Saturday night to be cooked for
Easter dinner. But this year, the three Vianello boys, Dante, Johnny
and Carlo, along with the Irish girl next door, become fond of the lamb,
which they have named Delilah, and devise a daring plan to rescue it
from this fate. An amusing and inspiring family story for all ages.
Here is an excerpt.
On the afternoon of Good Friday,
between the hours of noon and three PM, the people of Juniper Street prayed at
statuettes and crucifixes in the corners of their bedrooms, or sat in silence
in their living rooms to do penance for the sins of the crucifixion. However,
to the children of Juniper Street, this was always a time of wonder and
excitement as the Vianello family returned from Ninth Street with the Easter
After the evening meal, the
children crowded into the Vianello home, forming a double line on the cellar
stairs, waiting their turn to touch the lamb, to pet the head and shoulders of
the woolly creature, and for the brave ones, to put their arms around her, to
hug her, and then move on to exchange versions of the lamb’s size, dimension
and warmth with the other children.
There were two windows that opened
out to the street where smaller children, reluctant to get that close to the
lamb, jostled each other for position, gawking at the wonder of the strange beast
as it walked around the cellar, baaing and shaking her woolly head as if she
were a prize horse.
Lucy Gamboli and Rene O’Neill were
waiting their turn at the foot of the steps. Rene had just celebrated her tenth
birthday, reaching the double figure mark in spite of a broken arm,(scored a
touchdown), a broken toe, (stole second base), and a broken finger, (won the
fight). She had pale blond hair that hung unevenly to her shoulders and
freckles across her tiny nose. Her father was a ferryboat captain on the
Delaware River Ferry, and everyone called her Skipper. She lived next door to
the Vianello family and had exchanged gifts with Dante Vianello for the first
time the previous Christmas.
Lucy Gamboli was chubby and wore
satin dresses. She was eleven years old, but still played house with her tea
set on occasion, and though they had little in common, Lucy and Skipper were
considered the best of friends.
“Can I make my little brother ride
the lamb?” Lucy said.
“Okay,” Dante said. “But you have
to be careful putting him on her. Delilah’s not tame like the dogs and cats we
have around here. She’s a wild animal and used to running around open country.”
Lucy’s brother waddled off the
stairs in his white short pants.Lucy
picked him up and put him on Delilah. Delilah shuddered under his weight and
gave a loud, “Baa-aa-aa!”She slid from
under the boy’s legs and trotted to the front of the cellar, near the coal
bin.Dante and Johnny went after her and
held her tightly.
“Whoa, Delilah,” Johnny said.
“She’s just shy,” Dante said.
“Let’s try again.”
Lucy picked up her fat baby brother
and put him on Delilah again. Delilah bucked with her hind legs, then lunged
forward and trotted to the rear of the cellar near the wine barrels. The children
at the windows were laughing and shouting.
“Hey,” one of them said. “Can we
see her buck again?”
“Back up from those windows before
you fall in,” Dante said.
He turned to Johnny. “Come on,
Johnny. Let’s bring her back here.”
Johnny picked up a small stool and
held it in front of him as he advanced on Delilah. Dante looked at him and
said, “For Christ’s sake, Johnny. We’re not going to tame her. We’re just going
to take her back to the cellar steps.”
“You don’t think she’ll jump us?”
“No,” Dante said. “She won’t jump
“Okay,” Johnny said. “You grab her
“We don’t grab her,” Dante said.
“We just walk up to her, nice and easy, and then…”
At that moment Delilah bolted
between Dante and Johnny and ran around the cellar in circles. The children ran
up the stairs screaming, climbing the steps two at a time, until they were
safely on the top of the stairs. The small children at the windows laughed and
shrieked, calling the lamb by name, “Hey, Delilah. Come on, Delilah, do it
“You can come back down,” Dante
said. “She’s just scared.”
“So are we,” Lucy said.
Dante took some lettuce leaves from
a paper bag and walked slowly toward Delilah. When he was almost beside her, he
stopped and held out the lettuce, kneeling on one knee. Delilah hesitated a
moment. She looked from left to right, then took a step forward and started
nibbling on the lettuce. The children at the windows cheered. Lucy and Skipper
came down the steps followed by Ginger Scarlotti and Lucy’s brother, Tommy.
Ginger Scarlotti giggled. “Boy,
that was fun.”
They gathered around Delilah, patting
her neck and head, playing with her ears, and running their hands along her
woolly back. The children began to drift from the windows as their mothers
called them in for the day. Dante stood on the stool and closed the cellar
windows, latching them with the small hooks.
“Are we going to walk her on Broad
Street Easter?” Tommy Gamboli said.
“I’m afraid not,” Dante said. “She
won’t be around Easter.”
“Because,” Johnny said. “Papa is
going to slaughter her so she can be our Easter dinner.”
“You mean you’re going to eat
Delilah?” Lucy said.
“Not me,” Carlo said.
“We’ve got to eat her,” Dante said.
“Mama said it was like eating turkey on hanksgiving. Only it’s like the
pilgrims did when they had to go out and hunt their own turkeys.”
But you’re not hunting Delilah,”
Lucy said hugging the lamb.
“Papa said it was a tradition. You
have to buy a lamb on Good Friday, kill it on Saturday night, and then eat it
on Easter Sunday,” Dante said.
“How does he kill her?” Skipper
Johnny took a small stool and sat
on it.“Papa sits on this stool and ties
the lambs front and back feet together real tight. Them he takes a long knife
from the cutting table, raises it in the air, and whammo!’ He brought his hand
down hard on the stool, making a loud thump. “Right in the lamb’s neck!”
Ginger screamed and ran up the
stairs. Tommy Gamboli began to cry, hiding his face in Lucy’s stomach.Mama Vianello came to the top of the stairs
and called down
“Boys, what are you doing down
“Nothing, Mama,” Dante said.
“Johnny just told Lucy how Papa kills the lamb.”
“Three boys I have to have. Your
aunt has three beautiful daughters. Angels they are. Tre santi. I have to have
boys,” and she walked back into the kitchen.
Skipper and Lucy sat on the steps
holding their stomachs.
“What’s the matter with you two?”
“We don’t feel too good,” they
“You want to feed Delilah some
lettuce?” Dante said.
“I have to go home,” Lucy said.
“You do it, Skipper.”
Skipper took the lettuce and held
it out to Delilah as Lucy went up the stairs.
“Pretty Delilah,” she said.
“We still have all day tomorrow to
play with her,” Johnny said.
“Can we sneak downstairs tonight,
Dante?” Carlo said, “After Mama and Papa go to sleep?”
“Maybe,” Dante said. “We might be
able to sneak down for a little while.”
“What about me?” Skipper said. She
rubbed Delilah’s head.“Boy, I wish I
could sleep over tonight.”
“Why don’t you ask your mother?”
“You ask your mother first.”
“Mama won’t let you sleep over,”
Johnny said. “We asked her before.”
“Yeah?” Skipper said. “Why not.”
“Because you’re a girl,” Johnny
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Girls can’t sleep with boys,”
Johnny said. “Because …”
“Don’t you say it,” Skipper said.
“Cause girls ain't got no pee pee,”
Johnny said laughing.
Skipper balled up her left hand in
a fist and swung at Johnny with all her might. The blow knocked Johnny back,
and he fell in front of the wine barrels in a sitting position. Dante grabbed
Skipper from behind and pinned her arms.
“Stop it,” he said.
Johnny jumped up and took a
“I said stop it,” Dante said.
Mama Vianello came to the top of
the steps again.“Hey, what is going on
“Nothing, Mama. We’re just playing
cowboys and Indians,” Dante said.
“Well, play quietly, hey?”
Dante put a finger to his lips, and
they waited until they heard mama Vianello walk away from the cellar door.
“He asked for it,” Skipper said.
“Tell her you’re sorry,” Dante said
“The hell I will.”
“Tell her you’re sorry,” I said.
Johnny looked from Dante to
“You’re wrong and you know it,
Johnny,” Dante said.
The tension eased away from
Johnny’s face. He put down his hands.“Okay,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Now shake hands,” Dante said.
Johnny put out his hand. Skipper
hesitated a moment, then took Johnny’s hand in a firm handshake.
“Pals again?” Johnny said.
“Pals again,” she said.
Johnny felt his jaw.
“Boy, you sure can punch hard,” he
“Yeah?” Skipper said. “That was my
Mama Vianello came to the stairs.
“Come on, kids. It’s time for bed.
Skipper, you mother is calling
They walked upstairs and stood
behind Mama Vianello who was kneading the cake dough at the kitchen table. Mama
Vianello was a tall woman with the color and texture of central Italian women,
with high cheekbones and jet black hair that she kept rolled up in a bun at the
nape of her neck. She had deep black eyes that carried emotion to extremes and
matched her hair. The boys were carbon copies of their mother with two
exceptions.Carlo had Papa Vianello’s
clear blue eyes, and Johnny had his Roman nose. Dante had all of Mama
Vianello’s features, including her chiseled nose.
“Mama, can Skipper sleep over
tonight?” Carlo said.
“I’ll be good and quiet, Mrs.
Vianello,” Skipper said.
“No, Carlo. Skipper is a girl. She
can’t sleep in any of your beds.”
“I can sleep on the sofa, Mama,”
“Please?” Carlo said.
“No,” Mama Vianello said. “I told
you and that is that. Skipper is a girl and I don’t think her mother wants her
to sleep over with you three ruffians. She has to go home and sleep.”
“Cripes,” Skipper said. “It’s not
my fault that I’m a girl. Besides, I don’t see what me being a girl has to do
“Someday,” Mama Vianello said,
“You’ll find out just how important that little difference is,” then she
laughed as if she had told a great joke, and turned back to the kitchen table, kneading
the cake dough and humming.
The boys walked Skipper to the
living room. Papa Vianello sat by the window cracking nuts for the Easter
cakes. Carlo walked up to him and leaned against his leg. Papa Vianello put the
bag of nuts down and looked at Carlo.
“What’s the matter?” he said.
“Papa, why do we have to kill the
lamb?” Carlo said.
“Because it’s our Easter dinner.
Have you ever tried eating a live lamb?”
“I’m not hungry, Papa,” Johnny
“But I will be Sunday,” Papa
Vianello said, laughing.
“I’m not going to eat it,” Carlo
“Suit yourself,” Papa Vianello
said. He picked up the bag of nuts, then put them down again. He looked at his
“Okay, what is it?” he said.
“Papa, do we have to kill Delilah?”
“Yes,” Papa Vianello said. “The
lamb is a sacrifice.”
“What’s a sacrifice?” Johnny said.
“It is the law of Moses.” Papa
Vianello said. “We kill the lamb and offer it to God.”
“Can’t we offer Him a live lamb?”
“It’s not the same thing,” Papa
“Does the priest make you kill the
lamb?” Johnny said.
“No,” Papa Vianello said. “I told
you. The killing of the lamb is a special tradition, an old custom in our
family for many generations.”
“Does the Pope make you kill the
lamb?” Skipper said.
“No, no,” Papa Vianello said.
“Does God make you kill the lamb?”
Papa Vianello grabbed the bag of
nuts from the floor and took the nutcracker from the end table.
“That’s enough,” he said. “I have
work to do. Go ask your mother.” He motioned to Skipper.
“Your mother is calling you,” he
Dante walked Skipper to the front
door.“Boy, I sure don’t understand
people,” he said.
“Poor Delilah,” Skipper said. “She
doesn’t even know what’s going to happen to her.”
They opened the door and stood on
the top step a moment.The sun had
fallen behind the row houses on Wharton Street and slid behind the church
tower.The sky began to turn light gray
with large puffy clouds streaking across the sky.A ragman shoved his pushcart up the street,
chanting in his singsong voice, “Any rags today?Any rags today?I take your old rags and give you new
pots.Any rags today?”
Skipper’s mother called from her second
“Coming, Mom,” Skipper said. She
hurried down the steps.On the last
step, she turned and looked at Dante.“Two taps on the wall for ‘in the bedroom’ and three taps for going to
sleep,” she said.
“Okay,” Dante said. “And four taps
for emergency,” though they had never had one.
Skipper waved once then darted to
her house next door, running up the steps two at a time as her mother called
again from inside her house.
Dante looked down the street. One
by one the lights in the houses went on, lighting each window with a glow. An
old lamplighter, carrying a small ladder on his back, hobbled up the street. He
put the ladder against the lamp pole, climbed up and turned on the
gaslight.Down the street, Joey Carbo
was practicing on his French horn. The voices of all the mothers called out for
their children, Mama Vianello was in the
kitchen singing, ‘Return to Sorrento’, and in the basement the voice of Delilah
Interesting! Thank you for visiting us on Writing in the Modern Age, Mark! :)
I have had fiction, poetry, articles and guest
columns in 67 publications, including Yankee magazine, Crazy Horse, Southern
Poetry Review, Poetry International, Potomac Review, Philadelphia Daily News
and New York Times. I Won Honorable Mention in the PEN American award for
short fiction, First Prize in poetry in the Barbwire Theater in San Francisco,
California and first prize in the Packard Poetry Awards in the New York
Quarterly magazine. I was director of the Florida State University Poet series
and appointed Master Poet by the Florida Arts Council. My current books are The Ghost, 2013, The Death of Sherlock Holmes, 2014 and The Easter Lamb, 2015. I also have a short story, “Fall Semester”,
in the anthology Steps in Time, April
2015; and a short story, “Magic”, in the anthology Love Matters, out in August. I am a member of the Authors
Guild and the Academy of American Poets.